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Radio forum too liberal, says Bedwell

Eileen JoyceKVMR public affairs director Mike Thornton talks on the air during his radio show Thursday.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Don’t bet on Drew Bedwell showing up for election debates if KVMR is asking the questions.

The independent radio station’s political forums are stacked with liberal “inquisitioners” out to bash the conservative candidates, claimed Bedwell, a property rights activist vying for Nevada County’s District 3 supervisor seat.

“In the quest for civility, we need to change our mutual behaviors, and that means returning to a real debate forum with no personal attacks and no shenanigans from the people asking the questions,” Bedwell said.



Bedwell founded Protect Your Property Rights, a grass-roots group that had a big hand in halting Natural Heritage 2020, the county’s embattled long-term land-use planning program.

“I would prefer the term ‘progressive,’ as opposed to ‘liberal,'” said Mike Thornton, KVMR public affairs director.




KVMR is considered more liberal than other media outlets in the area, conceded Thornton. He joked that he’s been called as left as Wavy Gravy, the counter-culture ’60s throwback called the last, best hippie.

But, seriously, Thornton said, when it comes to news and facilitating political forums, KVMR makes every effort to be fair, regardless of what side of the fence it stands on.

“I think the people facilitating the debates have been good about putting their political opinions in their back pockets,” said Thornton.

He pointed out that it’s not just KVMR asking the questions.

League of Women Voters opted not to put on debates this year because not enough people attended in the past, said Joan Lancaster, the league’s voters service director.

“So we decided to do a candidates’ fair to bring the voters to the candidates,” she said. “I think we’ll reach more voters that way.”

Thornton said KVMR picked up the ball and teamed with KNCO radio, Foothills Community Access Television and The Union to provide a political debate forum to educate voters about where the candidates stand on issues.

Thornton started calling candidates running for the county’s District 3 and 4 supervisorial seats, left messages, and bounced dates around with proponents of the Measure D property rights initiative.

District 3 candidate Bruce Conklin and District 4 candidates Elizabeth Martin and Rene Antonson confirmed early on.

But Thornton said he’s been getting the runaround from Bedwell in District 3, District 4 candidate Robin Sutherland, and the Measure D people, who haven’t returned his calls.

“This is the first time I’ve seen the media stumped by the candidates,” said Thornton, who’s been doing public affair broadcasts and reporting the news at KVMR the last five years.

Bedwell said forums that include KVMR should be balanced with conservative debate facilitators.

“The Union and KNCO I consider neutral or at least moderate, but KVMR is to the left, and consequently we need someone on the right to balance it.”

Bedwell suggested The Republic, The Countryside Post or panelists from Citizens For Property Rights.

“We’re just looking for someone to offset KVMR. Then we can look at things from all perspectives,” he said.

Bedwell said he’ll participate in a forum presented by KNCO radio. “So it’s not the system I disagree with, but KVMR and their aggressive approach,” he said.

KVMR has a hodgepodge of nearly 200 different kinds of volunteer broadcasters, Thornton said.

“People talk about KVMR like it’s some liberal monolith, that everybody here is of the same shared political persuasion, and that’s just not true,” he said. “We’re not trying to tell the voters how to vote. We’re not out to get people. We’re just trying to provide a service to the community and inform people about the election, and then they can make their own decisions.”

Bedwell said League of Women Voters has also let liberals take over debates and slam conservative candidates.

“So long as we have this type of forum, I’m going to ignore it,” Bedwell said. “We need to have a balanced situation so the electorate can make decisions without being distracted by the ugliness.”

Lancaster said League of Women Voters always tries to provide a fair and balanced forum.

Thirteen questions from the hosting group are randomly drawn, each candidate is given equal time to respond, and the rest of the questions come from the audience, she said.

“We’re not partisan, and we don’t support or oppose candidates based on their nonpartisan policies,” Lancaster said. “But when you get live questions from the audience, sometimes one candidate is targeted.”

Measure D is a controversial property rights initiative. Proponents and opponents will participate in debates with KVMR, said Margaret Urke and Ben Nowland, steering committee members with Citizens for Fair and Balanced Land-Use, the group pushing the initiative.

“But the only reason we do these is because if we don’t, we’d be raked over the coals for not participating,” said Urke, executive director of California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners.

There’s no question that the forum sponsor is likely to have an inherent bias, which will show up in the audience, said Urke. She said it might be easier to just abandon the whole system.

Urke said conservatives used to put on the debates.

“Now it’s the liberals who are sponsoring these forums, and 99 percent of the people who attend already have their minds made up,” she said.

While the hosting side tends to fill the room with their supporters, Urke said 99 percent of the electorate never attends a debate, never watches one on FCAT, nor listens on the radio.

“If no one shows up, why bother? Debates are just used by the opposition to get sound bites they can twist and use against you,” Urke said.

Nowland agreed with Bedwell, that political forums should be conducted with courtesy rather than confrontation.

“When you have people shouting over the candidates, you don’t get a responsible exchange of ideas,” he said.

District 4 challenger Sutherland – who came in a close second to incumbent Martin in the March primary – said she’ll attend all debates and forums she’s invited to.

“I think that, ideally, a political forum should include full representation from all voices in the community,” said Sutherland. She added that it’s important for candidates to get out and express their views to the people.

“Unfortunately, some of these forums turn into personal attacks against some candidates, and that takes away from the discussion of issues important to Nevada County,” she said.

But while Sutherland agreed that some debates are slanted, she said things even out in the long run.

Martin said she always welcomes the opportunity to debate the issues and talk to voters.

“I am confident that the news media of our county knows how to run a fair and open political forum,” Martin said. “I don’t understand the reluctance to debate the issues in a public, straight-up, forthright manner.”

“This is the craziest election I’ve ever seen – you’ve got candidates that won’t answer questions, you’ve got candidates that won’t go to debates, I don’t understand it,” said Antonson, a former District 4 supervisor.

The slam on the local media is that it’s liberal in general, said the conservative Antonson.

“But you have to go to the debates no matter who’s running them, and you have to represent the people whether they’re liberal or not,” he said. “If you don’t have thick skin, you shouldn’t be running for the Board of Supervisors in this county.”

Antonson said a supervisor is supposed to represent all groups and political persuasions.

“That’s why it’s set up as a nonpartisan office, and that’s what people seem to forget,” he said. “You have to represent all constituents, no matter who they are and what side of the political isle they’re on. This is a knock on the present board, that they lean so far to the left so people feel they’re being left out if they’re conservative,” Antonson added. “It sounds like (Bedwell) will be doing the same thing the current board is doing, but in the other direction.”

Incumbent Bruce Conklin, who was narrowly out-tallied by Bedwell in the March primary, asked what his challenger was afraid of.

“He said he’s trying to change his persona from activist to politician,” Conklin said. “But you can’t hide your persona.”

As for the debate format Bedwell decries, Conklin said he thinks it’s fair.

What’s Bedwell going to do if he’s elected to the board and has to answer a lot of hard questions from all directions? Conklin asked. “You have a responsibility to come out and tell the people what you believe,” he said.

Bedwell said he’ll debate Conklin as long as it’s on a fair and balanced playing field.

“I’ll debate as long as scheduling allows and KVMR is not running the show,” he said.

Bedwell said he wished it was like the old days, when politicians stood on tree stumps, rolled up their sleeves, and squared off over the issues one-on-one in lively but civil debate.

Schedule for debates co-sponsored by KVMR and KNCO radio, Foothills Community Access Television and The Union. All debates will be at Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley.

Wednesday ‹ District 3 supervisors, 7 to 8 p.m.

Oct. 17 ‹ Grass Valley City Council, 7 to 9 p.m.

Oct. 24 ‹ Measure D, 7 to 8 p.m.

Oct. 24 ‹ District 4 supervisors, 8 to 9 p.m.

Oct. 29 ‹ Nevada Irrigation District board candidates, 7 to 8 p.m.


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