abigail-medinapete-aguilar

Opponents are accusing Abigail Medina, left, and Pete Aguilar of dodging political debates. (File)

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 10/12/16 – 11:29 PM PDT |

As Election Day approaches, some candidates have been skipping the debates that give voters the chance to hear directly from them.

Most prominent is Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-San Bernardino, who participated in several debates against Paul Chabot when they ran in 2014 for the 31st Congressional District seat.

Aguilar has been skipping them this year, including the San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce’s televised forum Wednesday.

“Opponent runs for his life,” Chabot declared in response. “Never a town hall. No debate, no forum. Nada, zip. But he’s never missed a Pelosi fundraiser, ever.”

Nancy Pelosi, minority leader of the House of Representatives, supports Aguilar, and the Democratic Party is assisting him.

Aguilar’s campaign spokesman, Lou Wasson, didn’t answer questions Wednesday about why the incumbent skipped the forums, but he said Aguilar would continue speaking to residents about issues such as jobs and veterans.

“This is another sad attempt by Paul Chabot to shift attention away from his fledgling campaign,” Wasson said in an email. “If Chabot really wanted to speak honestly with residents, he would be truthful about his shady campaign finances and why he still stands with Donald Trump, who brags about sexually harassing women.”

Chabot said this week he was “ashamed” of Trump’s comments but still would vote for him.

Assemblyman Marc Steinorth, R-Rancho Cucamonga, blasted his Democratic opponent, Abigail Medina, for skipping two debates — including Tuesday’s Chamber of Commerce debate. He also accused her of refusing to attend the final two debates before the Nov. 8 election.

Medina has attended other forums, including one Steinorth skipped, and her campaign manager said Wednesday that she would attend one of the two remaining forums.

Steinorth said Medina was embarrassed about being caught skipping forums and was “trying to cover it up.”

“The candidates need to make themselves accessible and accountable, and that’s my primary goal,” Steinorth said by phone. “Elections are designed, especially Assembly elections, so the public has an opportunity to hear from their candidates.”

Steinorth said he didn’t attend the Oct. 1 forum hosted by Inland Congregations United for Change, which Medina did attend, because he considered it a biased forum.
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The group’s executive director, Tom Dolan, said the organization, which has hosted Democratic and Republican as well as nonpartisan candidate forums in the same format for 20 years, is nonpartisan and invites all candidates.

Medina’s campaign manager, Ben Golombek, said this was another example of Steinorth lying.

“If it fits in the schedule, we obviously want to have as many debates as possible,” Golombek said. “We’ve had some already. We’ll have more. Steinorth is just slinging mud.”

Golombek said Medina would attend the one remaining debate he knows about, a forum at 9 a.m. Oct. 20 at Pacific High School. He said he hadn’t heard anything about the other forum Steinorth said she was skipping, at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland.

Immanuel Baptist Church’s minister of pastoral care, Paul Reed, said he mailed an invitation and a reminder to the post office box listed on Medina’s website months ago.

Out of 25 candidates he invited, six said they would attend the forum, including Steinorth and Chabot, Reed said.

While scheduling conflicts often prevent candidates from attending every forum, it’s unusual for them to skip the more established forums, said Marcia Godwin, associate professor of public administration at the University of La Verne.

“In general, my experience has been that candidates will go to forums sponsored by chambers of commerce or the League of Women Voters, especially where those debates will be televised by local public access channels,” Godwin said.

The most recent debate that Aguilar and Medina skipped was a televised forum sponsored by the San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce.

“In the case of the congressional race, I’m probably more surprised at Pete Aguilar missing the event than the other way around,” said Godwin. “Chabot would need to be addressing the Trump campaign and endorsements and may wish to shy away from that.”

Godwin said voters have a right to see candidates directly, which she said couldn’t be done as effectively through events like the “Coffee with your Congressman” events that Aguilar regularly hosts.

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