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Ricketts-Krist debate

Gov. Pete Ricketts (left) shakes hands with Sen. Bob Krist prior to a gubernatorial debate inside the Bosselman Conference Center at the Nebraska State Fair Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018.

Unsurprisingly, the campaigns of incumbent Gov. Pete Ricketts and his challenger, state Sen. Bob Krist, blamed each other for backing out of the final scheduled gubernatorial debate.

In a way, they’re both right.

By allowing petty squabbling over the format and media partner to torpedo the Sept. 21 event in Wayne, Ricketts and Krist both failed the state they were elected to serve. Rather than sparring about the topics most important to this state and its people, we're left with a pathetic blame game.

Spare us the finger-pointing about how it’s the other candidate’s fault. It takes two to tango or debate, and it appears neither side will appear on the dance floor at Wayne State College next week.

Nobody lost more than Nebraskans, who will have to decide their choice for the state’s next governor without the vital pieces of information learned when candidates square off on stage.

Now more than ever, debates provide voters a critical window to see the candidates discussing the most critical issues in a high-pressure situation. In today’s world of carefully crafted press releases and public appearances, the authenticity of debates is simply unmatched.

But the only chance all Nebraskans had to see Ricketts and Krist debate is lost — and for no good reason.

The candidates participated in a wide-ranging debate last month at the Nebraska State Fair, which was obviously a positive. However, the geographic footprint of the media partners for that event limited the access of some Nebraskans, particularly those in rural areas, to watch it on television. Those without reliable broadband internet, too, were likely unable to stream it online.

One of the most critical elements of the now-canceled Wayne debate was that it would be carried live by NET, which is accessible across the state. The state’s public broadcasting station has for decades presented gubernatorial debates because of its unmatched reach.

Yet even that became a point of contention. Disagreement over whether NET could be objective since it receives state funding had never been an issue until this year. Besides, this claim by the Ricketts campaign is woefully short-sighted, since all Nebraskans benefit from services provided by state government, including public television.

Mike Flood — a former Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature who owns Norfolk-based News Channel Nebraska, another of the scuttled Wayne debate’s media partners — was the voice of reason when he said there’s no reason both networks couldn’t carry it. Now, neither will.

All Nebraskans should be able to watch a debate. It's part of making an informed decision at the polls. That’s far more important than the miscellany that was allowed to derail next week’s event.

That’s why the campaigns could be somewhat justified in chastising each other. But neither is blameless in this embarrassing spectacle that will leave Nebraskans less informed as they head to the polls.

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