In a word, no, unless you’re a no-name challenger.

In Robert Houk’s “As I See It” column, which appeared in yesterday’s Johnson City Press, Houk decided to criticize incumbents, both past and present, for “ducking” debates. He actually stated that it “does a disservice to the intelligence of the voters.”

Intelligent voters know how to look up an incumbent’s voting record. An intelligent voter reads the newspaper (probably several to weed out the biased junk). An intelligent voter doesn’t pay a bit of attention to campaign ads or debates in which answers to questions are packaged, buffed, and filled with enough crap to run a manure factory for at least several days. The Presidential debates, for example were nothing but a bunch of slick politicians saying exactly what they thought they needed to say to get votes. There’s not a lot different in local politics.

Look, I like debates. I’m a political junkie – that much you know – so I thoroughly enjoy sifting through the excrement and comparing it to what the candidates have actually done in office. Maybe that’s the plus of having debates – seeing who lies about what.

The fact is that debates offer little more than free advertising for challengers lacking name recognition. Incumbents aren’t being sneaky by not attending debates; they’re being smart. When any Joe with half a brain can track down an incumbent’s voting record, there’s nothing underhanded about not giving your challenger free press.

I often root for the no-name underdog (Ron Paul, anyone?), so the free advertising of debates often benefit my candidate. To say, however, that incumbents are “insulting the intelligence of the voters” by not debating is just silly. I’m smart enough to pick a candidate with or without a worthless debate, and so are you.