Host of political show quits after Republican complaints

Posted: Wednesday, September 04, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The moderator of a political debate program on the Anchorage public television station KAKM has resigned amid complaints from Republicans.

Rhonda McBride moderated the station's ''Running'' program, which featured interviews and debates with political candidates.

''To me this is all about pressure, being pressured by the party, the Republican party,'' McBride said.

KAKM general manager Paul Stankavich said he acted on his own and not in response to any political pressure.

''She and I have disagreed on the direction the program should take,'' he said.

But McBride believes her removal from the show stems from complaints by Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage. After her live interview with him on Aug. 22, he accused her of editorializing and of asking a stupid question.

''As a general philosophy, I like to ask what I think the public would be interested in hearing,'' she said. ''With Donley I don't understand why that interview went like it did.''

He seemed to bristle at her questions making the session tense, she said.

Donley sent the Anchorage Daily News a faxed statement saying McBride had ''used inappropriate terminology, implied erroneous facts, and did not provide Sen. Donley an equal opportunity to discuss the issues he felt the people of West Anchorage were interested in.''

He declined to elaborate.

After McBride's interview, Donley called the station to complain. Stankavich said he couldn't remember what Donley's objection was.

Randy Ruedrich, the state chairman of the Republican Party, also complained to the station.

''I was just concerned about the way the Rhonda treated her guests. For (Democrats) Johnny Ellis and for Hollis French it was a 'Welcome, what do you want to talk about?' and for (Republicans) Dave Donley and Harold Heinze she was quite substantially intervening, and possibly the right word is confrontational.''

Ruedrich said he based his complaint on conversations he had with ''several people.'' He wouldn't say whether Donley was among them.

''Running'' usually airs the week before each election, primary and general. Candidates have a minute to make statements, answer questions posed by the moderator, and pose questions to their opponents.

In the primary this year, many candidates, including Donley, had no opponent. She interviewed those candidates one on one.

She began the interview with Donley by saying that it seems people either love him or hate him.

''Why is that?'' she asked.

He said it may be because he tackles tough issues. He then spoke of his work on education funding.

In 1998, Donley was among a group of senators who wanted to rewrite the formula by which the state distributes hundreds of millions of dollars to school districts. The formula was changed to favor urban areas.

Donley told McBride he had championed changes to an archaic formula that had discriminated against Anchorage.

''But that might come back to bite you with some of the lawsuits and court findings that say that funding to rural Alaska is unequal,'' McBride said.

Donley disagreed, saying the new formula is based on actual costs and has meant $15 million more for Anchorage.

''But what about the rural schools, because a lot of those students come here to live, and they're not able to become successful in the economy or hold jobs down because they're poorly prepared. Isn't there this rural-urban equation that doesn't get addressed?''

Donley went on to suggest rural areas should impose income taxes to support their schools.

McBride offered that there are different types of fairness and that some people say getting ''hung up'' on fairness rather than looking at need is what causes logjams in Juneau.

The next day Stankavich called her into his office.

''He said 'You need to tone down your questions. You're asking irrelevant questions. You need to stick to the issues,' '' she said.

A few days later he said he wanted to remove her as moderator and have her stay on as the show's producer.

Stankavich told the Anchorage Daily News he believes the show should be a forum for candidates to express their opinions.

''The moderator in this case should be absolutely neutral,'' he said.

KAKM receives about 7 percent, or $135,000, of its budget from the state.

Donley is Senate Finance Committee co-chairman. Stankavich said Donley didn't threaten to reduce the station's funding.

McBride, who chose not to stay on as producer, believes she asked appropriate questions but said that, in the Donley interview, she wasn't at her best.

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