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Brock: Gubernatorial debate had something for most everyone

There are few times at my age do I feel really uncomfortable, but Monday night I found myself in such a place on so many fronts. Obviously, I'm a huge supporter of the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from restricting the press or the ri...

Harvey Brock

There are few times at my age do I feel really uncomfortable, but Monday night I found myself in such a place on so many fronts.

Obviously, I'm a huge supporter of the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely and the allows for citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.

I was invited to moderate the North Dakota gubernatorial debate at Bismarck's Belle Mehus Auditorium and, unfortunately, it became necessary to address Dakota Pipeline Access protestors who began shouting after the candidates answered a question about the pipeline protest.

I have a face for radio and a voice for silent movies, so I'm never comfortable being in front of a camera, nor do I like being the news. But there I was on the 10 o'clock news trying to restore calm to the debate.

I have moderated a number of debates and most, by design, are as exciting as watching water boil. People show up to hear what the candidates' views are on important issues and also how they appear and answer questions, though most have already made up their minds.

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Monday night, posted on the door for all those who entered, was the standard conduct requirements for attending debates. Just like every other debate I have ever moderated, I began with reminding the audience that we were there to listen to the candidates and to be quiet, hold comments, cheers and applause until after the debate was over. Several times in previous debates, I have cautioned folks for speaking out favorably or not after a candidate's comment.

Protesters interviewed after their protest they said they were frustrated to learn there would not be a question-and-answer session, where they could speak and ask questions, which was why many shouted their concerns about Missouri River water to the candidates during the event and then walked out.

To their credit, they remained quiet until after each candidate answered the question about the Dakota Access Pipeline. They then began shouting their protests of the pipeline and eventually left.

The debate went on after their protest and I was a little disappointed that they didn't stay for the rest of the debate. They would have had even a bigger opportunity to shout cheer and exercise their First Amendment right at the end of the debate, and there were issues discussed that concerned all North Dakotans.

I know there have been many problems with the pipeline protest, laws have been broken and people have been arrested. But speaking only of the protest Monday night, in the end most everyone got what they came for at the debate.

The protesters got to make a statement-covered by news teams that more than likely wouldn't have bothered to attend based only on the merits of the debate.

The Bismarck police allowed the protestors to do what they had come for without arresting anyone. And the North Dakota Newspaper Association fulfilled our part by hosting one of three scheduled gubernatorial debates.

The only real losers were the viewers of the 10 o'clock news, who had to watch to a gray-haired old guy trying to delay folks their First Amendment right.

Opinion by Harvey Brock
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