The reasoning for such a refusal is the obvious one: Why give an underdog a position of parity?
So when the Memphis/Shelby County League of Women Voters, roughly a month ago, sounded out both Adrienne Pakis-Gillon, the Democrat running in the December 1st special general election for state Senate District 31, and former state Rep. Brian Kelsey, her Republican opponent, about a joint appearance, it was not surprising that Pakis-Gillon should accept right away.
Nor was it extraordinary for Kelsey to put off giving a positive response. He, after all, was heavily favored — for reasons of name recognition, because of an impressive campaign war-chest, and, not least, because he was the Republican running in an area, centered on Germantown, that is historically Republican.
Neither the League nor Pakis-Gillon wanted to leave it at that, however. They persisted in trying to get a straight up-or-down answer from Kelsey.
It is fair to say that the response Kelsey gave to the Flyer Thursday night was fairly categorical: “Why should I waste my time with the League of Liberal Women Voters when I’m trying to deal with real voters?” Kelsey said, “Nobody’s been more accessible to the voters than I’ve been,” and he pointed out that early voting in the special-election race had started and said that he was spending considerable time every day at polling places greeting voters. “It’s too late to be talking about this now, anyhow,” he said.
As for debating Pakis-Gillon, Kelsey said, “What’s to debate? She’s a Barack Obama big-spending liberal, and I’m a conservative in tune with the conservative sentiments of this district.”
In short: No to the idea of debating.
Peg Watkins, president of the MSCLWV, professed to find Kelsey’s characterization of her organization “amazing,” maintaining that the League was formally non-partisan and studiedly neutral concerning elections. “I’d be happy to send him a copy of our mission statement,” she said.
And, indeed, when Kelsey was reminded that the immediate past president of the League, Dee Nollner, was a Republican, he grudgingly acknowledged the fact. “Okay, there are a few, but mainly they’re the League of Liberal Women Voters, and I don’t have time for them.”
For her part, Pakis-Gillon said that she intended to represent the entire community, Democrats and Republicans. “I don’t put a label on myself,” she said. “I’ve worked with members of both parties on community projects, and they’re all entitled to representation in the Senate.”
The December 1st election will determine who fills the seat vacated by former state Senator Paul Stanley, who resigned last summer after becoming involved in a sex-and-blackmail scandal involving his legislative intern.