The right to vote is a privilege we have as Americans.

Those were some of the last words that Andrew Snead Sr. used to wrap up the Candidates Community Forum held Oct. 19 by the Powhatan County Branch of the NAACP.

Those words, along with his other encouragement – “Let your vote be your voice. If you don’t vote, you remain very silent” – were so fitting for the setting. They came at the end of a three-hour event in which 20 candidates – 18 official ones on the ballot and two write-in hopefuls – laid out a bit of themselves for Powhatan’s voters to take a closer look.

The event was enlightening for a few reasons. First, the candidates had the opportunity to do an introduction and share a little about who they are as people – about their time in Powhatan, their families, and their academic and professional experiences.

Then they answered questions posed by moderators for each specific political race. Depending on the race, candidates were asked questions about diversity in hiring, their stances on issues such as Medicaid Expansion or gun control, the environment and preserving the county’s rural features, and promoting programs among minority students.

Probably the most revealing question for this listener was to hear the candidates for the board of supervisors races asked to list their top priorities for Powhatan County and how they would implement them. Six candidates answered that question, and, while there were similarities on a few of the responses, for the most part, each man or woman offered a varied list with his or her own unique ideas and approaches.

In theory, your priorities are where you spend your time, money, and efforts. So when someone is asked such an open-ended but important question, I hope readers are paying attention. These same priorities could shape how Powhatan does or doesn’t change in the next four years.

And after all that, the candidates were asked a simple yet heavy question: “Why should Powhatan residents vote for you?” What sets them apart, qualifies them, makes them the right choice – no matter how you say it, it’s about boiling down to the simplest descriptions of why they think they are fit to be elected to the school board, the board of supervisors, the State Senate, the House of Delegates, the Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District, or one of the constitutional offices.

It’s been four years and I’ve covered many events since then, so I will admit to not remembering all of the details of the candidate forum the NAACP held in 2015.

What I will say is that what they did this year with the event was commendable. There was a little bit of rushing at the end as the event, which was scheduled to last two hours, stretched toward the three-hour mark. Joe Walters and Kim Hymel, who are both running unopposed for re-election to the school board, were good sports about skipping the questions and making only abbreviated statements.

But other than that, the forum provided some good insight into how these 20 people work and what they consider priorities. I personally believe that the ideas and ideals a candidate professes to believe in and proves out with the test of time are the more important things to know as an informed voter, so I would say the local NAACP members accomplished their goal of helping that process along.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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