- Associated Press - Thursday, September 11, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho Treasurer Ron Crane will participate in his first series of political debates since he was elected 16 years ago, but he disputes accusations that he purposefully evaded challengers in prior election seasons.

Instead, Crane has never faced a GOP primary opponent while in office, said campaign manager Ken Burgess. He added that Crane’s former general election opponents weren’t considered legitimate candidates and failed to meet requirements set by debate hosts.

For example, Idaho Public Television -which broadcasts Idaho congressional, legislative and statewide candidate political debates - cancelled the 2002 general election treasurer’s debate because Democratic candidate Sally Beitia didn’t qualify to participate. Four years later, the station cancelled the debate again when Democratic candidate Jill Ellsworth didn’t respond to their invitation.

No opponents challenged him in 2010 but Crane now faces Democratic candidate Deborah Silver, an accountant, in the upcoming general election. They are schedule to debate Oct. 9 and Oct. 13.

“A debate gives the public to have a better sense of the candidate how they think, how they react to questions about the job responsibilities as well as their philosophy of government,” said Boise State University political science professor emeritus Jim Weatherby.

It’s not unusual for incumbents to shy away from sharing the same stage as their opponents, Weatherby said, but Crane is unusual for going nearly four terms without participating in either a local or televised debate.

Weatherby pointed out that organizing a debate is in itself a political move. Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Risch typically limits himself to just one debate before an election. Meanwhile Gov. Butch Otter was recently accused of snubbing south-central Idaho for not participating in the Times-News gubernatorial debate by the newspaper’s editorial board.

“Your opponent who doesn’t have the name recognition is desperate to share the stage with you,” Weatherby said. “And the incumbent is more inclined to say no.”

Typically, the Idaho treasurer’s race flies under the radar compared to the rest of statewide positions. Unlike other low-profile statewide positions like controller and secretary of state, the treasurer doesn’t sit on the State Land Board which manages 2.5 million acres of Idaho land.

However, the position has received more attention ever since a legislative audit was released in January that Crane’s office conducted inappropriate money transfers that cost taxpayers millions of dollars beginning in 2008.

According to the audit, Crane’s office lost $10.2 million after transferring investments in mortgage-backed securities hit by the collapse of the 2008 housing bubble. Crane thought the investments were worth their face value of about $31 million, instead their real market value was $10.2 million less.

To prevent the situation from occurring again, the audit called for more oversight of Crane’s office which was accomplished by the creation of an advisory board during the recent 2014 legislative session.

Crane has repeatedly disputed the audit’s findings, but Silver argues her opponent refuses to comply with all the auditor’s recommendations.

“I’m looking forward to the debates,” Silver said. “I’m very open to talking about this.”

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