US Rep. skips debate, but KET airs his statement

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield skipped what was to be a live debate broadcast on statewide public television and instead sent a taped segment to be aired after his challenger answered questions from a panel of reporters.

Whitfield’s Democratic challenger, Heather Ryan of Paducah, said she discovered just hours before her scheduled appearance Monday that Kentucky Educational Television would allow Whitfield to skip the debate, but still get televised time.

Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, was first elected in 1994 and represents the 1st Congressional District covering far western Kentucky.

“This completely changes the dynamics of everything KET and its debates are supposed to be about,” the Lexington Herald-Leader quoted Ryan as saying.

“Why would any incumbent ever agree to a debate if all you have to do is skip the questions and the rebuttals and just submit a campaign commercial, which KET will broadcast for free?”

Whitfield campaign spokeswoman Kristin Walker said Tuesday that the congressman was unable to attend the debate because of previously scheduled political rallies in the district.

“He had made prior commitments that he needed to keep,” she said.

In a statement, KET said the Whitfield campaign declined its invitation to appear on the debate, and instead requested to broadcast a recorded statement. Shae Hopkins, KET deputy executive director, said in the statement that KET was obligated under Federal Communications Commission “equal opportunities rules” to provide equal time by broadcasting the recorded statement.

FCC spokeswoman Mary Diamond declined to comment Tuesday.

Candidates who skipped previous KET debates did not appear on the air and were briefly mentioned by the moderator at the start of the show.

During the forum, which turned into essentially a question and answer session between Ryan and the journalists on the panel at the KET studios, Ryan repeatedly pointed out Whitfield’s absence. She criticized Whitfield for voting to authorize what she called an illegal war in Iraq and failing to provide health care coverage for the uninsured.

As for the $700 billion federal financial system bailout bill, Ryan said she would have voted against it as Whitfield did, but for different reasons.

“He voted against it because his rich buddies might take a hit already bigger than what they’ve taken,” Ryan said. “He’s not concerned about us, the little guys.”

Ryan concluded her portion of the program by saying, “Like you, I guess I’m looking forward to Mr. Whitfield’s canned response.”

In his brief taped statement, Whitfield touted a record of helping constituents and of bringing millions of federal dollars to his district, including helping establish outpatient clinics for veterans.

“I voted for and passed tax relief which has helped spur job growth throughout our area,” he said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.