5 Virginia political candidates participate in closed debate

Newsgathering | Feature | September 14, 1993

VIRGINIA -- Five of the six candidates for three top statewide offices debated behind closed doors in late August. The debate, sponsored by the state Fraternal Order of Police, was apparently the first to be held in private in Virginia's modern history, political scientist Mark J. Rozell told the Washington Post. There was no press coverage of the event.

Michael P. Farris, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, unsuccessfully attempted to open the debate to the press and the public. He considered tape recording the debate but decided not to participate.

The Virginia Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police requested that the candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general meet in Richmond Aug. 28 with representatives of the lodges. The FOP chose the private setting because "the candidates aren't candid when the press is around," FOP president Garth L. Wheeler told the Washington Post.

Several press organizations urged Wheeler to open the debates. "Voters in the Commonwealth have every right to expect candidates for public office to debate public policy issues in a public forum at all times," said a letter to Wheeler from the Virginia Press Association, the Virginia Capitol Correspondents and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Although the plea did not persuade the FOP to open the debates, William D. Dolan III, Democratic attorney general candidate, promised to participate only in open debates in the future.