‘Absolutely not’: Republican Van Orden declines debate invitation, instead pushes for town hall forum

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — The midterm election is less than two months away, and while having a debate between the candidates is a long-standing tradition in La Crosse, it may be coming to an end.

Republican candidate for the 3rd Congressional District Derrick Van Orden has declined to participate in the debate hosted by the UW-La Crosse Debate Coalition.

For many years, UW-La Crosse has held debates for political candidates in the 3rd Congressional District.

“This is a tradition we’ve had in western Wisconsin for a long time,” debate moderator and UW-La Crosse professor Anthony Chergosky, said.

According to Chergoksy, the purpose of the debate is to inform voters.

“Debates give voters that really in-depth view of the candidates,” he said.

In Tomah on Friday, a crew from La Crosse TV station News 8 Now asked Van Orden if he would take part in UW-La Crosse coalition’s debate.

“No. No. Absolutely not,” Van Orden said.

Van Orden says the debate should be in a town hall format.

“Seventy-five percent of our district does not have a four-year degree — 75% — so I’m more than happy and thrilled to participate in a town hall-style debate where the actual people that I’ll be representing in Washington, D.C., get to ask the questions,” he said.

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According to U.S Census Bureau, in the Coulee Region, roughly 64% of people over the age of 25 do not have a college degree.

Earlier this week, Democratic candidate Brad Pfaff challenged Van Orden to three debates.

Pfaff’s campaign sent News 8 Now a statement after Van Orden declined to debate:

“Derrick is absolutely terrified of the prospect of having to get on stage and explain his radical record of insurrection, probation, and sexual and verbal harassment. This is nothing new — Derrick has been hiding from reporters and the district he hopes to face for months because he knows he is incapable of talking about real issues and real solutions. Unlike him, I’m not afraid of voters or accountability. I was born and raised in this district and I’m running to bring homegrown western Wisconsin values to Congress, and that’s something Derrick can’t say.”

Chergosky says debates should not be politicized.

“Brad Pfaff really made this a key issue in the campaign. That put us in an odd situation,” Chergosky said.

Chergosky says the UW-La Crosse Coalition would be willing to work with the Van Orden campaign to find a solution that works for both candidates.

“If we need to rethink our debate format, then I’m open to having that discussion,” he said.

He says he wants to make sure a political tradition for the district continues.

As for the future of the debate, Chergosky says he doesn’t know what will happen next but is hopeful voters will get a chance to hear from the candidates.