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3rd party supporters disrupt debate, protest candidate's exclusion

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Skip Sandman campaign spokesman Mike Kuitu interrupts introductions during an 8th Congressional District debate Monday, Oct. 8, at the Town Hall Conference Center at Madden's on Gull Lake. Kuitu and others shared concerns Sandman, an Independence Party candidate for the U.S. House seat, was not invited to participate in the debate. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 2

EAST GULL LAKE—As far as political debates go, Round 2 of the 8th Congressional District race had fireworks before the first question was even posed to candidates.

All eyes were on Republican Pete Stauber and Democrat Joe Radinovich and how they would present themselves as candidates—but, if you asked some members of the audience packed into Madden's Town Hall Conference Center, Monday, Oct. 8, they'd say the debate was a sham because there were only eyes for Radinovich and Stauber and no one else.

Notably absent from Monday's debate stage was Ray "Skip" Sandman—the Independence Party candidate and a vocal participant in the first congressional debate in Duluth in September. While Sandman was present in the audience, he was barred from participating per requirements by event sponsors.

"I don't think democracy is being served by whatever rules you put forward," shouted Mike Kuitu from the audience. Kuitu serves as the spokesman for the Sandman campaign. "Our campaign manager was in contact with the (Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce) and I don't believe we got much of a response from them explaining why Skip wasn't invited. The fact is, he tried to contact you himself, but he never heard a reply."

"We made the decision to invite candidates who were polling at or above 5 percent in an independent, credible poll that was not commissioned by a candidate," Brainerd Lakes Chamber President Matt Kilian stated in an email. "Although we respect Mr. Sandman and are aware of his participation in the Duluth debate, we have not been made aware of any changes to his polling status. For that reason, we have chosen to move forward with the other two candidates in order to cover more issues and audience questions."

Supporters of Sandman vocally challenged the proceedings prior to the debate, pressing moderators and candidates to allow Sandman on stage. After some back and forth arguing between Kilian and Sandman's supporters in which Kilian reiterated the gist of the email, order was restored and the debate continued as planned.

Sandman's campaign has argued the survey conducted by the League of Women Voters is fundamentally flawed—namely, Sandman is unlikely to reach the 5 percent threshold by a third-party candidate because only two candidates were offered in the questionnaire: Joe Radinovich and Pete Stauber. Sandman wasn't mentioned.

Speaking with the Dispatch after the event, Sandman characterized it as a means to narrow and restrict the political dialogue in the 8th District, as well as to insulate the power of the two major parties.

"It's an outrage to democracy," Sandman said. "I wasn't mentioned and, therefore, it's a justification not to invite, which is totally wrong because I believe the (purpose of) the League of Women Voters is to inform the public about all candidates."

"We're not being heard enough—the third-party people," Sandman added. "When it is restricted, or third parties are disavowed, now you're talking about a skewed debate."

With a pre-restricted roster of issues and candidates to choose from—and, Sandman said, because both candidates are funded by outside interests—what they say should be taken with a grain of salt.

"They're political masters—Pete and Joe," Sandman said. "None of what they say here will be allowed to happen, in my opinion, because Pete has accepted money, Joe has accepted money—I don't know how much. Their party leaderships won't allow them to push to the fullest extent anything they're talking about here."

Presenting sponsors of the debate include the Brainerd Dispatch, the Brainerd Lakes Chamber, the League of Women Voters of the Brainerd Lakes Area and the Rosenmeier Center for State and Local Government.