At a legislative candidate forum next week, attendees won’t be hearing from the candidates for state Senate District 1.
Interim Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, turned down the invitation from the League of Women Voters of Umpqua Valley. He told The News-Review on Tuesday that the time and date set for the event, 7 p.m. next Tuesday, conflicted with his schedule.
Because Heard won’t be there, League rules say the group can’t seat his challenger, Democratic nominee Shannon Souza, said League of Women Voters of Umpqua Valley Vice President Robin Wisdom on Tuesday.
House District 2 candidates will attend the forum. Interim Rep. Gary Leif, R-Roseburg, and his Democratic challenger, Megan Salter, have confirmed they will be there. The League is still awaiting confirmation from House District 7 Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek. His challenger, Democrat Christy Inskip has confirmed and will attend if Hayden does, Wisdom said.
Heard said he is scheduled next Tuesday to tour fire areas in Southern Oregon and get a review of how cooperative the federal government was with people on the ground. He said the League needs to communicate in advance with incumbents to ensure they can reach a date that works for everyone.
“It’s not about me. It’s just whoever is in that position has a full schedule already, so they need to reach out well in advance and work with us on that,” he said.
Wisdom said Heard sent a Facebook message declining the invitation Sept. 21. She said the League initially emailed Heard about the forum Sept. 3, and that Heard did not respond to that email or to additional emails and calls prior to sending his Facebook message saying he could not attend.
"We might have been able to change our date for the forum had we heard back in time," she said.
Souza said Tuesday in an email she’s disappointed she won’t be able to attend the forum in Roseburg.
“In my mind, appearing before constituents to answer questions about the decisions you would make on their behalf is just part of the job description, for any elected office. A public conversation between the leader and the people they would represent is essential for assessing the skills and perspectives of the would-be leader — for deciding who would be the best one for the job,” she said.
“I’m disappointed, as a voting member of this district, that my Senator won’t present himself to us – particularly in his home town. I’m disappointed, as an aspiring Senator, that I can’t participate,” she said.
Wisdom said some Souza supporters have complained to the League about its refusal to have just their candidate attend. Wisdom said that’s League policy, and it won’t be changed because allowing just one candidate to speak would be one-sided and not provide balanced and fair information to the community. She said the League must remain impartial and consistently follow its rules.
“We won’t change our minds about our policy to not conduct any ‘empty chair’ debates or forums,” she said in an email.
Heard has also declined to appear in League forums in Curry and Coos counties. Confusing matters further, the League in Curry County did seat Souza for its forum, even though Heard did not participate. Wisdom said each local chapter is independent.
“Each League must decide what is best for their community, while they also follow policy as close as they can. We disagree with Curry’s decision, but we still value the Curry County League mightily. They do great work for southern Oregon,” Wisdom said.
Some Souza supporters have also taken to Facebook to assert that Heard is avoiding the forum because he’s afraid to debate Souza. Heard said that’s not true.
“Shannon seems like a very nice person. There’s no point to fearing to get in the ring with her,” he said.