ANCHORAGE - The moderator of a widely watched political debate program aired in Juneau on KTOO-TV has resigned amid complaints from Republicans.
Rhonda McBride moderated Anchorage public television station KAKM's "Running" show, which features interviews and debates with candidates in statewide and legislative races. She quit after being removed as host and limited to a role as producer of the show, a major statewide forum for 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 political pressure.
"She and I have disagreed on the direction the program should take," he said.
McBride said her removal from the show stemmed from complaints by Sen. Dave Donley, an Anchorage Republican. After her live interview with him on Aug. 22, he accused her of editorializing.
"As a general philosophy, I like to ask what I think the public would be interested in hearing," McBride 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."
"Running" usually airs the week before primary and general elections. 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. McBride interviewed those candidates.
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 and the two discussed the pros and cons of Donley's role in a rewrite of the formula for distributing state school funding.
The next day Stankavich called McBride into his office.
"He said 'You need to tone down your questions. You're asking irrelevant questions. You need to stick to the issues,' " McBride said.
A few days later Stankavich said he wanted to remove her as moderator and have her stay on as the show's producer. McBride resigned.
KAKM receives about 7 percent, or $135,000, of its budget from the state and Donley is Senate Finance Committee co-chairman. Stankavich said Donley didn't threaten to reduce the station's funding.
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