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U.S. Senate Debate Criteria Goes To Court

Former state lawmaker Troy Hebert, an independent candidate for U.S. Senate, is suing to halt the debate LPB and the Council for A Better Louisiana are putting on next week.

The million dollar criteria, I just can’t see how it’s constitutional,” Hebert said, referring to the list of requirements for inclusion in the debate.

While the criteria includes having an official campaign committee and polling at least 5-percent in a non-partisan voter survey, Hebert's biggest issue is with the requirement that debate participants must have raised at least a million dollars in campaign funds.

CABL president Barry Erwin says with 24 candidates in the race, some sort of limits need to be imposed.

Quite honestly, there is no way that we can, I think, conduct a meaningful forum or debate that’s helpful for the public unless we can have some criteria that kind of gets the size more manageable,” Erwin explained.

Hebert's premise for saying the criteria used are unconstitutionally discriminatory is based on the fact that LPB’s parent organization – the Louisiana Educational Television Authority, or LETA – is a state agency which receives state money to operate.

This is public dollars that are setting the criteria that are excluding so many candidates,” Hebert maintains.

Hebert's case was joined by two other U.S. Senate candidates Monday. Charles Marsala, a Republican, said the polling criteria is discriminatory, because the survey used for debate selection did not include many of the candidates, including him. And Beryl Billiot, a member of the Houma tribe, maintains the criteria discriminates against minorities.

To only put five people on? The result is quality people have been excluded,” Marsala stated.

A decision is expected after testimony in the injunction hearing concludes today. That decision by 19th District Court Judge Timothy Kelley, could find Hebert and his fellow plaintiffs have not met their burden of proof. Conversely, it could either stop the debate entirely or require Hebert and the two other plaintiffs be included in the debate.

LPB president Beth Courtney says the suit alone is troubling..

This certainly has a chilling effect on doing future debates. We feel it’s very important to have an informed citizenry to make a democracy work. And we’ll be doing the best we can to work within the constraints of whatever the judge says.”

Hebert – who is running on a platform of refusing to take any campaign donations, says he hopes LPB and CABL will consider discussing a compromise, such as removing the million-dollar fundraising requirement.

The fight has never been about putting Troy Hebert in the debate,” Hebert said. “The fight is the argument that we cannot allow criteria such as requiring a million dollars to taint our electoral process.”