The candidates polling first, second...fourth and fifth in the 2014 election for CA Secretary of State, according to a recent Field Poll, will appear at a debate being held by the non-profit Sacramento Press Club (SPC) this coming Wednesday.
The candidate polling in third place in that survey, however, Green Party candidate David Curtis, is not invited to participate and he's none too happy about it.
Two Democratic candidates, State Sen. Alex Padilla and former Common Cause official Derek Cressman, one Republican candidate, Pete Peterson, as well as former Republican operative Dan Schnur, now running as an independent, have been invited to attend, but Curtis was not, despite out-polling both Cressman and Schnur in the April survey.
Curtis, says he only just learned of the scheduled debate a week ago. "I only even knew about the event because one of the other candidates Tweeted about it," he explained to The BRAD BLOG via email.
His legal representative, Gautam Dutta of Business, Energy, and Election Law, PC, fired off a 2-page letter [PDF] over the weekend to the SPC President, Secretary and Treasurer demanding that Curtis be included in the debate, and charging that his exclusion "violates federal law governing tax-exempt groups."
For their part, the SPC has, so far, failed to explain the criteria used to invite candidates to participate, though they did send us a statement claiming that Curtis, after learning about the debate and his exclusion from it, "began a tirade of insulting and threatening social media posts about our organization," and "became belligerent and rude, making a conversation impossible" during a phone call with the group's program director...
To date, we've been unable to find any comments from the Green Party candidate that we'd characterize as particularly "insulting" or "threatening", though Curtis admits he "was pretty upset" after finding out that he had not been invited to the debate, after appearing with five other candidates in the first debate for CA Secretary of State held several weeks ago.
After finding out about the debate, "I tried to call them for 24 hours over that weekend," he told us. "The SPC had no operable website on that Sunday and no voice mail option."
Once he was finally able to reach a representative for the group, he admits that he was very frustrated. "I asked him if the group has a non-profit status and he said 'yes' I said 'I will remove it' and I hung up on him," Curtis said. "I called him back twice and we had pleasant exchanges."
"On Twitter," he added, "I did Tweet A LOT of stuff, that is what Twitter is for. They seem to be a little slow on the internet thing."
In a quick search of the social media service, while there were a number of tweets from Curtis citing his exclusion from the event, the most "threatening" or "insulting" we were able to find from Curtis was a tweet to the Sacramento Press Club asking: "Is a function of a free press to limit speech?" In another, he charged that the group, of which he claims to be a member, "censors speech". That tweet used the hashtag "#LetCurtisDebate". And in still another tweet last week, on the same day that the SPC released a statement on his exclusion from the debate Curtis asked wryly: "Good morning, is it a democracy yet?"
He also noted on Twitter that he "is already in the ACLU and League of Women Voters and Common Cause Debates."
In a response to Curtis' initial complaint, SPC President Juliet Williams of the Associated Press, issued the following statement on April 15th:
After responding quickly to our first query seeking comment, in which they sent the above statement, the SPC has yet to reply to our follow-up asking for them to cite the social media comments from Curtis that they found to be "insulting and threatening".
"In addition to excluding me from the debate," Curtis responded on the same day, "Ms Williams of the Sac Press Club is now lying publicly in her response."
In Dutta's foot-noted letter [PDF] on April 20th, the attorney charges the SPC is in violation of federal law in its exclusion of the Green Party candidate.
"Because your group receives tax exemptions from federal and state taxes, it is
forbidden from playing favorites among candidates, and must remain 'neutral in political affairs.' In that regard, as the federal court in Washington, DC pointedly noted, a group holding a political debate 'must be able to show that their objective criteria were used to pick the participants.' If a group fails to do so, its tax-exempt status must be revoked," Dutta writes [emphasis in original], calling on the SPC to "immediately reverse its unprincipled, unwise, and unfair decision."
"In light of the Field Poll, we fail to see any 'objective criteria' that would justify
excluding Mr. Curtis, when your group has also invited candidates who had polled
behind Mr. Curtis."
The April 11th Field Poll finds Republican Peterson leading the current pack of candidates with 30%. The Democratic State Senator Padilla follows him with 17%, trailed by Curtis with 5%, the former GOPer running as an "independent" Schnur with 4% and the Democratic Cressman with 3%.
There is also a large number of undecideds in the race, about which John Hrabe of CalNewsroom.com observers: "The exclusion of Curtis could affect his ability to reach the 'huge 41% of voters (that) are undecided' in the race".
As of 2012, California now features an open "Top-Two" primary system, in which the two leading vote-getters in the primary, from any party, go on to compete against each other in the general election.
Last month, The BRAD BLOG highlighted a conversation we'd recently had with Curtis over social media in response to his advocacy for an optional "online method of voting".
The BRAD BLOG has long been on record documenting the many dangers of Internet elections. As we noted when posting our conversation with Curtis: "While the ease of hacking such elections is certainly a major concern (among many others), the over-arching problem with Internet Voting is that, after voting is complete, it is 100% impossible for citizens to oversee their own election results in order to determine that any vote has been tallied as per any voter's intent."
So, while we do not necessarily agree with all of Curtis' positions (or even Dutta's, with whom we've also strongly disagreed in the past), we are more than happy to participate in spirited debate with the candidate, along with the others also in the running this year (even as some have proven less than interested in debating, or even responding to us). Unfortunately, the Sacramento Press Club doesn't appear to share that spirit of free and open debate, at least based on their exclusion of Curtis and their subsequent responses to the call to include him in this week's luncheon debate.
California is the most populous state in the union and often leads the nation in issues regarding elections and voting systems overseen by the Secretary of State. With the current outgoing Democratic CA Sec. of State Debra Bowen excluded from running again due to term limits, this year's contest for the office is wide open and could prove to have a dramatic effect on voting systems across the country. A request for comment on this matter from Bowen's office was not immediately replied to.
On their website, the Sacramento Press Club describes themselves as "a non-profit educational organization dedicated to helping the next generation of journalists through scholarships to journalism students in California." They say they have "more than 200 active members," including "political reporters and columnists, new media journalists, public relations experts, press secretaries, political consultants, legislative staff members and other members of the public with an interest in the media and/or politics."
"The Sacramento Press Club is committed to informing and educating its members and the public through monthly luncheons featuring newsmakers from throughout the nation," their website states.
Here is the SPC's announcement about this week's monthly luncheon, which excludes the Green Party candidate David Curtis, even as it includes Republican, Democratic and independent candidates currently polling lower than him...