Tonight, at 9 PM ET, talk show host Tavis Smiley will moderate a Republican presidential forum at Morgan Sate University in Maryland, where candidates will for the first time answer questions from “a panel exclusively comprised of journalists of color.” Controversy is surrounding the event, however, as the four Republican frontrunners — Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and Sen. John McCain — have all opted to ditch the debate. Empty lecterns will stand on the stage in their place.
Smiley has been blunt in his opinion of the candidate no-shows, telling USA Today that “no one should be elected president of this country in 2008 if they think that along the way they can ignore people of color.” On CNN’s Out In The Open last night, Smiley re-iterated that point, adding that the snub was part of an apparent pattern of disregarding minority groups and issues:
When you say no to every black request you recieve, to black organizations, to black media. When you say no to every hispanic invitation you recieve, to organizations and to Univision, and to other hispanic media. When you say no to every black and brown request you receive, is that a scheduling problem or is that a pattern? They’re trying to go, these frontrunners, these Republican frontrunners, trying to go through this entire primary process and never have to address voters of color and never queried journalists of color. And I think in the most multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-ethnic America ever, that quite frankly, is unacceptable.
This is now the third minority-focused debate in which the Republican front runners have refused to participate. They also did not attend a debate on gay issues hosted by the Human Rights Campaign and the Logo network as well as a Spanish-language debate hosted by Univision.
The snubbing of minority forums by top GOP candidates has been met with condemnation from voices across the political spectrum.
On the right, the Washington Times editorialized “that some run-of-the mill fund-raiser” should not be “more important” for candidates “than building up their relationships with black and Hispanic voters.” Former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele, one of the most prominent African-Americans in the GOP, called the PBS debate “an important opportunity for” candidates “to put up or shut up, when it to comes to minority communities in the country.”
As Smiley says, the refusal of the Republican frontrunners to appear at the All-American Presidential Forum is “serving up some disrespect to black and brown Americans,” whether they be Republicans, Democrats or Independents.