Slotkin, Rogers’ races demonstrate why Michigan needs a debate commission


Try to find any video, audio or any proof at all that Republican frontrunner Mike Rogers or Democratic frontrunner Elissa Slotkin have engaged in any real debates with their primary opponents in their U.S. Senate races.

Good luck.

The sad truth is that you won’t find anything. Sure, Rogers has attended a few select forums here and there, but any debate-like exchanges among the GOP candidates or the Democratic candidates have been left off the program on purpose.

In today’s political world, campaigns of perceived frontrunners are so risk-adverse that open public forums are viewed as having a lot of risks and very little potential upside.

Trackers and trolls dream of capturing that one unsanitized comment that can be made into a political ad, even if the clip is taken completely out of context.

Ask Howard Dean how one spontaneous, energetic shriek can destroy someone’s political career. And that howl came in 2004, years before social media was a thing.

Professionally run campaigns do not want frontrunners to talk to the media for the same reason. Who is the reporter? What is the news outlet? What questions are they going to ask?

Candidate consultants would prefer their people not to show up in public at all unless it is before a tightly regulated audience, free of hecklers.

A free-wheeling, no-rules debate? Yikes! Even personable, sharp, and witty candidates like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have uttered phrases in past debates that they wish they could take back.

The alternative is what we now have in big league campaigns in 2024: candidates spending a ridiculous amount of time in one-on-one conversations with potential high-dollar donors.

Meanwhile, their staffs craft concise, lab-tested campaign fundraising emails. The missives are typically focused on hot-button issues designed to fire up someone enough to punch in their credit card number.

The losers here are us, the voters.

We’re unwittingly spoon-fed talking points as opposed to hearing candidates’ views on the direction of our country – government spending, our foreign intervention strategy, etc.

And maybe an exploding federal debt and foreign trade aren’t sexy topics, but that doesn’t mean voters who want to be educated should have to settle for what little information can be gleaned off a candidate’s web page for answers.

We need a real debate commission.

I’ve called for one before. If I need to unearth this topic again four years from now, I will. Seriously, how else are we going to be able size up Slotkin versus Hill Harper unless they are standing side by side?

How will we know that Mike Rogers is a better alternative to Justin Amash or Peter Meijer or Sherry O’Donnell or Sandy Pensler until we hear them talk in the same room on the same topics?

It doesn’t need to be a Jerry Springer-like clown show. We have talented moderators in this state who can stop long-winded candidates or can cut off microphones.

We need a coalition of various interests coming together in support of a debate commission that organizes a few primary and general election debates for U.S. Senate, governor, secretary of state, attorney general and maybe some congressional seats as well.

No longer should the frontrunner of a particular race be allowed to dictate terms, like Rick Snyder’s one-debate demand or U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow only agreeing to a Grand Rapids public TV station debate on a Sunday afternoon and a Detroit Economic Club exchange over the lunch hour.

These should be publicized affairs for any TV, radio or internet platform that wants to broadcast it. They need to be done on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evenings when most people are home.

They should be archived so anyone can watch them or listen to them at their convenience.

Candidates refusing to take part should face steep sanctions, up to being kicked off a ballot or disqualified from taking the oath of office.

Without something like this, it’s only going to get worse, folks.

We’re going to learn substantively less and less about the people we elect to public office. And we will only have ourselves to blame.

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at


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