G. Paul Shaw Jr., the Republican challenger in the Walker County sole commissioner race, invited GOP incumbent Bebe Heiskell to debate at 7 p.m. today.
But Heiskell said she won't appear because she had a prior commitment -- and because she didn't have any input in the format of the debate, which Shaw planned for the Walker County Civic Center in Rock Spring, Ga.
"It's all on my opponents' terms," she said. "I had zero control over anything."
Heiskell said that, a month ago, she agreed to speak to the Chattanooga Valley Alliance Club.
"I thought it would be better for me to keep my word," she said.
Shaw proposed a "cold" debate in which neither candidate would have notes, prepared speeches or electronic devices.
"She was given plenty of notice," said Shaw, who said he sent Heiskell a registered letter on July 9 informing her of the debate. "It wasn't anything fishy about it; it's just that she's not a very good debater."
One of the bullet points in an advertisement about the debate states, "Your participation respectfully requested. Please reply by noon, Friday 13, 2012."
Heiskell said she interpreted that to mean audience members would have to RSVP and would be hand-picked by Shaw's campaign.
But Shaw said the RSVP was meant only for Heiskell and anyone could show up.
He plans to appear tonight and answer questions from the audience, Shaw said.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.