Musgrave says no to fire-breathing non-liberals — and to free TV

Dear Marilyn Musgrave: I am not a liberal. I am also not a “Democratic consultant.” When your spokesman called me that, my wife and all my friends laughed so hard it sounded like they were howling. And you know what? Your resulting decision to not come on TV and be interviewed, as your opponent Betsy Markey agreed to do, did nothing more than strip you of the opportunity to get a half-hour of free air time. Sincerely, Eric Sondermann.

OK, so that’s not exactly what Sondermann wrote to Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave after she refused to appear for an interview on KBDI-Channel 12 (PBS) as part of its Colorado Decides debate series. But it’s the general gist. Here’s the full scoop.

This year Channel 12 has been wildly busy sponsoring debates on issues and candidates. Of 18 such programs, the only one who said no — after initially saying yes — is Musgrave, the incumbent congresswoman who is running against Democrat Markey and whose race in Colorado’s 4th Congressional District is turning out to be one of the most closely watched in the country.

(Photo/autowitch, Flickr)
(Photo/autowitch, Flickr)
So Musgrave and Markey agreed to be interviewed — separately, mind you — by a three-member panel that included a reporter from the Rocky Mountain News, an anchor from Channel 4 and Eric Sondermann, the well-respected Denver-based public relations pro and political analyst. That “debate,” as it was being loosely called, was to air tonight.

But then last week, the station and its interviewers got a jolt. Musgrave’s campaign manager, Jason Thielman, sent them a note informing them that Musgrave would not participate after all, if Sondermann was one of the panelists asking the questions.

According to Thielman — who had gotten it from an erroneous report in the National Journal — Sondermann was actually a “Democratic consultant,” which apparently in Musgrave’s mind is the equivalent of a fire-breathing gay Boulder liberal demon.

Needless to say, Sondermann, along with the show’s producers, were baffled. Sure, he once worked for Gov. Dick Lamm — like in the 1970s. But Sondermann hasn’t been affiliated with any party for at least a decade, and his Denver-based firm, SE2, specializes what it calls the art of public persuasion. In fact these days Sondermann is far more likely to be seen palling around with onetime GOP gubernatorial candidate and school voucher guy Steve Schuck than your garden-variety lib’ral.

“The notion I’m a liberal? Most of my friends would howl in laughter, and, if you add the word ‘activist,’ they would faint in disbelief,” Sondermann says.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. But still…

Anyway, after the KBDI folks were done scratching their heads over this development, they weighed their options.

“I took that ultimatum to all three partners to see how they wanted to proceed, and all three resolutely refused [to capitulate to Musgrave’s demand],” says producer Dominic Dezzutti. “We’ve had 18 debates, for primaries and amendments, and we’ve never heard any complaints from our panelists.

“It was very surprising to us, and, yes, we did stick by our guns and we’re sticking with our panelists.”

To add to the strangeness of Musgrave’s position — that she will not cavort with Sondermann on TV — remember, this is the same politician who has been bragging all through this campaign about what good pals she is now with Democrats and liberals in general. That’s a detail not lost on Dezzutti and Sondermann and others who were mystified by the cancellation.

“Given that she has made such a big deal over the new, bipartisan Musgrave-works-across-the-aisle, and even if were true I was a card-carrying liberal activist, why wouldn’t she sit down for a tete-a-tete?” Sondermann asks.

Another bottom line: Why would any politician turn down the opportunity for a half-hour of free TV time? (Note to readers: That question can’t be answered, at least for us. Like KBDI, the Musgrave campaign has been boycotting the Colorado Independent all through the campaign as well.)

But for KBDI, the show goes on. The half-hour taped interview with Markey airs at 8 tonight on Channel 12. And the planned interview with Musgrave, which was scheduled to follow at 8:30, will be replaced with a repeat of an Amendment 58 debate between House Majority Leader Alice Madden and opponent Mike Beatty.