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U.S. Senate Debate To Include Public Audience

Union workers purchased 300 of the 500 seats at the next Senate debate, leading the Indiana Debate Commission to consider removing the audience altogether.

Joe Donnelly, Richard Mourdock, Andrew Horning

Photo: Mike Conroy/AP Photo

Candidates for Indiana's U.S. Senate seat Democrat Joe Donnelly, left, Republican Richard Mourdock, center and Libertarian Andrew Horning participate in a debate in Indianapolis, Monday, Oct. 15, 2012.

Update 9 p.m 10/18:

The Indiana Debate Commission board voted Thursday to proceed with next week’s U.S. Senate debate as planned. Concerns had arisen after union workers bought a majority of the tickets for the debate.

“This is unfortunate, but we’ve received assurances from various union officials that this debate will not be disrupted and that our rules and policies will be followed on debate night,” Max Jones, president of the commission and editor of the Tribune-Star newspaper in Terre Haute, said in a press release sent out Thursday evening.

The Commission said it did not want to remove the public audience from the debate because of the people not associated with the union who had also purchased tickets. It says Indiana University Southeast officials will provide additional security for the debate, including campus police and other law enforcement agencies.

Updated 4:44 p.m. 10/18:

Commission Considers Banning Audience From Senate Debate

The Chairman of the Indiana Debate Commission says his group has begun an internal conversation about the audience for Tuesday’s Indiana Senate debate in New Albany. Concern arose when labor unions, ostensibly backing Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly, bused workers to Floyd County to snap up 300 of 500 available seats for the event.

Terre Haute Tribune-Star Editor Max Jones chairs the Debate Commission and says there is no evidence the move was orchestrated by the Democrat or his staff.

“They wanted us to know that this was nothing that they had anything to do with,” he says. “We never believed that they did, never had any indication that they had anything to do with this. And they were as surprised as everyone else when this developed.”

Jones says union members did appear to follow a Debate Commission rule that no audience member could take more than two tickets to the event, but says the busing of debate-goers from Indianapolis, Kokomo and other points north seems to violate the spirit, if not the letter,  of the law.

Still, he says since debate watchers are admonished to be silent during the debate, and are not even allowed to wear clothing backing a specific candidate or party. The composition of the audience should not matter.

“We’ve never had any problem with this whatsoever,” he says. “We’ve had hints of it in previous locations, but they never develop.”

Jones says the Commission had scheduled a teleconference Thursday afternoon to discuss its next steps, but could not say when a decision would be reached.

Stan Jastrzebski

WFIU/WTIU News Senior Editor Stan Jastrzebski spent time as a reporter with WGN Radio in Chicago and as an editor at Network Indiana, an Indianapolis news service. Stan is the winner of awards from the Associated Press, the RTDNA, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. He hosts WFIU's Ask the Mayor and anchors WTIU's InFocus.

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