A local state senate seat is on the line, but Douglas County voters won’t have the opportunity to see the candidates debate one another.

That’s partially because of a restrictive policy being upheld by the local League of Women Voters and what appears to be a “why bother” attitude from interim Sen. Dallas Heard.

The League’s policy prohibits holding forums with just a single candidate, which gives power to incumbents with name recognition and puts up-and-coming contenders at a huge disadvantage. If an incumbent feels secure enough — as Heard, who is currently holding the seat vacated by former Sen. Jeff Kruse and previously served as a state representative, probably does — all he or she would have to do is decline the League’s invitation to effectively silence any competitors.

Heard referred to his busy schedule as the reason he couldn’t attend the forum and said the League needs to give incumbents advanced notice to ensure they can attend. But the president of the local League said Heard was emailed about the forum on Sept. 3 — 43 days ahead of the event — and called two days later. Heard didn’t respond until Sept. 21 and said he would be touring fire areas in Southern Oregon and would be unable to attend the forum, which is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Coincidentally, he’ll also be muzzling the Democratic nominee, Shannon Souza.

Which is something the League’s rules shouldn’t allow. The group’s forums are an invaluable asset to our community. They’re incredibly well-attended and offer voters the chance to ask candidates questions directly. But the group’s policy is backward. So long as all of the candidates are given enough time to make accommodations and the League is flexible enough to entertain potential scheduling conflicts, the League should host the debate with whichever candidates are able — or willing — to attend.

Its concerns about creating an unfair atmosphere are warranted, but in an effort to avoid a one-sided discussion, the group has allowed Heard — intentionally or otherwise — to create one of his own.

Which isn’t how elections are supposed to work. Candidates need to address voters, especially one with his eye on one of Oregon’s Senate seats.

Heard was popular as a local representative, but that doesn’t give him credence to dodge voters this time around. He should attend the forum, but if he won’t, Douglas County’s League of Women Voters should follow in the footsteps of its sister chapter in Curry County and host Souza anyway. Voters deserve the opportunity to hear what she, and Heard, have to say.

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