Burgoyne: Who’s the Audience for Congressional Debates? …and Why?

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During last Wednesday afternoon, all the contestants in California’s 46th Congressional District primary race attended a debate. Thy Vo of Voice of OC appropriately reported on the debate. The event was readily accepted as normal mundane political activity: The contestants attended a debate, which seems like a positive for a representative democracy.

Yet was it?

What struck me was the general complacency with the circumstances of the debate; most likely founded in an acceptance of “business as usual” when it comes to our bi-annual political pageants. Amidst Ms. Vo’s reporting there were three locations mentioned I found rather intriguing: Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Newport Beach.

Santa Ana and Anaheim were both mentioned as falling within the 46th District.

The “odd man out” was Newport Beach, which does not fall within the 46th District. Yet it was Newport Beach where the debate was held – specifically at the high priced members-only Pacific Club. Whether the debate itself was closed to members only plus press I do not know, however it would be a minor additional point.

There are many questions important to the healthy operation of a representative democracy to be asked here. Probably the most core question being, why would any political debate involving the candidates for a congressional district ever be held outside that district remote from the greater constituency of that district? Additionally, we should ask ourselves intertwining questions.

From the point of view of the greater 46th District constituency, it was a debate held inconveniently during the hours when the hard working constituents were overwhelmingly at their jobs. It was held inconveniently outside the bounds of the district in a city, and at a location, distinctively different from those comprising the 46th District. Under such conditions, were the candidates really expecting the audience for the debate to be the greater constituency of the 46th District?

This leads us to the question, who did the candidates think made up the audience for the debate? Which leads to the more important question, given the audience was clearly not the greater constituency of the 46th District, why did the candidates feel compelled to even bother attending such a debate?

In a representative democracy, is not the job of the candidates to be accountable to the constituents of their district? If the candidates find themselves feeling accountable to an audience at the swank Pacific Club in Newport Beach, so far divorced from their constituency, what does that say about their relationship to their constituents?

Of equal concern is the seeming inclination toward treating such political activities with complacency – “business as usual”, “happens every campaign season.”

The word which cuts through this complacency in order to restore true representative democracy and sustain it is, “Why?”

Keith Burgoyne is a resident of Westminster.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org