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The best thing about the AETN debate of 2nd Congressional District candidates broadcast Tuesday night was that relatively few people watched.

The hour was a waste for everyone except the incumbent, Republican French Hill, who coasts in a defensive posture. He had smartly eschewed other debates to participate only in AETN's excuse.

Hill needed only to mouth about 15 minutes' worth of platitudes. The panel of three journalists neglected to ask at all about the biggest issue on which he potentially faces the greatest vulnerability--health care. Meantime, a credible-enough but irrelevant Libertarian candidate diluted the discussion.

By standing in the middle, and being quite tall, that Libertarian--Joe Ryne Swafford--literally buffered Hill from his Democratic challenger, Clarke Tucker.

Oh, and the format: Let me tell you about the weirdness of that.

A question went to one of three candidates. He answered. Then the other two candidates answered. Then the candidate who fielded the question originally got one minute to rebut. The other two didn't get diddly to rebut.

The unfair advantage was rotated among candidates question to question. But the stifling of valuable interplay was constant.

Tucker waited for one of the panelists to bring up health care, only to hear moderator Steve Barnes say, well, that's all the time we have, folks, except for closing statements. Tucker used his to talk about ... health care, to say at least a little where he'd wanted to say a lot.

Hill, going last in the closing-statement round, and thus the debate, sucker-punched Tucker with charges of liberalism and national party allegiance, knowing Tucker had no opportunity to answer.

The issue is that Hill voted to repeal Obamacare and replace it with uncertainty. That dubious replacement included a nebulous risk-pool plan state-by-state that would have removed federally mandated premium and benefit equity for persons with pre-existing conditions.

It would have left those persons to the crapshoots of mean states like Arkansas.

Tucker, a recent survivor of cancer--a pre-existing condition--centers his campaign on protecting that federally mandated equality of treatment. Hill insists he voted to "truly protect" pre-existing condition coverage, which perhaps he could explain during, say, a debate. Except it never got asked.

Here's what did get asked about:

• The Kavanaugh confirmation, a Senate matter, not House, although it was timely and instructive to have the candidates discuss the incendiary gender issues arising from it.

• Immigration.

• Russian interference in our elections.

• The national debt, which is what I call a "blah-blah question." By that I mean it invites "blah-blah" responses, like Hill's, which was that he supports a balanced budget amendment presumably to force-feed what politicians fear to do, and like that of Tucker, who said he voted for as a state legislator for a balanced budget, which is state law.

• Tariffs, a policy strength of Hill.

• The proposal to raise the minimum wage, which is a state ballot issue having nothing to do with service in Congress.

The panelists tell me they had a health-care question ready for the next round, which they curiously expected to have time for.

Anyway, one of the panelists said, the candidates have been talking about health care a lot.

Another panelist told me it wasn't a panelist's job to tee up an issue for a candidate--presumably Tucker in this context.

I agree. Instead it's a panelist's job to tee up an issue not for a candidate, but freshly between the candidates, by asking about a highly contentious matter in a different and mutually challenging way that might serve the seven or eight people watching.

It's not easy. You'd need two questions, one for each candidate. This is about the best I can do off the top of my head:

For Hill--The Affordable Care Act repeal that you voted for and then celebrated with President Trump in the Rose Garden ... the president ended up calling it "too mean" when it ran into resistance in the Senate. Isn't the removal of federally mandated guaranteed premium and benefit equity for persons with diseases indeed ... if not mean, then highly insensitive to their conditions and understandable fears?

Then Tucker could rebut, in a real debate.

For Tucker--It's easy to say Congressman Hill's vote ill-served persons with pre-existing conditions. But the reason for proposing to separate those conditions into their own risk pools was to try to stop the unsustainable annual rise in premiums for everyone else. How would you address that--so that the health insurance agent to whom I was speaking the other day could deliver something other than bad annual news on steep premium increases to employers, employees and individually insured clients?

Then Hill could rebut, in a real debate.

Oh, well. National experts say this is not a particularly competitive House race. That was certainly true the other night on AETN.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 10/11/2018

Print Headline: Ill-served by 'debate'


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  • Slak
    October 11, 2018 at 5:27 a.m.

    Such whining.
    RESIST the socialist Democrat effort to fundamentally change America.

  • RBear
    October 11, 2018 at 7:06 a.m.

    John one of the things I've noticed since coming back to Arkansas is the lack of real debates due to the lack of competitive races. The mayoral race in LR is probably the only true competitive race. CD-2 could be competitive except that it's almost impossible to find Hill to pin him down on issues like health care and his attack on pre-existing conditions. As such, you get journalists who I have to say are rank amateurs when dealing with issues.
    One of my favorite journalists in Texas is Evan Smith, who is also a personal friend. Evan has that unique ability to be a politician's friend, but hit them with the directed question that can make the politician squirm a bit. You never know when it's coming and it usually comes at the most opportune time for to get to the heart of the matter. It comes from YEARS of interviewing individuals.
    Hill is probably one of the worst of the AR delegation at dealing with issues. He's a shill for the financial industry who uses him as their proxy for their bills and language. He doesn't really deal with AR issues and spends just enough time in the state to make an occasional photo op. Town halls are almost non-existent because I don't think he's really capable of thinking on his feet. That comes from a lack of engagement with his constituents.
    Regardless, Tucker is at least shaking this race up and forcing a conversation among voters in the donut counties. I think some are actually realizing how little Tucker does for them. Will that be enough to push the button for Tucker? I doubt it for the win, but maybe enough to scare the sh** out of Hill for a change.

  • GeneralMac
    October 11, 2018 at 7:27 a.m.

    Clarke Tucker/Nancy Pelosi

  • LRCrookAtty
    October 11, 2018 at 8:37 a.m.

    I keep hearing about this pre-existing condition block to healthcare, but have yet to find anyone that it has actually effected. I know people that are afraid that if they lose their healthcare then they will not be able to find new healthcare because of a pre-existing condition, but cannot find anyone that it has actually happened to. I had shoulder surgery in 2004 that caused a more serious condition that has been ongoing for 11 years. During this time, my wife and I have moved and started new jobs, but never went without health insurance for more than 90 days, therefore, the new insurance company could not deny my coverage. I am sure there are some out there that this has happened to, but I just don't see it as a huge problem. What I see is people will refuse to have coverage up and until something happens that they need it for and then try to get insurance. That is not what insurance is and it should never be put in that form. I remember when they forced everyone to get liability car insurance. That was supposed to cause insurance prices to go down. Well, they didn't and have increased well above inflation, because the insurance companies know that people (by law) have to have it, so they charge whatever the hell they want.

  • RBear
    October 11, 2018 at 9:11 a.m.

    Simple answer, LRCrook. It's because the Republican attempts to repeal the ACA, where pre-existing conditions are covered, failed. However, Hill voted for the House bill that would have no longer required insurers to cover pre-existing conditions. It has been a problem with many Republicans, including Hill, wanting to pull that protection from health care bills.

  • ASD68342008
    October 11, 2018 at 9:42 a.m.

    How has the ACA/Obama care affected my health insurance?
    My premiums have tripled – my deductibles have tripled –
    My costs were to remain the same or decrease.
    So much for demo healthcare promises.
    Tucker will become another shill for Pelosi.

  • hah406
    October 11, 2018 at 9:44 a.m.

    LRCrook, I have two pre-existing conditions, one an injury and the other a hematologic condition. When I relocated back to Little Rock, I was denied coverage for a year for those conditions prior to the ACA taking effect. And I work for a freaking healthcare system! So now you know someone. It is real. Exemptions for pre-existing conditions actually hurt people. Hill lost my vote over this issue, and yes I voted for him in the previous two elections.

  • LRCrookAtty
    October 11, 2018 at 10:44 a.m.

    Hah...Did you go without coverage for more than 90 days? If so, that is the only way they could deny (legally) pre ObamaCare.

  • hah406
    October 11, 2018 at 11:20 a.m.

    I did not. They didn't deny me coverage for everything, just for those two conditions for a year.

  • PopMom
    October 11, 2018 at 12:09 p.m.

    Healthcare costs are going to continue to rise as medicine advances. The best way to keep costs down is to try to foster improved health through incentives. The country needs to stop cozying up to the sugar industry. We need stricter labeling standards. Schools need aggressive p.e. programs and nutrition education. People who can pass drug tests, don't smoke, and have lower BMIs should have cheaper healthcare. Society has too many drug addicts and obese people.