The battle for the presidency of the Screen Actors Guild heated up Monday with Valerie Harper spurning rival Melissa Gilbert’s invitation to debate.

“The subject of a debate has been ill-advisedly raised, and it is something I cannot and will not support,” Harper said, adding that it was “inappropriate” to involve the public in SAG elections.

“SAG elections are the business of the voting members only,” she said. “Private SAG issues should never be intentionally reduced to fodder for the media. It is demeaning to the guild and should not occur.”

Harper also said the debate invitation is attempting to take advantage of SAG’s internal battling. “To exacerbate the current furor regarding SAG’s internal operations is not in the best interest of our membership,” she added.

Gilbert issued the invitation last week, proposing that the discussion include runaway production, enhanced residuals collections and “mismanagement” of SAG operations.

“It would be inappropriate for us as candidates to expect the membership to make an informed decision about who to vote for, for the office of president of the Screen Actors Guild without giving them the opportunity to hear the candidates debate and discuss the issues in a setting that is more conducive to free-flowing discussion,” Gilbert said in response to Harper’s statement.

“It is mind-boggling to me that Valerie Harper would think runaway production is a SAG-only issue — it affects the economy of our entire country,” Gilbert continued.

Gilbert did not invite the other announced candidates — Angeltompkins, Eugene Boggs and Arleen Goman — prompting Boggs to proclaim he was ready to debate even if he is not perceived as a front-runner.

“While I can understand from a purely strategic point of view why supposed front-runners resist debates — in theory it increases the visibility and credibility of the underdog and puts the front-runner at risk of a ruinous stumble or gaffe — it would be my hope that any presidential debates would have all declared candidates invited to participate,” Boggs said.

“I certainly think I have issues I’d like to address, such as the John Cooke hiring fiasco and the three-background-voucher, union entry method that the supposed front-runners are unlikely to see as debate priorities,” he added. “The membership would be served best by the broadest spectrum of views being presented to them.”