Candidates might answer without blather if properly prodded

After hours of torture from watching so-called “debates” at the national and local levels, I have a proposal about how to fix the problem of politicians ignoring questions put to them.

Cattle prods.

Next election season, let’s zap those who don’t answer the questions.

We don’t need to zap them so hard they lose control of their bodily functions. But the moderator could reach over with a cattle prod and use it to get the candidate’s attention. Just a gentle electrical shock could be a reminder that failing to answer the question is wrong.

The current methods to pry answers out of candidates do not work.

Mitch Fox, moderator for the most recent Vegas PBS debate between U.S. Senate rivals Dean Heller and Shelley Berkley, took the gentlemanly approach when his questions were ignored. He asked it again. Politely. Even the second time, the candidates blathered without answering the question asked, so Fox moved on without displaying any visible signs of disgust.

That also happened in two other Vegas PBS debates, the 4th Congressional District race between Democrat Steven Horsford and Republican Danny Tarkanian and the 1st Congressional District race between Rep. Joe Heck, the GOP incumbent, and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, the Democratic challenger.

Jon Ralston of Ralston Reports tried another method to force Heller and Berkley on point. He shouted at them. Frankly, a cattle prod in his hands might be dangerous.

While that was the funniest debate because of the ridiculousness of three people determined to talk over each other and becoming unintelligible, it was not a successful technique. It just made three adults look like kindergartners having a playground shouting match.

Even Heller couldn’t help but laugh at the silliness. If you didn’t see them in the “Ralston Reports” debates, GOP Sen. Heller and Democratic Congresswoman Berkley sat side by side and on TV. Their antagonism was palpable.

On the Vegas PBS debates, the contenders stood behind podiums with Fox in the middle. The podium didn’t hide the intense hostility between Horsford and Tarkanian, but at least they were separated enough so punches weren’t thrown.

At the Temple Sinai debate between Horsford and Tarkanian, moderator Howard Beckerman actually told the duo, “Both of you, knock it off,” to end one of their bickerfests.

But think what pleasure it would bring if local moderators simply tagged one or the other with a cattle prod when they ignored his questions. Just a slight sting, enough to make a point.

Fox, Ralston and Beckerman asked good questions. That wasn’t the problem. They just couldn’t get much in the way of direct answers.

The jargon in the answers didn’t help. Unless you already knew the issue, it’s unlikely you could follow the answers. And if you already know the issues, don’t you know which side was more in line with your personal philosophy?

If you know the issues, you know the truth-stretching by each side, so the back-and-forth sallies become time wasters. Again, the voter is certainly not served by the petulant bickering that makes me question whether any of these “debaters” belong in Congress.

These six Nevada debaters would just launch into the blah-blah-blah rhetoric drummed into them.

If there’s a single undecided voter out there who made a decision based on these debates, please contact me.

I once thought debates were more worthwhile and pivotal than I do today. After all, the debates are the only time voters don’t see a scripted speech, where the viewers see how someone thinks on their feet, an unfiltered performance.

But that’s the real problem. The news media generally refers to “the performance,” whether it’s the candidates’ or the moderators’. And that’s exactly what these debates have become.


At least my cattle prod idea would liven up the performances.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at

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