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Alborn: Governor Candidates Talk, But Where’s the Debate?


I watched the first 2013 Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate Debate live-stream, and attended the second one in person.  Both were well-orchestrated events with questions tailored to the hosts. 

So, where the hell is “our” debate?  

Where are those questions about gifts, ethics, SEC investigations, auto plants, gay rights, sodomy laws, education policy, Star Scientific, etc. going to be asked?  When do we get past the technical questions about tax policy, business issues, and the bar and get to the stuff that lets us measure the integrity of the candidates?

I’ve been looking around for answers.  I haven’t found much.

 The first debate was held by the Virginia Bar Association at the Homestead in Hot Springs.  If you watch the video, you will find that it focuses on those things of interest to…  well… lawyers.  After all, it was sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association.

While it only bothered to invite two of the three candidates on the ballot, at least it was a real debate format.  This allowed each candidate to probe the others “weak spots” a bit.  It was a nasty bit of theater.

The second event, really more of a panel discussion, was hosted by the Prince William Chamber of Commerce and the chambers from Fredericksburg, Loudoun County, and Reston.  Those of you wishing to catch up may watch the video

As we would expect from a chamber sponsored event, the focus was jobs, the economy, transportation, health care, and areas of importance to the business community.  Again, we only saw two of the three candidates — the third on the ballot is Libertarian Robert Sarvis.  The format precluded any candidate direct exchanges, so there was no opportunity to for either to really flush out the issues. 

Both of these debates were just opportunities to hear the same old talking points you may find on the candidate’s websites.  For extra credit, watch the opening remarks of each candidate.  They used the same script both times. 

It’s sort of like that old Wendy’s Commercial.  Both events were well executed, polished, and impressive but where’s the beef?

Independent voters were perhaps a bit disappointed with both of these events because none of the  questions I mentioned earlier were directly addressed.  Many voters are looking beyond the policy issues trying to determine who will most spare the Commonwealth embarrassment during the next four years.  

Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s desire for fifteen debates was negotiated down to five by Democrat Terry McAuliffe.   Sarvis wasn’t even invited to the table (I did mention there are only three candidates, didn’t I?) 

Cuccinelli and McAuliffe have agreed on only two more debates.  The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce will host on September 25,  and Virginia Tech will host an event in September or October.

Perhaps there’s room for a fifth debate in Northern Virginia? Perhaps we should get the debate we deserve?  Perhaps there is an opportunity for a non-partisan group with a history of success in staging these events to step up and “fill in the banks” for those of us?

I’ll be blunt. 

Most independent voters in Virginia just aren’t that thrilled with either of two candidates we have been exposed to so far.  Media and the public are grumbling that while there are three candidates on the ballot, the only alternative is being ignored.

It’s not like we are talking about a lot of people on the stage.  We are talking about a couple of folks who have a lot of baggage, and the only available alternative who might actually get independents otherwise disgusted with the process to show up at the polls.

And then, there are the questions. 

The first two debates (such that they were) were focused vents tailored to the interests of the hosts.  They were both held in the daytime, thus disenfranchising folks who work for a living.  We may probably expect the same from Virginia Tech, and can count on it from the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.  I am sure that the sponsors were thrilled; however, the larger voter community was not well served.

So, where is the debate for the rest of us?

Perhaps it’s not to late for the public to demand one.

It turns out that the Prince William Committee of 100 had originally planned to host the Gubernatorial Debate at the Hylton Center.  The logistics were in place, and invitations were sent to the candidates.  The local chambers just won the “brass ring” in what turned out to be a competition.

The local chambers did an excellent job representing Northern Virginia businesses and their interests.  In such an important election with so few debates, its a shame they didn’t represent the interests of the entire community.  That’s why we need groups like the Prince William Committee of 100 involved.

The Committee hows how to host a debate for the entire community.  If you have any doubt, I invite your attention to the April 25, 2013 Program – Bi-County Prince William – Loudoun County Parkway – Love It or Hate It.

To paraphrase Crocodile Dundee said in the movie of the same name, “That’s not a debate, THIS is a debate!”

Northern Virginia voters would be better served if the Prince William Committee of 100 would try to salvage the plans they already had in place to host a Gubernatorial candidate debate, and get the answers to the many questions that are still left unanswered about the candidates.  They hold these events in the evening to maximize attendance, and they are free to the public.

I’m using this Sunday’s column to ask the Prince William Committee of 100 to reconsider and serve the public’s interest as it always does by challenging all three candidates, Republican AG Ken Cuccinelli, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, and Libertarian Robert Sarvis to show up one more time, answer questions that “the rest of us” care about, take questions from the audience, and allow Northern Virginia to make a fully informed choice.

We deserve no less.

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  • I was annoyed that a fee was charged to attend the debate. Why should we be asked to pay to know what our potential leaders are planning to do with our tax money and how they plan to govern?

    • Al Alborn

      The Committee of 100 should have hosted this debate. I hope they will try again. While the Chambers may have met their objectives, they let the community down.

  • Al, there is nothing for the Committee of 100 to reconsider. We asked the candidates (admittedly only two, not three)and were denied. We would be delighted if the candidates would reconsider and agree to debate in PWC, as we are known to be a county capable of swinging the vote.

    Thank you so much for bringing this to the attention of the general public. For readers, please show your support here, in the comments and join the PW Committee of 100 to continue to explore issues in a non-partisan fashion. You can visit us online and now, like us (and share comments) on Facebook:

  • Wanda Carter

    Well written Al Alborn.
    I am an independent voter, and proud of it. I vote for the right person not a party. I also believe The Committee of 100 should push to get a proper debate held here in PWC with all three candidates.

  • Both major candidates have major weaknesses and minor strengths. We really do need a forum that explores their characters.

  • The Chamber of Commerce once again showed what a greedy, selfish bunch they are. After hijacking the debate, they ignored the community and used the forum for their own questions. It was a “what’s in it for us if you win” debate. With so few debates, that was disgraceful!.

    The Chamber should step up here and support a debate hosted by the Committee of 100. It’s the right thing t do. To do otherwise would be to “pave over the interests of voters in Northern Virgnia. Paving over us appears to be their focus.

  • Third Party?

    Why have these debate organizers excluded Libertarian Robert Sarvis from the forums and debates? He obtained ballot access, so why isn’t he in the debates?

    The hosts (the Virginia Bar Association, AARP, the various chambers of commerce, NBC, and League of Women Voters) are all activists promoting their political agenda under the thinly veiled facade called “forums” and “debates”. Because it’s painfully obvious that they’re not presenting the issues or the candidates.

    Besides, how hard is it to ask a question?
    How hard is it to set up a third chair?

    I call BS, and I’m voting for Sarvis.

  • Bill Card

    I think that Libertarians might have trouble getting on the dais because they haven’t put forth a credible candidate. Just to be fair though, Terry McAuliffe doesn’t have any redeeming virtues that would make him a good governor either.

    • Bill (and for those readers unaware, Bill Card is the Chairman of the PW Republican Committee), You only need 10,000 signatures to get on the ballot. Sarvis got overt 17,000. He secured ballot access. Since he’s polling 7%, which is greater than the difference between the “usual suspects”, he WILL decide who is elected our next Governor (and he appears to be taking votes from Cuccinelli). I would suggest Cuccinelli would want to knock Sarvis out of the race on the debate stage now rather than face him in November.

      On the other hand, Terry McCauliffee is probably delighted Sarvis is in the race!

      It’s strategic thinking to face the person who could be your demise so you can do a TKO now rather than lose because of him later.

      If you do nothing, Cuccinelli will be an also ran, and your worse nightmare (as a Republican, not everyone would agree) will be our next Governor. Do something.

      • Bill Card

        I don’t hide – my comments are attributed to my name.

        Everyone turns in more signatures than they need – to do otherwise is foolish – prevents a problem if they are challenged. When I get signatures I go door-to-door without regard to party because just about everyone will sign a petition to put someone on the ballot.

        Hell – two guys went out and collected signatures to “end women’s suffrage” and then again to ban oxygen in the atmosphere.

        Signatures are the easy part. Sarvis got over the first hurdle – shows that he knows at least 4-5 people in every congressional district.

        There is more to a campaigning than debates – Sarvis has just over $38,000 in the bank – not much strength there.

        Debates are pretty useless events as you have noted. Sarvis is just looking for the increase in stature it would provide to be on the same stage.

        But my real comment is that Sarvis hasn’t anything in his background that indicates he would be a good governor – in that regard, he’s just like McAuliffe.

        • I shared your position for context, Bill. I would expect nothing less from the Chairman of the PW RC, or the Chairman of the local Democratic Party Re your candidate (although I suspect he’s delighted Sarvis is in the race).

          At the end of the day, elections are a math problem. The opinions of a couple of folks like us just don’t matter,and 7% will decide the election… unless your guy decides to nock Sarvis out early.

          • Dale H.

            The Roanoke College poll that has Sarvis at 5% reads: “Sarvis seems to draw about equally from both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, but that number is very small.”

            So I think Cuccinelli and McAuliffe both have to worry about Sarvis, which is why the political duopoly are very quick to dismiss Sarvis and try to exclude him from the debates.

            Also, if I were the Republican and Democrat chairpersons, I would be careful to throw around campaign funds as an argument. Because according to the Virginia Public Access Project, most of Cuccinelli and McAuliffe’s donors and funding come from out-of-state. Sarvis may have raised a mere $38k, but the majority of those donors hail from Virginia.

            We should also consider that Sarvis was recognized by the Virginia State Board of Elections in late June. So for Sarvis to poll as high as 7% according to the PPP in less than a month and raise some $38,000 from individual donors shows his movement is very organic – from the grassroots.

            The duopoly should tread carefully, because the Sarvis campaign is going to determine the outcome of this election… and therefore set the foundation for the 2014 congressional elections.

  • Sarvis is ready to rumble:

    Got tied up with promoting great Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial out this morn too:

    John Vaught LaBeaume
    Communications Dir. & Strategist
    Sarvis for Governor 2013
    “Virginia: Open-minded and Open for Business”
    (202) 352-8335
    Twitter: @SarvisPress

  • Looks like the Committee of 100 is tied up. I just received an email from Denny Daugherty, President, PW Committee of 100 indicating they have shifted their focus to the down-ticket statewide races.

    Too bad, but I understand.

    NewsChannel8’s Bruce DePuyt issued a similar challenge on his show “NewsTalk” to have a three way debate. Perhaps that is out last hope for a debate for ” the rest of us”. Otherwise, we may go to the polls with lingering questions about the candidates, and no chance to hear the third candidate.

    Perhaps the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce is listening, and will allow “the rest of us” to ask a few questions.

    We deserve the opportunity to get beyond the talking points, the business issues, and carefully staged low risk events. We deserve a debate “for the rest of us”!

  • Shirley Collins

    Mr. Alborn: As a longterm voter in Prince William County who is really tired of “the after election” surprises, it is so sad that any organization would produce a “debateless” debate. Perhaps party lines wish to still believe that “ignorance is bliss” on the part of voters; time for the reins to be put on this horse. Since there has been a lot of hullabaloo about long lines at polls, hope they return to the polls next go round with all the facts out in the open and not with just being expected to try to “put that thar horse back in the barn later”. Just call me an Independent-Democratic-Republican! Keep on keeping on, Al. Good Government needs more of you!

  • Bill Card

    Here’s how I think Sarvis can get up on the stage:

    Get some seasoning, do something enduring and important for your community. Run something big – say like the entire legal apparatus of a State. Make sure it is successful (unlike Greentech Auto).

    Leave the trivial issues behind and go after the earth shaking, impact producing ideas that make a difference in people’s lives and livelihoods. For a good example, Robert might look at Ken Cuccinelli’s jobs plan for Virginia or his recently released education plan:

    Serve your country. Doing it in uniform would be nice, but not everyone chooses that route. Ken Cuccinelli served his community in homeless shelters while in college and by standing up against sexual assault on campus long before he had any idea he would be a public person. In other words – do the right thing when no one is looking.

    • All good points and ideas, Bill,

      I’ll point out that the two traditional candidates are working on grand schemes to run our lives, manipulate business, divert our tax dollars to private institutions (your guy’s school plan), give tax breaks to only certain businesses (the other guy picking winners and losers), fighting settled Supreme Court decisions about consenting adults may (or may not do), and planning to pave over Prince William County.

      Those “impacted prosducing ideas” really scare me. I’m kinda fed up with “big ideas”. I’d really like the next Governor to spend less time thinking about how to run my life.

      In the meantime, Sarvis simply wants Government to get its hand out of our lives and our pockets and just lave us alone. The fact that he lacks the “baggage” that causes us to question the ethics, integrity and judgment of the other two is a bonus.

      I kinda like that.

      I can do this all day. It’s fun because both of the “regular suspects” are such easy targets (and you know I haven’t even touched the really good stuff.).

      Many Virginians are really disenchanted with the two choices others have picked for them, and starting to notice there is a door number 3. As I said in an earlier post, “vote for Sarvis! Compared to the other two candidates, how bad can he be!”

      • Bill Card


        Yes – we may have to declare the three volley rule and go for coffee.

        By the time Ken Cuccinelli was Sarvis’ age Ken had won two elections to the State Senate (a special and a regular).

        Unlike Cuccinelli and McAuliffe – Sarvis doesn’t have a track record – but he’s young, if he works hard he will someday. I hear what he’s saying . . . . but . . . .

        There’s coffee out there.

        • I think it’s my turn to buy, Bill. See you at Stsrbucks.

  • Jack Kinney

    A very well written post Al, keep up the good fight!

  • Sarvis scares the hell out of the establishment candidates, and those who bought them.

    Because he has no time in politics, he has no promises to keep. Sarvis isn’t in out of state big money’s pocket, owes nothing to developers, unions or special interests, and comes in free of obligations.

    He brings the Ron Paul effect to debate, which really aggregates the other two candidates and the Chsmber of Commerce. He asks obvious questions like, “Why do we need a separate liquer police”, and doesn’t believe in grand state run projects, like the bi-county Parkway.

    Sarvis’ absolute lack of ethical issues contrasts with the many lapses of the two other candidates, and makes us wonder how either got nominated. Cuccinelli and McAuliffee probably appreciate hosts who don’t dig into those ethical issues that the public would like to explore.

    I suspect the Fairfax Chamber of Commece is just as scared of him as the PW Chamber was. With so few debates, it’s a shame that big money interests get to decide which of the three candidates get presented to the public. And what questions they get asked.

    We shouldn’t accept this, we deserve a real debate. Cuccinelli and McAuliffee know they couldn’t survive that, and free fresh ideas Sarvis brings to the table are just too great a threat to the establishment,

  • AJ

    Where is Robert Sarvis? Why are voters given the false choice of two candidates?!

    I am voting for Sarvis because he has the best ideas for Virginia.

  • Scott

    99% sure I won’t vote for either of the two major party candidates. Glad there is a third name on the ballot. Will save me a couple seconds at the voting booth.

    If Bolling had gotten the nod, I probably would have voted for him.

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