Controversy is swirling over a Wichita Crime Commission forum that was planned for the two leading 4th Congressional District candidates, Democrat Raj Goyle and Republican Mike Pompeo.
The public forum was scheduled for next Thursday. But commission executive director Gordon Bassham said that he called it off earlier this week after Goyle's campaign didn't confirm whether Goyle would take part.
"We pulled the plug on this," Bassham said Friday. "I told them, 'You have to let us know, we're up against a deadline.' It's unfortunate."
But Goyle's campaign said Friday it was still negotiating with the commission about taking part in the forum.
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"We haven't confirmed one way or another," Goyle spokesman Robert Becker said. "It's still on our scheduling table."
"Really, I don't know who they're talking to," Bassham said. "If he thinks they're in negotiations, I'll call and tell him that obviously he's wrong."
Bassham said he informed Pompeo's campaign Wednesday the forum had been canceled and tried several times to contact the Goyle campaign to deliver the same message. He said Goyle's campaign didn't respond.
"When we didn't get any phone calls back," Bassham said, "we assumed they didn't want to do the forum."
In an e-mail response, Becker said, "All we can say is, he assumed wrong. Our scheduler has not heard from him and Mr. Bassham has his cell number."
Thursday, Pompeo's campaign issued a release that expressed disappointment at Goyle's "decision to decline" an invitation to take part in the forum.
Goyle's campaign responded Thursday night by calling Pompeo's release a "bizarre attack." Becker repeated that Friday.
"It's extremely bizarre for Pompeo to attack on this," Becker said. "It's a serious breach of protocol to issue a press release to attack a campaign for something that hasn't even happened yet."
Pompeo campaign manager Rodger Woods said the release was not meant to be an attack on Goyle.
First choice declined
The crime commission has held candidate forums for more than a decade, following a format of opening and closing statements from candidates and questions from the audience.
The group had planned to hold next week's forum for the U.S. Senate primary winners, Republican Jerry Moran and Democrat Lisa Johnston. But Moran's campaign told the commission almost immediately after the primary that Moran wouldn't be able to do it, Bassham said.
Bobby Stout, who retired in June as the commission's longtime executive director, had agreed to help Bassham arrange some upcoming events for the commission's meetings.
Stout said he was put in touch with Goyle through a mutual friend and asked whether he would take part in the forum.
"He said he wouldn't make any commitment to me because they were in the process of scheduling debates," Stout said. "I can't tell you why he didn't want to do it. The more exposure you have to people, it's great for both candidates. That's all I was interested in."
Pompeo's campaign said it accepted the commission's invitation to participate in the forum about two weeks ago.
Goyle's release Thursday night included an exchange of several e-mails between the two campaigns that indicated both sides were amicably working toward setting up a schedule of debates.
In an e-mail from Goyle campaign manager Kiel Brunner to Woods dated Aug. 11, Brunner suggested the candidates take part in five debates — three televised and two on radio — between Labor Day and Election Day, Nov. 2.
Woods said Pompeo's campaign was agreeable to doing the five debates.
"We look forward to working with the Goyle campaign to make those happen," Woods said.
But in response to the Goyle campaign's debate suggestions, Woods said he made it clear that limiting the debates to television and radio "really creates a structure and environment where there's no voter interaction."
He also noted if the debates were limited to TV and radio, a number of community groups that meet during the day wouldn't have an opportunity to have interactive dialogue with the candidates. The crime commission's meeting is held during the day.
Becker said Goyle wants to take part in as many debates or forums "as we can that are open to the public and all candidates and are broadcast as widely as possible by the media."
Becker said he wasn't aware of any debates or forums that have been set.
Reform candidate Susan Ducey and Libertarian candidate David Moffett had not been invited to commission's forum.
Two other groups, the downtown Rotary club and Wichita Independent Business Association, also withdrew their invitations to forums with Goyle and Pompeo this week.
Tim Witsman, WIBA president and vice president for Downtown Rotary, was trying to make the arrangements for both organizations.
He said Goyle's campaign wanted a format of 20-minute presentations by the candidates followed by questions.
"We told them that doesn't work," Witsman said. He said previous candidate forums held by the groups have worked well by using a format of short opening comments followed by written questions.
Bassham said the commission won't try to reschedule the forum for the congressional candidates because all remaining monthly meeting dates before the election are taken.
In place of the forum, Bassham said the commission will hear a presentation by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent on human trafficking.
On Sept. 23, the commission will hold a forum for the attorney general candidates.