I attended the VEA forum in Hampton last night. The event was the first of the season to feature all four candidates for governor, although not at the same time. Republican candidate Bob McDonnell appeared first and alone, while the three Democratic candidates – Creigh Deeds, Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran – appeared together.
Additional coverage of the debate can be found on the VEA website, in The Virginian-Pilot, and in The Daily Press. I think we can also expect a Daily Kos article from Arjun Jaikumar, who was also there and who covered the Farm Team event. (By the way, in case you missed it, the video of the entire video from Williamsburg is available here.) I did not see any other bloggers there, so take what you read at some of the other blogs with a grain of salt: it’s campaign spin.
The format of the forum – note: this was not a debate – was that each candidate was given time for an opening statement, then asked a series of questions that had, at least according to one source, been provided in advance, and then a closing statement. The forum was conducted as a part of the VEA state convention, which was attended by about 800 delegates from across the state. For those who followed my Twitter feed last night, I tried to update, in real time, what was happening there.
One of the most interesting things of the forum was who invoked Obama and who didn’t. One would normally expect that it would be the Democratic candidates who would talk about President Obama, but it was not. Republican Bob McDonnell repeatedly used the President’s name, saying he agreed with Obama on a number of issues. Of course, those issues happen to be ones with which most Democrats disagree, particularly school vouchers. But as usual, McDonnell, who has already shifted to the center for the general election, attempted to come off as a reasonable Republican. He even bragged about increased Virginia funding for education and conveniently left out that he voted against Warner’s 2004 budget which included $1.5B for K-12 education.
On the Democratic side, Creigh Deeds got the largest applause of the night with his line, “We can’t expect excellence if we don’t even pay for average.” Both Deeds and Moran emphasized their legislative records. All of the Democrats support the usual education issues, including pre-K funding, smaller class sizes and raising teacher salaries. McAuliffe, ever the showman, talked about raising teacher salaries not to the national average of about $52,000 but to that of our neighbors to the north, Maryland and Washington DC, where the salaries average about $60,000. Virginia’s teachers average about $46,000.
McAuliffe’s opening remarks got a lot of applause. Not unexpected when you promise everything that the educators want. After his remarks, I turned around and asked one of the convention delegates whether he had promised everything. She smiled and said no. She said, “He didn’t promise me a million dollars!”
I have to admit: this is one area where I have trouble with McAuliffe. On the one hand, he hides behind the legislature to say he won’t work for the repeal of Marshall-Newman. On the other hand, he makes all of these grandiose promises without considering the legislative environment in which he would have to operate. If there is anything that bugs me, it is inconsistency. And McAuliffe demonstrates that on a fairly regular basis. Constrained by reality, both Deeds and Moran don’t promise what they have no hope of delivering. (Of course, if Virginia allowed governors to run for re-election, there would be some accountability for such nonsense. But then that’s a post for another day.)
Talking with some of the convention delegates afterwards, it was interesting to note how many of them simply have not paid any attention to the upcoming primary. (Guess that explains the undecided voters in all the polls.) For many, this was their first opportunity to hear the candidates. Each of the convention delegates was provided with literature on all of the candidates. Hopefully, this will be an awakening for them about June 9.