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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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