- - Tuesday, October 16, 2018

As the midterm election nears, Southern Californians have begun to notice an entirely unsurprising trend: Incumbent Democrats are running scared, hiding from their Republican opponents and refusing to participate in meaningful debates.

Facing tough Republican challengers in their respective districts, Democrats Scott Peters of the 52nd Congressional District, Ted Lieu of the 33rd Congressional District and Juan Vargas of the 51st Congressional District have thus far avoided any significant engagement with their opponents, and by extension, their districts’ voters. It is obvious that these Democrats are counting on name recognition and a friendly, disinterested media to allow them to sail across the finish line in November.

In Imperial County, Mr. Vargas — buoyed by a 3:1 advantage in Democratic voter registration — has been conspicuously silent in calling for debates with his Republican challenger, “law and order” candidate Juan Hidalgo Jr. In L.A. County, Ted Lieu — who appears to spend the majority of his time these days babbling about President Trump on Twitter — has canceled a handful of debates against his Republican opponent, Dr. Kenneth Wright.

In San Diego County, Mr. Peters has thus far ignored Republican Omar Qudrat’s invitation to schedule three public, televised debates ahead of Election Day. Instead, Mr. Peters has graciously agreed to appear alongside Mr. Qudrat at a one-hour “candidate forum” at a San Diego retirement community, during which residents of the community will be allowed to ask (pre-screened) questions to the candidates. The rules: no reporters or members of the larger San Diego public are allowed to attend, and no one on either side is allowed to film or record the event. On these points, the event organizer — Rosemary Straley, a national coordinator at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Support Network — was adamant.

In previous election years, one could not physically pry Mr. Peters away from a television camera. Now it looks like he’ll do anything to avoid being in the same room as Mr. Qudrat if a camera is present. After all, if Mr. Peters were to agree to a real debate, he could be asked why veteran homelessness skyrocketed 24 percent in San Diego over the last year alone, under his watch; why he voted against preserving crucial tax cuts for individuals and small businesses last month; and why he has consistently voted against strengthening our state’s and country’s border security, to ensure public safety for our community.

It’s not just the House races, either. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom finally agreed to debate his Republican challenger, John Cox, this week. Of course, the much-hyped, “wide-ranging” debate was broadcast on AM radio on a Monday morning, with no TV cameras anywhere, and was over before most voters even knew to tune in.

In August, New York’s Democratic Socialist House candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was sharply (and rightly) criticized by both Democrats and the press for hosting an event that barred the media from attendance. There has been no such condemnation of California House candidates from either the state’s Democrats or its media outlets.

In our current political environment, it is more important than ever that candidates for elected office be able to articulate their vision for the future of our government and country in open and unfettered forums, and then let the voters decide which candidate has the better ideas. If Democrats in Southern California thought their ideas for the country were better than the Republicans’, they would be clamoring to schedule debates every other day. That is obviously — and sadly, for Southern California voters — not the case.

• Joe Messina is based in Southern California and is host of the nationally syndicated “The Real Side with Joe Messina.” He is a former tech-industry executive and analyst for Johnson Controls, Entex Technologies and American Express.

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