Capitol & State

Statesman, Boise press corps feel a certain Bern

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally, Saturday, March 19, 2016 in Phoenix.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally, Saturday, March 19, 2016 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

Bernie Sanders brings his presidential campaign to Boise Monday after a Friday stop in Idaho Falls. The Sanders campaign called Thursday to offer the Statesman 30 minutes one-on-one with the Vermont senator ahead of his noon rally at Boise State University’s Taco Bell arena.

Of course, we said yes. What better way to get past the usual campaign talking points and quiz the candidate on topics of special interest to Idahoans? (Rocky Barker covers a few of those here.)

“What do you want to talk to him about?” they asked. I thought it was kind of an odd question. We don’t typically lay things out like that ahead of time, but in deference, I said we’d want to hear more about his views on topics like federal lands and land use policy, energy and the Idaho National Laboratory, statewide political and policy issues like this year’s debates on healthcare and minimum wage, not to mention drilling down for local angles on Sanders’s campaign themes.

“Great, we’ll see you Monday,” they told us.

When I called Friday to confirm our appointment, the message back was, “Sorry, schedule change. No can do.”

Really? OK, but will the candidate make himself available to the press for questions? Ted Cruz did that when he passed through Boise two weeks ago. Marco Rubio didn’t.

No response from Team Sanders.

I called another staffer. No, as of now we don’t see any time for that, but we’ll let you know if something changes.

Right. Well, we won’t hold our breath.

Since this all happened Friday, it’s probably not because the Statesman editorial board on Sunday endorsed his opponent, Hillary Clinton. And schedules change, for sure. But when candidates don’t make themselves available in a non-scripted environment, such as in a press scrum, it’s the voters who lose out.

It’s too bad for Idaho, especially for those who will be participating in Tuesday’s Democratic caucus. It’s not about the campaign canceling a meeting with the Statesman, but the fact that they appear unwilling to schedule any time with the press while he’s here.

Candidates, and officeholders generally, sometimes avoid meetings with the press because they want to “speak directly” to the electorate, but a dialogue with a challenging questioner is much more informative – that is, maybe if you don’t count most of the recent Republican presidential debates.

People learn a lot about a candidate in those settings, more than they might from the campaign speeches that get repeated at every new stop.

Sanders has fared better against Hillary Clinton in states like Idaho that hold caucuses instead of primaries. Clinton, with her large lead in delegates, can afford to lose a small delegate state here and there, because she will still receive delegates. So far she’s only sent a campaign surrogate here.

Sanders, on the other hand, needs the win and the headlines that come with it that hopefully drive momentum his way. And the more press he gives, the more he gets. Cruz talked to reporters for about 20 minutes after his Boise rally, so he got more coverage.

It would be great for the Sanders team to reconsider. There are super reporters in Boise who, singly or collectively, could provide unique local perspective to voters via questions to the candidate.

It sure doesn’t have to be with the Statesman. With the Legislature rushing to adjournment this week with a packed agenda, we’re plenty busy. Although we will try to make the rally, if our schedule permits...

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @IDSBillD