MARIETTA - A chance to get up close and personal with some state and local candidates is the idea behind a series of elections forums, the first of which is set for today.
Three forums, organized by the Marietta/Washington County League of Women Voters, The Marietta Times, The Anchor and Marietta College, will give the public a chance to ask and candidates a chance to answer.
"The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan group and our purpose is to educate voters," said League member Betsy Cook. "We want to be able to answer any questions about candidates, and state and local issues so people aren't surprised when they see their ballot."
The first debate will be today at 7 p.m. featuring the Ohio Legislative debates between incumbent Debbie Phillips (D), and Charles Richter (R), both vying for Ohio House District 94, and incumbent Andy Thompson (R) and Charlie Daniels, running for Ohio House District 95. Community members are encouraged to attend and to submit questions for the candidates in advance.
A second legislative forum is planned for Sept. 24, between U.S. Congress candidates Charlie Wilson (D) and Bill Johnson (R) and Ohio Senate candidates Lou Gentile (D) and Shane Thompson (R). That will also be at 7 p.m. in the McDonough Auditorium.
A third event will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 27 and televised live from the Marietta College studio. The debates will be between Larry Mincks and Chris Forshey, candidates for sheriff; candidates for county commissioner Cora Marshall, Ron Feathers, David White and Peg Littler; and will allow statements from the candidates for common pleas court judge, Mark Kerenyi and Randall Burnworth.
As far as Daniels is concerned, the debates are one of his favorite aspects of campaigning.
"I didn't anticipate that I would, but I love these types of events," he said. "These venues are a great way for the public to get out and meet the candidates and, more importantly, to know the differences between the candidates."
Daniels, of St. Clairsville, and his opponent, Thompson, of Marietta, have had the opportunity to debate during the March primary.
"The nerves kind of ended after that," Daniels said. "Either you know your material or you don't."
Thompson agrees that candidate forums are good for sorting out what each candidate represents.
"For the people who are undecided, it is helpful to learn what each of our plans are," he said. "I've done these types of things several times on city council and in my last race. I'm pleased to talk about what I've accomplished."
Thompson added that he feels the forums will be conducted professionally and hopes that it won't turn into a shouting match.
"I just ask that people be respectful and not turn it into a personal attack (on a candidate)," he said.
Suzanne Walker, professor of communications at Marietta College and moderator for the event, said the audience, including, she hopes, Marietta College students, will simply be spectators for the debates and questions will be submitted ahead of time.
"There is no open question and answer time and the candidates are usually very respectful of each other," she said, adding that the only time something really unexpected happened at past events was in 2004 when former hostage Terry Anderson, running against Joy Padgett for Ohio Senate, refused to answer a question and walked off the stage.
Each candidate will be given the opportunity to field a question for 90 seconds and the opponent will have the same time for rebuttal. The first candidate will then have 30 seconds to respond. First questions will rotate between candidates, who will also have two minutes to make a final statement.
Phillips, of Athens, said she is eager to attend the event for the first time.
Due to reworking of the Ohio House districts, Phillips, who once represented the 92nd district, will now represent the 94th district, which will include more of Washington County and wards one, two and four in the city of Marietta. State Issue 2 will determine whether or not the drawing of legislative district lines can be left up to a state-funded commission.
The state issues, as well as local ballot issues will also be discussed at the forums.
"I look at (the forums) as a way to introduce myself to people who may not know me," Phillips said. "I just try to focus on what I am currently working on (in office) and my accessibility to my constituents."
Her opponent, Richter, of Little Hocking, said he anticipates many of the questions will stem from concerns in the community, such as fracking, support of small business, jobs and the economy and education.
"I am trying to get my message out about being a small business owner and my work ethic," he said. "I think if you're going to talk the talk, you need to walk the walk."
The redistricting line, Richter said, would possibly work to his advantage in this election.
"I have already started to get my name out in Marietta, Belpre and Warren areas (running previously for county commissioner)," he said. "If we still had Morgan County, which we lost, I didn't know anyone. So I think this makes it even."