BURLINGTON, VT - Independent gubernatorial candidate Emily Peyton has filed a Motion for Injunctive Relief against the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and the Burlington Free Press for excluding her and other independent or "fringe" candidates from the scheduled debates.
Five people are running for governor: Randy Brock, Republican; Dave Eagle, Liberty Union; Cris Ericson, United States Marijuana; Emily Peyton, independent; and Peter Shumlin, Democratic.
The debates are as follows: Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Oct. 4, Essex Fairgrounds; WCAX TV, Oct. 13; WPTZ, Oct. 17; and the Burlington Free Press Oct. 23 and 24.
The October 4 debate is being sponsored by Vermont Public Television (VPT). Ann Curran of VPT stated that, to the best of her knowledge, Peyton had been invited to tonight's debate.
According to Peyton, the debate is being limited to Brock and Shumlin, because, she was told, they were the only candidates with a reasonable chance of winning. The third major party in Vermont is the Progressive Party, however candidate Martha Abbott withdrew from the race following the primaries.
Peyton, in her motion, argues that exclusion from the debate will 1) prevent her from promoting public scrutiny of policies proposed by Shumlin and Brock; 2) prevent her from defending her own policies and positions; and 3) remove the right of choice from the voting population by limiting exposure to pre-selected candidates.
"It is a fact that polls cannot be accurate if they do not mention the candidate in question, nor can they reveal truth of public opinion if the public has been prevented from having any wider choice than between two options," she writes. "This not only harms democracy, it harms Vermont and all the people in it...."
Peyton states that the majority of Vermonters consider themselves Independent voters (Vermont does not require party affiliation in elections.), and that preventing her from engaging in the debate is a disservice to this population.
Peyton further states: "(T)he Burlington Free Press cannot accurately describe themselves as open or free if they limit the freedom of speech that is directly and pointedly expressed through through the hard work and determination of a candidacy, nor is it their purview to limit the choices of Vermonters in the name of news."
Although newspapers are private corporations with the right to take a position, endorse a candidate, or define what news they release to the public and in what format, said Peyton, by sponsoring a debate for a statewide office, such as that of governor, the paper assumes a constitutional responsibility not to preclude otherwise valid candidates, i.e., those candidates who have garnered enough signatures to be on the November ballot, from public debate.
"If these debates are held without the plaintiff's participation, the outcome of the election will not be true or valid because the public will not have the opportunities as described above as they deserve to make a fully informed choice."