Concerned citizens should be roused to action in light of the controversy surrounding Congressional debates in Rhode Island’s Second District, specifically with regard to refusals by both Democratic incumbent Jim Langevin and Republican candidate Mike Riley to participate in any form of public debate with Independent candidate Abel Collins. This began with Langevin’s and Riley’s withdrawing from a WJAR roundtable discussion upon word of Abel Collin’s inclusion, and this has been followed by a scheduled WPRI debate between the two to the exclusion of Mr. Collins.
It is shameful to think that our own Congressman Langevin, or challenger Mr. Riley, would refuse to engage with a candidate whose voice likewise represents the views of a significant portion of the electorate. Abel Collins’ platform is a unique one, containing stances not held by his opponents, and he constitutes one-third of the ballot. He received a requisite 500 signatures to appear there in November. Those signatures represent the opinions of 500 registered voters in the district, and to them, and surely many others, Mr. Collins is a worthy candidate deserving of consideration.
We live in an America that witnesses a growing discontent with a stagnant, often vitriolic and dysfunctional two-party system. An increasing number of Rhode Islanders have shed their party ties to become unaffiliated voters. This is true not only at the state but also the national level, where during the 2012 election cycle we have witnessed an upsurge in support for third-party candidates with the likes of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. There is no doubt that Rhode Islanders’ support for Abel Collins is symbolic of this phenomenon appearing across our republic.
The potential for an Independent candidate in our state is evident. Look no further than our state’s chief executive, Independent Governor Lincoln Chaffee—the only current Independent governor in the United States. Additionally, out of a total of 253,699 likely voters for the upcoming election for the Second Congressional District, nearly half are unaffiliated.  If I, an unaffiliated voter and constituent of the district, should provide any explanation for this trend, it is that neither party’s platform appeals to my particular set of values and opinions, and in each election a candidate’s positions deserve to be independently considered regardless of party affiliation.
As a democrat, Congressman Langevin should indeed (as it appears he is) be troubled by the appearance of a serious, liberal-independent candidate on the ballot. Collins risks pulling voters from Langevin’s base, thus tightening the gap between the incumbent and his challengers, and decreasing the congressman’s chances for reelection. Yet who (with the exception of Congressman Langevin) should say that this is a bad thing? Rather it is a healthy sign for our democracy that voters have found someone to better represent their interests. The congressman should relish at the opportunity to sway votes back into his camp through an open debate with Mr. Collins regarding contentious issues. To refuse to do so both denies his constituents a fair glimpse of his continued worthiness to serve, and indicates that Mr. Langevin would rather win votes through a process of pigeonholing than through intellectual superiority and democratic choice.
Similarly, what harm is Collins’ inclusion to Mike Riley’s candidacy? The conservative platform of the former Wall-Street banker is virtually diametrically opposed to Collins’, who was involved with the Occupy movement. Riley’s support would certainly not wane with Collins’ presence at the podium, as something tells me their respective supporters have already chosen sides. The only logical explanation for Riley’s refusal to debate with Mr. Collins appears to be a refusal on his part to stand toe-to-toe with what Riley considers to be a less “serious” candidate. Quite the ego for someone who has yet to win elected office.
If either Jim Langevin or Mike Riley believes, as they both so rightly should, that the Rhode Island voter deserves the best possible representation in Washington, then they would not shrink, as they have, at publicly engaging the full spectrum of opinions that exists in this state. This is not advocacy for a candidate, but for process, one in which broadcasted debates play a vital role. They are the primary means through which voters can engage with their candidates and make informed decisions—particularly during a time of economic distress, when the working citizen often does not enjoy the luxury of extra time to actively partake in political life. To exclude the independent voice is to detract from the fairness of the democratic process and deny voters the full freedom of choice as envisaged by our founders.
145 Cassandra Lane
North Kingstown, RI 02852
* It should be noted that while my position has no bearing on this election or these candidates, I serve as the campaign manager for incumbent state senator Dawson Hodgson (R), District 35. My opinions do not in any way represent those of the senator.
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