Fisk lines up moderator, hall; Merrifield decides to debate elsewhere

       Tuesday, Oct. 10 was the night candidate Kyle Fisk thought he would finally get to debate incumbent District 18 State Representative Michael Merrifield. The Republican challenger's campaign had rented a hall, hired a moderator that had been approved by the Merrifield campaign (Cara DeGette of the Independent newspaper) and sent out an announcement that the debate was on.
       Instead, Merrifield, a Democrat, says he plans to be at another forum that night. It will be from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Head Start office, 2330 Robinson St. Merrifield said he only found out about the Head Start forum this week, but he prefers the setting largely because the subject will be childhood education - a prime interest of his as a former schoolteacher and chairman of the House Education Committee. He said the Fisk campaign “jumped the gun” by announcing the debate when his office had not absolutely agreed to it.
       Fisk's opinion is that Merrifield is ducking him. “I believe they're (the Merrifield campaign) not looking for a one-on-one debate format,” Fisk said. “It feels like they're not willing to give District 18 voters a shot at the true differences between the candidates.”
       As for the arrangements, Fisk said, “I believe our campaign has been very accommodating. We've conceded on every single point, and that included Cara Degette as moderator. No one would accuse her of being on my side, which is OK. We just wanted to have a debate.”
       The Fisk campaign was so sure the debate was on that it had paid $150 to rent Palmer High School's Lecture Hall and planned to offer DeGette a $100 honorarium. A request to split these costs with the Merrifield campaign is in a Sept. 26 Nathan Fisk e-mail.
       District 18 includes the older Westside, as well as Manitou Springs, the downtown and near-eastside areas. The election for the two-year seat will be Nov. 7.
       Based on a set of e-mail exchanges - provided to the Pioneer by the Fisk campaign - the deal-killer for Merrifield was Fisk not agreeing to add the Senate District 11 candidates into the debate format. This issue was brought up by Merrifield campaign assistant Kjersten Forseth in a Sept. 28 e-mail after electronic back-and-forths with Nathan Fisk (the candidate's brother) dating back to Aug. 30 during which potential dates, locations and acceptable moderators had been worked out.
       Merrifield said this week his SD-11 stipulation was vital because he wants the Democrat challenger, John Morse, to be able to debate the incumbent, Republican Ed Jones; plus, he thinks it significant that all but five of the precincts in D-18 are also in SD-11. “I feel very strongly as a Democrat my responsibility as a consituent is to get Senator Jones' views on the record for the public and for my friend and colleague John Morse,” he said. “I will not debate Fisk unless Jones is there at the same time.”
       Asked why he had not brought this up earlier in the debate discussions, Merrifield said, “The thought didn't occur to me till later.” He added that, “As the incumbent, I feel I have the right to demand certain conditions.”
       He also said he has been increasingly nettled by attack ads against Morse by the Trailhead “527” group charging Morse with mismanagement when he was the Fountain police chief, and that so far Jones has not been at forums Morse has attended. 527s are independent organizations not affiliated with candidates' campaigns.
       Jones' spokesperson, Sarah Brittain Jack, countered that the senator himself has been targeted by 527 attack ads (a group called Moving Colorado Forward), which has accused Jones of failing to vote on a key issue, and questioned why Merrifield was so concerned with Jones. “Michael Merrifield is not Ed's opponent,” she said.
       As for forums, Jack said she's only heard of two previously. One date conflicted with a longstanding Jones engagement, and the other was the Black Leadership Forum, to which Jones claims he did not receive an invitation.
       Ironically, Jones agreed to attend the Oct. 10 Head Start forum - sponsored by a group called Alliance for Kids - about a month ago, Jack said. Thus, he was already unavailable to attend the Oct. 10 debate the Fisk campaign had set up at Palmer when the Merrifield campaign began insisting he be there.
       Kyle Blakely, who runs a downtown public relations company, said he has been arranging the Head Start forum at the request of Alliance for Kids, which is one of his clients. The plan was/is to invite the region's state senate and representative candidates, primarily to respond to questions related to the state-funded Alliance, through which numerous organizations work with children ages 0 to 8, Blakely said.
       Neither he nor the Fisk campaign knew until last week that the other was planning an event the same night, according to interviews with Blakely and Kyle Fisk.
       Merrifield called this scenario “interesting. It just raises questions in my mind.”
       Blakely had contacted at least one other Westside-area Republican candidate in advance - Bob Gardner in House District 21. Blakely, who has been active with the Republican Party, also said he had left an e-mail message with the Democratic Party in late September, asking it to contact the appropriate candidates from its side.
       However, Merrifield said no such message was received. His campaign only found out about the meeting this week when asked about it by the Westside Pioneer, Forseth said. The same was also true of District 21 Democrat candidate Anna Lord. Note: The Pioneer had received an e-mail about the forum from Blakely Sept. 27.
       The Fisk campaign holds out hope of a later debate with Merrifield, Nathan Fisk said. But no dates or locations are known to be in the works. As for Oct. 10, Kyle Fisk said he will be at the Palmer High Lecture Hall and ready to debate Merrifield at the planned starting time of 7 p.m. “We're going to be there, Cara DeGette is going to be there, and voters are going to be there,” Fisk said. “It will be a real shame if he doesn't come to his own debate.”
       Addendum: At press deadline the night of Oct. 4, Kyle Fisk reported that Merrifield's campaign had formally notified him that Merrifield would not be at the Palmer High debate. “We are appalled,” Fisk said. “We will continue to challenge him on this.”

Westside Pioneer article