Hankins and the “great debate”

Published 10:59 am Thursday, October 13, 2016

While viewers across the country set their televisions and computers to the Vice Presidential Debate at Longwood University last week, one Kenbridge resident had a backstage view.

Lunenburg County Republican Party Chairman Mike Hankins has been involved with campaigns for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. He has also worked behind the scenes for both state and local officeholders. However, the Oct. 4 debate in Farmville was his first up-close and personal involvement with a presidential campaign.

Hankins is retired from healthcare administration, at a hospital in South Hill for six years and Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville for three years. For 30 years prior, he worked for hospitals in Florida, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia. In retirement, Hankins has become deeply involved with the political process.

The 63-year-old has lived in Kenbridge for nine years, and worked in Farmville for GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence.

Hankins had many roles throughout Debate Night.

“I think the debate went great from top to bottom,” he said; in particular, he thought the event was well organized. “You can tell when you did a good job because no one knows about the problems.”

For example, those watching the debate at home did not know about a skunk on campus that night. Hankins said they found it right outside the debate hall.

“Can you imagine what could have happened? The Secret Service does not normally deal with skunks,” he said.

Hankins saw his fair share of political celebrities as well, including old friends like U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, State Sen. Bryce Reeves and former Gov. Jim Gilmore. He also had the pleasure of seeing people he only knew about, such as Lou Dobbs and Jesse Jackson.

“It is something you don’t get to do every day,” he said. “We see things like this on TV all the time without thinking about what goes into a debate to pull it off. While you may only see one person talking on television, there are 25-30 people behind the scene who make it all happen.”

Hankins helped make some of those things happen smoothly. Prior to the debate, he assisted media and debate attendees in getting where they needed to be in the Debate Hall, located in Longwood’s Willett Hall.

During the debate, Hankins was in the hospitality suite along with other volunteers, and afterward, he helped people walk from Willett to “Spin Alley,” in the university’s Health and Fitness Center, transformed into the Debate Media Center. Once there, he had the chance to watch people be interviewed by a variety of news outlets.

“I would do it again without giving it a second thought,” he said.