KOKOMO – Heavyweight champion of the world Joe Louis said it best when a reporter asked him about an upcoming bout with Billy Conn and Conn’s propensity to move around the ring avoiding punches, “He can run, but he can’t hide!” That pretty much sums up the current status of the Republican contest for U.S. Senate following the surprising news that Todd Rokita refuses to participate in a debate with his opponents unless it is completely on his own terms.
It has been my experience over my 40-plus years of political involvement that when someone is trying to duck a debate there is usually a good reason. That is, there is something that they want to hide.
Only a few sadomasochistic people actually enjoy debating. There is so much pressure on the candidates to both try and score points with some punches and yet not get knocked out. Who doesn’t remember Nixon’s dismal debate performance in 1960, or Reagan’s triumph over Walter Mondale in 1984?  
Debates rarely make you as a candidate, but they most assuredly can break you. I watched a wonderful debate performance by U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock go south in the final three minutes with his answer to a question on abortion. A short, simple answer to a complex question and Richard Mourdock was political toast. That was unfortunate in my book, but a significant political reality to make your knees get weak.
For the life of me, I can’t understand the political faux pas of refusing to debate. One, refusing to debate makes you look like a colossal political sissy. Two, refusing to debate gives the media ample fodder to take pot shots at your candidacy. Three, refusing to debate surrenders the moral high ground to your opponents. Or, as one of my candidates once told me, “My opponent has elevated me to the top of a tall tractor and when you’re sitting on a tall tractor, you can spit in any direction you want.” Fourth, and most importantly, it leaves the voters wondering what you have to hide.
Is it possible that Mark Twain may have summed up Todd Rokita’s thinking when it comes to his refusal to debate? Twain is reported to have said, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”  
I’m not exactly sure why Rokita was afraid of the debate moderation of Abdul-Hakim Shabazz. Mr. Shabazz ably moderated a 5th CD debate with multiple candidates in 2012. In addition, he did a bang-up job moderating the U. S. Senate primary debate between Eric Holcomb, Todd Young and Marlin Stutzman in Howard County in January 2016. Ask any of those three about Mr. Shabazz and I believe they would tell you that they were treated fairly.
It looks to me like Todd Rokita was afraid of several potentially embarrassing questions. As I’ve told my candidates over the years, “It’s not the embarrassing questions that get you, it’s your embarrassing answers.”
With that in mind, I’ve come up with five debate questions that I don’t think Todd Rokita wanted to answer.
Question 1: Mr. Rokita, you’ve said you are an outsider and you want to drain the swamp. But, you accepted $160,000 from a tribal casino group as a contribution at the same time you were supporting legislation that would benefit the group. Your opponents might say you are the ultimate swamp creature. Since you have no Indian tribes in the 4th Congressional District, what exactly about this situation even remotely looks like it’s not a quid pro quo deal? Can you say Jack Abramoff?
Question 2: Mr. Rokita, you’ve described government spending as “choking our economy and stealing freedom.” Over the past 12 years, you have spent nearly $3 million of taxpayer money on questionable mailers, expenses which appear to have ramped up at election time. Your expenditures on government-paid mailers is three times the average amount spent by your House colleagues. Is your profligate spending choking our economy and stealing freedom?
Question 3: Mr. Rokita, as a congressman you provided your staff with an eight-page memo on how you want to be chauffeured, going so far as pointing out your daily need for black coffee, hand sanitizer, chewing gum and a toothbrush and toothpaste. In addition, several of your former staff members have described working for you as a toxic work environment, which included menial punishments, screaming at them and docking them pay for slight performance infractions. If elected to the Senate, could we expect this toxic work environment to continue and will you confine yourself to just eight pages of instructions on how to be treated like royalty?
Question 4: Mr. Rokita, while people were coping with the shock of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., you launched a television advertisement showing you blazing away with an AR-15 assault rifle. Do you consider this advertisement even the least bit insensitive to the parents of school children in Indiana?
Question 5: Mr. Rokita, on the subject of abortion, you advocate for no exceptions to your anti-abortion stance. Do you believe that government should force a woman who has been raped and becomes pregnant to carry the baby to full term? Do you see any circumstances where a woman should be allowed to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy or should government dictate all decisions regarding a woman’s healthcare?
Undoubtedly these questions or some version of these questions will come up during the campaign should Todd Rokita become the candidate to face Joe Donnelly. The key question for Republicans to ask is do we want to hear the answers to these tough questions in the fall or do we want to hear the answers now, when it is important to make the right decision as to who will be our party’s candidate for U. S. senator?
  October is no time to learn who your candidate really is. In politics, as in boxing, you can run, but you most assuredly cannot hide!  

Dunn is the former Howard County and 4th CD Republican chairman.