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Debate bar set too high

Five percent is a reasonable threshold for a minor candidate

We understand why the League of Women Voters of the Rogue Valley withdrew its sponsorship of the gubernatorial debate scheduled for Oct. 24 in Medford. We also understand why the campaigns of Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Republican challender Ron Saxton refused to allow minor party candidates to participate: because they can.

It is an unfortunate fact of American political life that the two major parties can control what voters see and hear during a campaign by agreeing to exclude minor-party candidates from the stage.

The standard argument goes something like this: Minor-party candidates have no realistic hope of winning the election, so allowing them exposure in televised debates merely takes time away from the major party candidates, one of whom will be running the state in January.

That's true, as far as it goes. It's also true that a live, televised debate is the kind of exposure all the campaign cash in the world can't buy. Getting your message out is hard enough for a minor-party candidate. Being shut out of the debates just makes it that much harder.

In previous elections, the League had required minor-party candidates to show at least 10 percent support in an independent poll before including them in debates. This year, the organization decided to drop the threshold to 5 percent. The Kulongoski and Saxton camps reportedly wanted the 10-percent rule retained, and Kulongoski's campaign was concerned about allowing a candidate to qualify based on a poll taken just before the debate. The League wants to allow polls to count right up to the time of the debate.

Bob Wise, KOBI general manager, said he thought 10 percent was a reasonable threshold. We disagree.

Five percent is tough enough to reach for a little-known candidate with limited campaign funds. In fact, state League official Margaret Noel noted that no poll so far showed any of the three minor-party contenders with 5 percent support.

It's a little early to write them off, however. Tuesday is the filing deadline, and campaigns don't really start heating up until after Labor Day.

We're not suggesting that Pacific Green Party candidate Joseph Keating, Constitution Party nominee Mary Starrett or Libertarian Richard Morley have a real shot at the governor's mansion. They don't, but that's not the point.

They bring points of view and stands on issues that add to the discussion about what's best for Oregon and for Oregonians. Voters deserve to hear all those points of view, and the major-party candidates' responses to them.

Fire rules reasonableOregon is putting safety first with tough new standards for firefighting crews. The state wants to ensure that each company awarded a contract can show proper dispatch facilities, records, training and equipment. Hispanic companies and crews must show that their firefighters are legal immigrants.

Concerns over language barriers putting workers at risk has prompted the Oregon Department of Forestry to phase in standardized tests to ensure crew bosses speak English and the language of their firefighters well enough to be safe.

The new standards are not without critics. In addition to the language requirement, the state can give the contract to the company with the best performance record but not necessarily the lowest bid. That has led to lawsuits. Four Hispanic contractors are claiming that enforcement of the new regulations is racially motivated. Other Hispanic contractors praise the new regulations for raising the bar in a dangerous occupation.

Firefighters risk their lives while attempting to save acres of timber and homes. Since the new standards are the same for all contractors, there should be no fear of losing out on a low estimate if all regulations are being met.

The state wants to ensure that it spends our tax money wisely. Loss of life or property can also produce lawsuits. The state is being a savvy consumer that knows that sometimes you have to pay more to save in the end.