Stewart, Wagner face off in forum

Published 9:49 am Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Lunenburg County Republican Party hosted a forum for Republican gubernatorial primary candidates Corey Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner on Thursday in Kenbridge. Candidate Ed Gillespie, who was also invited, was unable to attend.

The forum served as an opportunity for the community to learn more about the candidates, Lunenburg Republican Party Chairman Mike Hankins said.

The forum, held at the Kenbridge Community Center, included members of the community meeting candidates seeking their party’s nod to run in the November election and to learn more about each candidate’s platform.

The debate-style forum began at 6:45 p.m. and ended around 8:30 p.m. After the question-and-answer session was over, citizens were

afforded the opportunity to speak with the candidates one-on-one.

Radio talk show host Craig Johnson was the moderator for the forum, asking more than a dozen questions to each candidate regarding education, safety, religion and social issues.

One of the questions addressed was the stigma that Republicans “hate women, hate blacks, hate Hispanics, hate gays, hate clean air, hate children and hate clean water,” as Johnson cited.

Stewart, in response, told a story of when he and his wife were going for a walk through their neighborhood and saw a young black man on his bicycle.
“He pulls up to a house and at this house, in the front yard, is a confederate flag, and under it it says ‘heritage, not hatred,’” Stewart told the audience. “And that young man pulled into that house where his parents met him at the door. This issue on heritage has nothing to do with race, ethnicity or whether you were born here or came here. Our history is what binds us together.”

“The African-(American) community that I’ve met is extremely conservative and churchgoing. The Filipinos I know are very family-oriented … education is top priority. These should be our core constituent groups and we’ve allowed the Democrats to somehow convince (these) groups that we hate them,” Wagner said. “I think Martin Luther King had it right when he said ‘You don’t judge a person on the content of their skin but on the content of their character.’”

Another topic of the night was crime. Both candidates were asked what they have done to help reduce crime rates.

“We have, in our community, I’ve fostered this … we work with the churches on prison ministries,” said Stewart. “Because, it’s true if somebody spends time in jail or prison and they get out and there’s nothing for them to do and they can’t get a job and there’s nobody there to try to help bring them back into society, they’re probably going to recommit.”

Wagner agreed, saying as the owner of a ship repair company, he had a policy of hiring ex-felons.

“We did a program where we did a halfway-house program,” Wagner said. “It can work if people are given the opportunity. Everybody deserves a second chance.”

“If we don’t hang together as Republicans and unite, we won’t win; it’s just that easy,” Wagner said. “I had the opportunity to warm up a crowd of 10,000 people fired up and ready to get (President) Donald Trump elected. I see (Democrats) fired up. We have got to come together and reach out and get people excited about the Republican Party and Republican plans.”

After the forum, Stewart said he thought the event went well.

“I know how to govern. I know how to work with other conservatives to get the job done and I tend to be working with Republican senators like Frank Wagner,” Stewart said. “Even though I don’t have that legislative experience in Richmond — I do as governing a big county — I know how to work with legislature to get the job done, so I’ll be leveraging that experience.”

Members of the community agreed the event went well and they were glad to be able to meet the candidates and hear their platforms.

“I think it was a very effective event,” Karen Hawthorne said. “I think the information we received was powerful and it gave us some good information so that we can go home and try to discern what to do from here. There were really good questions asked to help us answer the questions that we needed to get answered.”

Hankins said he thought the event went well and was glad the community was able to come out and hear the two candidates speak.

“I think the candidates gave good, detailed responses, there was no beating around the bush,” Hankins said. “I was really impressed with both of them. Anybody that came and listened to these two guys would have a tough decision on who to vote for. It was a good informational experience.”