U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney had nothing to do with the decision to exclude the media and public from a debate between her and the other Republican candidates for Wyoming’s U.S. House spot, a spokesman said Monday.
“It appears false rumors are spreading as they relate to the upcoming debate in Sheridan,” said Tammy Hooper Cheney’s campaign manager.
Hooper said the debate organizers set the rules for the debate and the Cheney team was given these rules. She said no one from the campaign ever asked or requested the debate be closed to the public or the media.
“PBS organizers decided the rules for the debate without input from campaigns and we respect the decisions they’ve made since it’s their debate,” she said.
The debate is to begin at 7 p.m. Thursday and will be live streamed.
Wyoming PBS, the host for Thursday’s debate at Sheridan College, told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that other than the three panelists selected to question the candidates, no other media would be allowed into the building. Nor would members of the public.
A spokesman for the partially publicly funded institution said the public and the media would be excluded because of “safety concerns.”
“To ensure the safety of the candidates, the debate is closed to the public and the press,” Terry Dugas said.
Dugas said PBS would confer with its “security team” this week, which he said made the decision to close the event to the public. He would not disclose the identity of the security team.
When reached for follow up questions Monday morning, Dugas declined to comment further.
“I can’t answer your questions until after the debate ends,” he said. “If you’re still interested on Friday, I can add a little more light.”
Cheney opponents Harriet Hageman and state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, said they had nothing to do with the event’s closure to the public.
“We would prefer that the debate be more open, but these were the rules as presented to us. We did not make these demands or any others,” Hageman campaign manager Carly Miller told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.
Meanwhile, Bouchard blamed the closure on Cheney. “Spend millions of out of state grifter money, and it turns into a circus,” he said.
Hooper said PBS organizers decided the rules of the debate without any input from campaigns. She added the Cheney campaign will not oppose the rules “since it’s their debate.”
“These are important points to counter any misleading narratives that are taking hold,” Hooper said.
Another one of Cheney’s opponents, Denton Knapp, said he is very disappointed the event is not open for the public or the press to attend, as he was the one who reached out to PBS to host a debate in the first place.
“I find it really hard to believe with five candidates in this race it’s not allowed to be open to the public,” he said.
Knapp said he won’t boycott the event if it remains closed but is planning to issue a press release imploring PBS to change its rules.
“The public needs to be allowed to read the reactions and emotions taking place,” Knapp said. “It’s important to have open doors. We really need to be asking why this is being closed.”
Longtime political moderator and past host of the popular Wyoming Chronicles television program Craig Blumenshine said despite the format he was looking forward to hosting the discussion on Thursday.
“I was asked to moderate the debate and I believe it is very important to hear what these candidates have to say,” Blumenshine said. “On Thursday, I’ll have more to say about what led up to this debate.”
Three members of the media, Wyoming PBS Producer Steve Peck, Wyoming Public Radio News Director Bob Beck and Sheridan Press reporter Stephen Dow, will be allowed into the event, but they will be operating as panelists for the debate.
In a weekend Facebook post, Beck said he did not become aware the event was closed to the public until Friday, the same day Wyoming PBS put out a press release announcing the event.
“I’m not sure if Wyoming PBS or any of the candidates played a role,” he said in the post. “I’m surprised media members were included and I requested that be changed.”
Peck, Beck and Dow did not immediately respond to requests for follow up comments.