Shannon Souza will be allowed a seat at a Tuesday candidate forum after all. The League of Women Voters of Umpqua Valley announced Friday it was reversing an earlier decision to not seat Souza. The original decision was made because her opponent, Interim Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, had declined the invitation.
Souza is the Democratic nominee for Senate District 1. She had previously been told she could not attend, based on longstanding League rules against having an “empty chair” debate, in which only one candidate is present.
League President Jennifer Carloni said Friday the League decided to change its rule after complaints from the public.
“If we go back to our core mission, it’s to help the voters be informed, and so that’s our thinking on this. We want everybody to be informed,” she said. The format of the event will be changed to be more about candidates explaining their positions on issues rather than debating their opponents.
Heard cited a scheduling conflict and said the League should have notified him earlier and worked with him to find a time he could attend. He has plans to tour wildfire sites in Southern Oregon and speak with groups about the issue Tuesday evening.
Carloni said the League had issued an invitation to Heard at the beginning of September and could have worked with him to schedule a time that worked for him; however, she said Heard didn’t respond until three weeks later, when he declined the invitation.
Friday morning’s decision was the latest of several shifts in who would appear at Tuesday’s forum.
Interim House District 2 Rep. Gary Leif, R-Roseburg, had previously said he would attend; however, the League announced Thursday that Leif had canceled. His Democratic challenger Megan Salter will still attend.
Leif will be attending the same wildfire event as Heard on Tuesday. He provided The News-Review with a copy of the letter he sent to the League explaining why he would be unable to attend.
“I have been invited to join a wildfire site tour and subsequent meetings with both public and private groups to discuss the economic impacts of this year’s fire season on Oregon,” Leif said.
“As I am sure you are aware, wildfires have ravaged not only our natural resources, but our economy and our lives throughout the southwestern portion of the state for years,” he said. He said it’s extremely important he attend the meetings “so that the voice of House District 2 is at the table.”
In his letter, he said that even though he wouldn’t be attending the forum he “truly appreciate(s) the platform you provide for individuals of the public to engage their elected officials and their opponents.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, the Republican incumbent in House District 7, confirmed Wednesday evening he will attend. Democratic challenger Christy Inskip also plans to attend. House District 7 includes North Douglas County.
The forum will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Holiday Inn Express, 375 W. Harvard Ave. in Roseburg.