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The Los Angeles Times
Sep 14, 2006 - 01:00 AM

by Michael Finnegan, Times Staff Writer

Debate Set in Gov.'s Race;

Schwarzenegger will face Phil Angelides once -- on Oct. 7. The challenger's campaign manager criticizes the event's format.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, reached agreement Wednesday to hold one debate on a Saturday night next month in Sacramento.

The deal to debate Oct. 7, the third anniversary of the California recall election, came after Angelides gave in to an array of conditions that appear to favor the Republican incumbent.

In an effort to make himself better known to voters, Angelides had hoped to debate Schwarzenegger as many as 10 times. But the governor agreed to debate just once, and the event's timing -- at 6 p.m. on a Saturday during major league baseball playoffs -- could limit the number of viewers.

Also, the moderator, Stan Statham, is a former Republican assemblyman who is now a registered lobbyist for the California Broadcasters Assn., the debate's sponsor. The association has reported lobbying on several bills that have passed the Legislature and are now up for approval or veto by the governor.

Statham, who said he changed his voter registration from Republican to independent 12 years ago, is president and chief executive of the association, a trade group for nearly 1,000 television and radio stations. He said he had never personally lobbied the governor and did not plan to do so.

For the debate, he said, the association's board of directors will review thousands of proposed questions from the public, then narrow them down to the eight or nine most popular or important.

"We'll do our damnedest to get six or seven of them in a 60-minute debate," said Statham, who will be the only person on stage with the candidates.

He described the format as conversational, with no opening or closing statements. Each candidate will be seated at a table, and each will get a chance to pose one question to the other, he said.

Angelides dropped his efforts to set conditions on the debate's format just minutes before the broadcast group's 5 p.m. deadline Wednesday. His last two demands were that no questions could be released in advance (the broadcasters had already set that condition themselves) and that neither candidate could bring notes (the sponsors will decide that later).

Cathy Calfo, Angelides' campaign manager, expressed disappointment at the format. In a letter to Steve Schmidt, the manager of Schwarzenegger's reelection campaign, she said she was "mystified" that the governor had refused to have the two candidates stand at lecterns and face "tough questioning by a panel of journalists."

"Unfortunately, while our campaign has accepted numerous offers to true debates, to date your campaign has accepted none; therefore, it is unlikely voters will have the chance to see the clear differences between these two candidates in a format that allows for the most open and spontaneous exchange," she wrote.

Katie Levinson, communications director of the Schwarzenegger campaign, released a written statement saying that it was good news that Angelides had "finally decided to honor his commitment -- made months ago in writing" to debate under the conditions set by the broadcasters group.

"The governor looks forward to a debate that will show the broadest possible audience of Californians the very clear choice between his positive vision for moving California forward and Phil Angelides' partisan negativity that will take this state backwards," she said.

The debate will take place at Cal State Sacramento, the same campus where Schwarzenegger debated four opponents in the 2003 recall race. In that raucous encounter, which Statham also moderated, the questions were released in advance, but the candidates still pelted one another with insults and one-liners, with Schwarzenegger and then-rival Arianna Huffington the main antagonists.

Statham said the debate next month would be broadcast nearly statewide on television and radio, but the Los Angeles stations were not yet set.

As a state assemblyman from 1976 to 1994, Statham represented mainly rural areas near the Oregon border. For the broadcasters group, Statham said he often lobbies officials in Washington, D.C., but rarely does so in Sacramento.

The association, which lists Statham and two outside firms as its Sacramento lobbyists, has filed reports with the state saying that it has lobbied the governor's office, state agencies or the Legislature on more than a dozen bills during the two-year legislative session that concluded last month.

One bill, which did not pass, would have scaled back disclosure requirements for radio ads by political campaigns, so less air time would have been used to tell listeners who paid for the spots, said Mark Powers, vice president of the broadcasters association.

Several other bills that have drawn lobbying efforts by the broadcasters group are awaiting action by the governor, but Statham said that would not affect his ability to remain impartial in the debate. Among the issues the group covers are television advertising by nonprofit sponsors of gambling events and a plan by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuņez (D-Los Angeles) to clear the way for telephone companies to offer TV services.

Another bill the group has urged Schwarzenegger to sign would make it easier for news organizations to interview inmates at state prisons.

"We're hoping the governor signs that bill to give us more access," Statham said.

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Contact the author at: michael.finnegan@latimes.com





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