Candidates Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) and Sarah Grace (D-Athens) for the Ohio House of Representatives 94th District both plan to attend the Town Hall Debate Forum next Tuesday although Edwards has expressed concerns with the way scheduling was handled, selection of moderator, and overall format.
The town hall, sponsored by the Ohio University Student Senate, will be held from 7-9 p.m. inside room 235 of Walter Hall. The five debate topics, according to the Student Senate description, will be the economy, the environment, healthcare, education, and the community.
Edwards said he had not yet agreed to the Sept. 27 event when he read in Tuesday’s Messenger that he was confirmed to participate, emphasizing that he had been engaged in discussions the past few weeks with Nicholas Felt, the OU Student Senate’s governmental affairs commissioner, about whether it would be held Sept. 27 or Sept. 29.
Edwards said Felt initially asked for the Sept. 29 date, but Edwards said that would not work because that is the date of the Athens County Republican Party fall dinner at American Legion Hall. Edwards added that he was scheduled to attend a Pregnancy Resource Center dinner Sept. 27 in Athens with a table reserved, and now had to cancel.
After reading Tuesday that he was scheduled for the Town Hall Debate Forum Sept. 27, Edwards said the entire scheduling process was mishandled by Felt and suggested there might be an ulterior motive at work.
“I felt like I was being set up because I had a problem with the logistics,” he said.
Tuesday, Felt discussed the matter briefly with The Messenger and said he thought everything was confirmed by both parties. Felt was unavailable for comment Wednesday, stating that he was in class and to call back later. He did not return multiple calls thereafter.
Felt sent an email to The Messenger Sept. 7 with an attachment outlining the town hall format. Edwards said, specifically in that timeframe, that he had never agreed to the format or the date and had not received the email.
Nathan Cotton, campaign manager for Sarah Grace, said Wednesday that her team had agreed to the Sept. 27 date a few weeks in advance and was “eager” for debate opportunities with Edwards as soon as possible. But they also knew the Edwards team was still considering the date, he said.
About a week ago, Cotton said Felt contacted him to let him know Edwards had agreed to the Sept. 27 date.
Informed that Edwards said he had never confirmed the date with Felt, Cotton added, “As far as we know, it’s still on and we’re planning to be there.”
It is important for the Ohio University community to understand where both candidates stand on key issues affecting southeast Ohio, Cotton offered.
“If I only agreed to it (the Sept. 27 date) a week ago, then how could an email (from Felt) be sent out Sept, 7?” Edwards asked. “I am being strong-armed right now and I believe it’s completely wrong.”
Edwards also said he had concerns with who the debate moderator would be and raised concerns about selecting a liberal moderator who may favor Grace. Edwards said he suggested a more conservative moderator, or at least a co-moderator who is conservative to provide balance.
Edwards said he suggested Richard Vedder, an Ohio University distinguished professor of economic emeritus, only to learn that he and Felt did not come to an agreement.
David Parkhill, president of OU Republicans, said Wednesday the debate forum moderator will be DeLysa Burnier, an OU political science professor.
“In my role as a moderator, I will be nonpartisan,” Burnier said Wednesday. “My job is simply to read the questions I’ve been given.”
To make sure the Town Hall Debate Forum questions do not favor either candidate, Parkhill said two OU College Republicans, and two OU College Democrats, will need three-fourths agreement on one round of questions offered by the OU Student Senate.
Another round of questions will be submitted from an online link that Parkhill said was to be sent out to this week. Those questions will again require three-fourths agreement by two College Republicans and two College Democrats.
Edwards and Grace will not preview the questions beforehand but will know the town hall topics, Parkhill said: the economy, the environment, healthcare, education, and the community.