Walker County commissioner Bebe Heiskell said she turned down election opponent Paul Shaw’s request for a debate because she had a prior commitment, received no formal invite, and wasn’t allowed to help decide how the debate would operate.
Shaw, speaking by phone on Tuesday, July 17, about an hour before the debate, insisted that Heiskell should have received a certified letter, which he said he sent on July 10.
“That would have given her three days to get back to me,” he said.
Shaw said he sent the letter to Heiskell’s campaign post office box, P.O. Box 221 in Chickamauga.
Despite Heiskell’s absense, Shaw said he would go forward with the debate. “We are going to have the presentation tonight,” he said. “I would’ve thought she would want to be there and be in front of her constituents and give her case for reelection.”
The debate turned out to be a one-man show at the Walker County Civic Center on U.S. 27 in Rock Spring, with Shaw answering questions from the audience.
Heiskell detailed her reasons for not debating Shaw.
“Over a month ago, I had promised the Chattanooga Valley Lions Club that I would speak with them,” Heiskell said Monday, July 16. “And I had tried to make it on July 3, but someone else was speaking so they gave me the date of the 17, which is the only time I could get. And so I told them I would be there. I am their speaker for tomorrow night. I felt like it would be better for me to keep my word and honor the prior commitment than to go to a debate that I had absolutely no input in.”
Heiskell said she never received a formal invitation to the debate — though Shaw announced on television that he had sent one.
Also, since she was given no role in orchestrating the debate, she felt that it might have been unevenly biased had she chosen to participate, she said.
“I read it (Shaw’s announcement about the debate) in the paper and I saw it on television,” Heiskell said. “He said he sent me a certified letter but I haven’t gotten it. And he said in the paper, I believe, that the moderator would be mutually agreed-upon, and I don’t even know yet who that moderator was proposed to be, so I really didn’t have enough information to make any decisions on it. And I don’t know why I haven’t gotten the notification to pick it up. I have to have a slip of paper.
“I was given the date, the time, the place and the conditions. And also, I believe it said that you had to have reservations to get there, which might screen who comes. So I decided not to do the debate. And I’m going to be, I’m extremely busy for the next two weeks, so I don’t think I’ll be available to debate Paul Shaw before the 31st.”
The Republican primary election will be July 31. There are no Democratic challengers.
“We’ve had three forums where we’ve each presented our point of view, and I think it’s enough. I wouldn’t be surprised if people hadn’t already made up their minds who they’re going to vote for anyway,” she said.