Capitol & State

Idaho's goofy guv's debate goes viral

UPDATE, 3 p.m. Nick McMullin pulled the video from YouTube this afternoon, but remains available on LiveLink.  To view the entire debate click here.

The absurd performances of perennial fringe candidates Harley Brown and Walt Bayes are highlighted in a 2 minute, 19 second edit of Wednesday's hour-long debate among the four candidates for the Republican nomination for governor.

NBC political reporter Chuck Todd has filed multiple tweets, including a link to this blog and the mashup. "There's a reason we need more televised debates and more candidates participating in debates," Todd said, who joined BuzzFeed, Gawker, Politico, Mother Jones,  Slate and the Washington Post in touting the event.

I concede the evening was entertaining and worthy of what Todd called his "lunch break obsession."

But my view is it's a shame the only face-to-face exchange of the campaign distracted from the serious business of electing a chief executive. Sorry, but I'm not heartened that the debate is getting more attention because it demeans the profound exercise of self governance.

The cribbed version, entitled the "Great Idaho Debate Supercut" by Nick McMullin, gives all the lines to Brown and Bayes. The two credible candidates — Gov. Butch Otter and Sen. Russ Fulcher — are used as foils of facial expression, as are moderator Melissa Davlin and two panelists, Betsy Russell and myself.

It's not clear why McMullin pulled his video from YouTube Thursday afternoon. Idaho Public TV Executive Producer Bruce Reichert said the network didn't ask McMullin to remove the clip.

Reichert said network executives will meet Friday to discuss whether to take steps to protect their copyright. Reichert said a lawyer is mulling the matter but his initial reaction "was that most of the articles and links seem to be for news purposes, broadly defined, and we have a tradition of not blocking those kinds of things."

Otter insists as a condition of his participation in debates that fringe candidates be invited, even as they show over multiple campaigns that they'll win less than 4 percent of the vote.

Perhaps Brown and Bayes will fare a bit better this year, as the entire hour was peppered with silliness that probably kept many casual viewers from reaching for their clicker. Both are a perfect expression of a protest vote.

The debate was on a 30-second delay because of Brown's penchant for profanity and bigotry.

It looked like the delay might come in handy when before the debate began Fulcher counted in Spanish during his mike check. Brown made a crack about "wetbacks."

Davlin, who moderated her first debates this season after joining Idaho Public TV from the Twin Falls-Times News, quickly stepped in and warned against such talk. She said any swearing or racist remarks would mean no more questions for the offender.

"Yes, ma'am," replied Brown, who wore his motorcycle leathers with "PRESIDENT" embroidered on his left breast and two big cigars poking from his right pocket. 

Brown showed off a certificate certifying he was ordained by God to be president, a throwback his earlier campaigns for Boise mayor, Congress and the Ada County Highway District.  "Don't think I'm crazy, 'cuz I'm not," Brown assured viewers.

Throughout the hour, Davlin deftly kept the debate moving and Brown on his best behavior, though he did manage to throw in Playboy bunnies, "it sucks," "turd in a punchbowl," and "hey, diddle diddle, right up the middle, that's my style."

Bayes read at length from the Bible when asked to comment on same-sex marriage and waved his hands wildly, often coming quite near to striking the governor.

Bayes wore his signature khaki shirt emblazoned with "Abortion is Murder" in hot pink on the reverse. On the front right, he wore a "Walt Bayes" button, opposite on the left was a name tag reading "Walt Bays." He appears on the ballot as Walt Bayes.

If there's a competition for the most comedic or bizarre debate, Idaho Public Television should enter. To see the entire debate click here.