We are pleased to notice at least one major election race this year where the leading candidates have, albeit reluctantly, agreed to debate opponents from more than just the two monopoly parties. The American democratic system of government requires a true marketplace for ideas.
John R. Mitchel and Zanna Feitler -- the "other'' candidates for governor -- say their participation in campaign debates will enhance, not dilute them.
Mitchel, 50, is a retired Air Force officer from the Dayton area representing the Reform Party.
Feitler, 47, is a transcendental meditation teacher from Shaker Heights, an independent representing the Natural Law Party.
They will be alongside Republican Bob Taft and Democrat Lee Fisher in a series of three or more gubernatorial debates across the state beginning this week.
The questions of whether the candidates would face off at all, and whether Mitchel and Feitler would be invited, were answered Wednesday when Fisher agreed to four-way debates.
Fisher and Taft clashed for three months over the format. Taft, the front-runner to replace Republican Gov. George V. Voinovich, insisted on four-way meetings because he said his job as secretary of state is to make the political process more inclusive.
Fisher wanted to face off one-on- one with Taft, arguing that Mitchel and Feitler would "dilute'' the debates.
"It's just the opposite,'' Mitchel said. "We're going to add to the debates. We really bring something to the table. We'll talk about the issues of raising taxes and education.
"I have always said I'd always debate anybody, anywhere, anytime,'' Mitchel said. "I couldn't feel more confident going into the debates.''
Feitler said the presence of all four candidates "will enrich the debates.''
"People will want to hear from these mysterious candidates they haven't seen or heard from yet,'' she said. "Four-way debates, with all the new ideas, will be much more exciting to the public than two-way debates would have been.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for Bob Taft and Lee Fisher to listen to new ideas and gauge the reaction of the audience.''
The candidates will debate at least three times -- Oct. 22 in Toledo, Oct. 28 in Columbus, and Oct. 30 in Cleveland. The campaigns were negotiating for possible debates in Cincinnati, Dayton or Miami University, and Youngstown.
Feitler credited Taft for insisting that she and Mitchel be included.
But both Feitler and Mitchel criticized Taft, secretary of state since 1991, for his record in helping third parties gain access to the ballot.
"Bob Taft has done little as secretary of state,'' Mitchel said. "Only recently did he want to include all four candidates in the debates.
"It is actually more unconscionable for Taft than Fisher to take his position on four-way debates.''
Ohio election laws, which Taft overseas, make it very difficult for third parties to get on the ballot.
Taft and Fisher had to collect petitions with 1,000 signatures to run for governor. Feitler had to get 5,000 signatures and collected more than 8,000. Mitchel had to get just 500 names because the Reform Party had ballot access thanks to Ross Perot's performance in 1996.
"What he hasn't done,'' Feitler said, "is to suggest legislation to ease ballot access. He's had eight years to do that. He's been third-party neutral until the debates came up.''
Feitler said she is picking up support because there is "a lot of disgust with the attack ads and the negativity'' in the Taft and Fisher campaigns. "People don't want to hear about how bad the other guy is, but about how our government can be improved.''
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