Some readers surely blew a gasket when they got Saturday’s paper and saw the RISE Debate was the lead story on the front page. I can see them now, writing their views on our organization being a racist hate group and dividing the community while hosting the RISE Debate.
The RISE Debate happened Friday night. The live streams have been heavily viewed. It was a tough debate. We never said it would be easy. It was evident that the candidates hadn’t experienced a debate on topics concerning the black community.
One of the candidates, Janice Allen (I), walked out in the middle of the debate at the break. She refused to go back on stage. Saturday morning, she sent me a letter telling me that “the debate wasn’t what she had expected and she was never asked about her experience with ‘the blacks’ who are suffering from opioid overdoses.”
She said much more, but that comment was at the beginning of her correspondence and was indicative of her performance Friday night. If anyone would like to vote for a candidate that is the very opposite of RISE’s mission, she would be your choice.
Chris Runion (R) was a no-call no-show. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was disrespectful to accept the invitation, then not show up. At Chris’ request, I met with him a month or so ago to discuss the invitation and debate. Not once did he say, “I’m not going to participate.” Republicans tend to want one-to-one private meeting to say they have listened to black people. Unacceptable! How can you vote for someone who is afraid to stand up for his constituents and truly know their needs?
John Avoli (R) chose to go to a football game because it’s family time, watching his grandsons play. I know a family man, and we need to respect that. I know black people don’t have families and they don’t care about their children or grandchildren. That’s why this racist organization could hold their debate on a Friday night. Avoli was the first candidate to accept the invite. He told me on a few occasions he was looking forward to it.
Then, three weeks ago, he told me he didn’t want to miss his grandson’s game. Not to announce he wasn’t coming, but he would discuss with his wife. He waited until the Tuesday before the debate to withdraw. We should give Mr. Avoli all the time he needs with his family. I understand the importance of family and support him being with them every day of the week, because I need a fighter in Richmond who understands this is a sacrifice to represent the constituents’ rights in this district.
Sen. Emmett Hanger (R), thank you, sir. You showed up, you listened and you shared that the experience impacted you. You appreciated hearing from us and participating. You represented yourself and your party well. There is a reason that you have held that seat all these years.
All three Democrats were gracious. They struggled at times as well. No one could be prepared for this debate unless they’ve spent quality time sitting down and talking to black and brown people — if they participated in real and honest dialogue on racism.
This was not a debate for RISE to “get you.” It was a debate to tell our candidates what we need from them as they go to Richmond. It was a chance to give ourselves voice and to make our names known to them. It was not to set up Democrats to win over Republicans or vice versa. It was a debate to educate the voters. Republicans consistently lose on that opportunity because they repeatedly do not show up. They tell us that the black vote or black condition is not important enough for them to even attend a debate. Voting against our own interest by not showing up gives the message to Republicans that they don’t have to show up.
The only thing that matters is what happens in that voting booth.
If you don’t vote, you give your power away. Go vote Nov. 5 like your life depends on it, because it does.