Ready or not, it’s almost presidential debate season. Last week, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the first debate on Sept. 29 will be held in Cleveland, after the University of Notre Dame pulled out over public health constraints. The second debate has already been shifted to Miami, after the University of Michigan likewise withdrew. The third debate is slated for Belmont University in Nashville, and the vice-presidential debate is to be held at the University of Utah. These debates will each have a single moderator chosen by the commission, to be announced in early September.
The Commission on Presidential Debates can make history by choosing a Latino moderator for one of the four events. Latinos are a critical demographic in the upcoming election and deserve to be represented on the debate stage. Past practice and future trends suggest that the time is right to offer such opportunity and recognition to a qualified Latino journalist.
Latino issues are American issues
According to the Pew Research Center, the 2020 election will be the first time that Latinos will be the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the electorate, making up over 13% of all eligible voters. Nearly one in five Americans is Latino. With both Democrats and Republicans courting this voting bloc, it is imperative to have a moderator who understands the concerns of the Latino community.
Although Latinos have served as co-moderators during Democratic and Republican primary debates, no Latino has ever moderated a presidential debate. Imagine how shocking it would be if no African American had ever moderated a presidential debate, or if no woman had ever done so. So how can the status quo for Latinos remain acceptable?
Having a Latino moderator at a debate could improve the discourse around immigration, as past debates have either ignored the issue or relegated it to a few minutes of discussion. Yet a debate moderated by a Latino would not be all about immigration. In fact, Latinos do not rank immigration as their most important issue. A Univision poll in February found that the top concerns for Latinos were health care costs, improving income and creating jobs. Since then, Latinos have been disproportionately hit by COVID-19, which has had devastating health and economic consequences for Latino families.
A Latino moderator would also be uniquely positioned to question President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden about the threat of white supremacist violence, which resulted in the mass shooting in El Paso a year ago. Having a Latino moderator question both candidates about their plans for dealing with the pandemic and with gun violence would serve as a reminder that Latino issues are American issues.
In 2016, the commission selected a diverse group of moderators, including two women, including an Asian American woman (Elaine Quijano), an African American man (Lester Holt) and an out gay man (Anderson Cooper). But no Latino moderator was named, which likely benefited Donald Trump, as he did not have to face a member of an ethnic group that he so often denigrated. Nor did he have to engage with a moderator with a personal perspective on the Latino community's concerns.
Don't exclude Latino journalists
Although then-CEO of Univision and then-president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce both urged the commission to reconsider not choosing a Latino moderator, it was too late; the moderators had already been chosen. That’s why the time to insist on a Latino moderator is now. Think of it as asking for a place at what will be — for one night — the most visible table in the country.
There are Latino journalists who could serve as a presidential debate moderator. Jorge Ramos and Ilia Calderón from Univision, Tom Llamas and Cecilia Vega from ABC News, Jim Acosta from CNN, José Díaz-Balart from NBC/Telemundo and Maria Hinojosa from NPR are solid possible choices. Not only is moderating a debate a tremendous responsibility, it is a tremendous opportunity as well. Performing in such a role can make someone a household name, and Latino journalists deserve the opportunity to make their mark just like their non-Latino counterparts.
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True, if the commission named a Latino moderator, there would likely be accusations from Trump supporters that this person was biased against the president based on their ethnicity. Yet disqualifying Latino journalists based on such thinking would amount to an endorsement of such bigotry. Like other journalists before them, Latinos can certainly perform their duties professionally and impartially.
In the past, Latinos may have been overlooked as potential debate moderators. But visibility matters, and not having a Latino moderator this year would seem to verge on exclusion. For the Commission on Presidential Debates, choosing a Latino moderator would be the smart, right thing to do.
Raul Reyes, an attorney, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @RaulAReyes
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Latinos deserve a moderator in the 2020 Trump-Biden presidential debates