Congressional opponents

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 22, 2002

A debate about debating is heating up.

A war of words between U.S. representatives thrown together inthe state’s new Third Congressional District is brewing as thesides argue over the number and format for the politicaldiscussions of issues.

Henry Barbour, campaign manager for Republican Third DistrictRep. Chip Pickering, said the congressman has challenged FourthDistrict Rep. Ronnie Shows to debate in all 28 counties, but theDemocratic opponent is making excuses not to do so.

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Glenn Rushing, campaign manager for Shows, said the congressmanis for having as many debates as possible, but there have beenquestions about who will be responsible for setting them up.

“We’re ready to debate. We just need to come to terms,” Rushingsaid.

Barbour countered that debates are just “good old-fashionedpolitics” which would help acquaint voters with their choices forrepresentative.

“We don’t have any terms. We want fair debates in all 28counties,” Barbour said.

Pickering and Shows were put in the same congressional districtthis year after the state was forced to redraw district lines forfour representatives instead of five. The congressional seat losswas due to the state’s slower population growth compared to otherstates.

Both sides have agreed to a debate in Rankin County, but a datehas not been finalized, and Barbour said Pickering has agreed to adebate in Adams County. Barbour would like to see more.

“There’s plenty of time to debate in all 28 counties. We’ve gotsix and a half months,” Barbour said, referring to the time beforethe November general election.

Rushing said there has been no dialogue between the offices onhow to proceed. He said it is unusual for a political campaign toset up debates, adding that the functions are typically coordinatedby community organizations like civic clubs, newspapers ortelevision stations.

If each side divided debate set-up responsibilities in the 28counties, Rushing said there would be 14 “dog and pony shows” insupport of each respective representative. He also expressedconcerns about potential scheduling conflicts.

“These things should be reserved for community basedorganizations,” Rushing said.

Barbour said neither side is naive enough to walk into a”political ambush” of a debate coordinated by the other side. Hesaid Pickering is a new face to some district voters while Shows isa new face to others, but voters in all 28 counties need tounderstand the important differences in the candidates.

“People need to hear the candidates get up and talk,” Barboursaid.

Barbour cited Thursday’s House vote on whether to make PresidentBush’s tax cut permanent, instead of expiring in 2010, as anexample. The House passed the measure 229-198, mostly along partlylines, but the Democratic leadership in the Senate is pledging toblock the legislation.

“The vote today, it really underscores the differences,” saidBarbour, charging that Shows voted to “bring back highertaxes.”

Democrats say the permanent tax cut would be an unwise drain onthe budget surplus. Republicans said the measure would givetaxpayers more certainty about the future.

Officials in both parties expect the tax cut to be a majorcampaign issue.

Saying every county in the district is important, Barbour saidthe Pickering campaign is willing to work with organizations to setup debates in all 28 counties.

“We’ll work with whoever. We don’t have any terms,” Barboursaid.