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Residents in Virginia’s 96th District may not see their House of Delegates candidates engage in a public debate before Election Day, as their only scheduled forum has been canceled.
Linda Rice, president of the League of Women Voters of the Williamsburg Area, said the league canceled the forum after incumbent Del. Brenda Pogge (R) withdrew from the event, citing concerns over turnout.
The Virginia Gazette scheduled its James City County Board of Supervisors debate the same night as the 96th District forum.
“Unfortunately, because the 96th District forum is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. in the Stonehouse District of James City County, this scheduling conflict will reduce voter attendance at both forums,” Pogge wrote in a letter to Rice on Oct. 2. “As a result, I respectfully withdraw from the October 21 House of Delegates forum in order to maximize attendance at the Virginia Gazette-moderated Board of Supervisors debate.”
The 96th District includes parts of James City County and York County.
Rice said the League notified The Virginia Gazette of its scheduled forums weeks in advance, but she was informed that Oct. 21 was the only date all the Board of Supervisors candidates could attend a debate.
“Certainly we don’t have any kind of exclusive rights over those times and places, but we did expect that if we shared that with another organization, I would have thought they would have tried to avoid that date,” Rice said. “They should have known that would present another type of conflict, and of course it has.”
Pogge’s challenger, local attorney Brandon Waltrip (I), said he and Pogge had shared a stage during a candidate forum hosted Sept. 24 by the York County Chamber of Commerce, but the state candidates only answered two or three questions.
He said he believes a debate would have given him and Pogge an opportunity to share their platforms and explain their views on the economy and schools.
“The more debates we have, the better I think the democratic process operates,” Waltrip said. “I guess she’s taken the position, as the rest of the Republican party [candidates], that they’re not going to debate, that they’re not going to open themselves up to a forum unless it’s under conditions they can come up with.”
Rice said the League suggested Oct. 26 as an alternate date, as it was the only evening available at the same venue, the James City County Library. However, Rice said Pogge would not be available that day because she would be out of town.
Amanda Johnston, Pogge’s legislative aide, wrote in an email to WYDaily that Pogge will attend another event early in the evening Oct. 21, a candidate reception in Hampton hosted by Insight Enterprises, Inc., Peninsula Center for Independent Living.
Johnston wrote Pogge accepted the invitation after she withdrew from the candidate forum.
“As a member and immediate past chair of the Virginia Disability Commission, Delegate Pogge believes this forum is an excellent opportunity to learn the priorities of disabled individuals and their families,” Johnston wrote.
Waltrip said an appearance in Hampton, which is not in the 96th District, suggests Pogge is not concerned enough about issues in her district.
“If she were serious enough about the district, she would debate,” Waltrip said, adding he would be willing to move his schedule around so he could participate in a debate with her.