No debate for you: Kanab candidate denied participation in public debate

Stock image | St. George News

KANAB – A write-in candidate vying for a seat on the Kanab City Council this election season was denied participation in a public debate Monday. The Kanab Area Chamber of Commerce holds that its tradition is to not include write-in candidates in its annual debate. But the candidate excluded from Monday’s event, Robert Brissette, said he believes he is being discriminated against.

“I feel that I’m being unfairly treated,” Brissette said.

“On a legal stance, since they were a private entity, they could invite whoever they wanted as a person for the debate,” Brissette went on to say, “so … there was no legal stance or anything that says they had to invite me. But it would’ve been common courtesy, being that I was the only write-in candidate. What big deal would it have been to put one more chair up there? And that was the point that I had been trying to make.”

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The “Get to Know the Candidates” debate was sponsored by the Kanab Area Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber President Erin Robinson said only the six City Council candidates who moved forward after the primary election – Michael R. East, Allen Gilberg, Patty Hegwood, John Jacobs, Joe B. Wright and Jeff Yates – were invited to participate in the debate.

“He (Brissette) was not invited,” Robinson said.

The chamber hosts such a debate each election, Robinson said, adding it has been the chamber’s tradition not to include write-in candidates in the debate.

“That’s just historically what we’ve done,” she said.

Robinson said the chamber hasn’t included a write-in candidate in the debate in 12 years, adding that Brissette is the first write-in candidate in 12 years to take issue with being excluded from the debate.

Kanab City Council write-in candidate Robert Brissette, date and location of photo not specified | Photo courtesy of Robert Brissette, St. George News
Kanab City Council write-in candidate Robert Brissette, date and location of photo not specified | Photo courtesy of Robert Brissette, St. George News

But Brissette said he’s the first write-in candidate Kanab has had at all in 12 years.

When Brissette decided to file as a write-in candidate, he said, officials at the city didn’t know whether a person could legally file as a write-in candidate at the municipal level, and he had to wait a few days while they checked with the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office about the matter.

“This tells you how long it has been since they had a write-in candidate,” Brissette said.

Justin Lee, deputy director of elections with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, said there are no laws governing municipal election debates in the state of Utah or mandating which candidates a debate sponsor invites to participate.

“It’s basically up to them, especially where it’s a private organization,” Lee said.

Brissette said he’s ruffled some feathers since he filed for candidacy. He said he believes that fact, along with his religious affiliation and lack of connection to Best Friends Animal Society are some of the reasons he was excluded from the debate – not simply because he was a write-in candidate.

“I’ve been causing a lot of waves because I’ve been saying things that, one, people don’t want to hear, because I’m saying the truth,” Brissette said. “I do research before I say things because I’m one of those people that want to know the answer to a question before I ask it.”

Though he was not invited to participate, Brissette said he attended the debate as an audience member. At the beginning of the debate, he said, it was announced and emphasized that the forum was for the candidates on the ballot only and that write-in candidates were not invited.

He said the city’s chief of police sat near him during the debate as though it was anticipated that he was going to cause a disturbance.

“I went to the debate and I sat down in the back just to listen to what they had to say,” Brissette said.

Brissette said he believes the reason he didn’t receive more votes in the primary election – he received just under 3 percent of the votes, according to official election results – is because he was injured at the start of election season, which prevented him from actively campaigning.

“I was down for six weeks,” he said, “so I wasn’t able to go out and do any campaigning or anything. That’s why I feel is the reason that I got voted out at the primaries.”

Brissette said he didn’t want to give up at that point for a couple of reasons: He wants to help the city, he said; and he also mentors some children, and they used the advice he’s given them in the past to encourage him to stay in the election, telling him: “You’ve already told us not to give up when we hit a roadblock.” So Brissette said he went ahead and filed for the write-in candidacy.

Brissette said the fact that he’s a write-in candidate shouldn’t have been grounds for excluding him from the debate.

“It was kind of childish not to invite me,” he said.

“You’re denying my chance to … be heard like the others,” he added.

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