As television airwaves across Virginia fill up with 2019 election ads, readers have spoken out in our Letters to the Editor about a lack of focus on the issues.

“The results of these local votes ultimately have a huge effect on the future,” wrote June Hoye of Henrico on Thursday. “But why is it that what we hear mostly is what the opponents are against, not what our candidates are for?”

To learn who stands for what, we urge readers to get out and see the candidates. Last night, dozens gathered at VPM’s studios in Chesterfield for two forums, in partnership with ChamberRVA.

The first discussion featured House District 66 — incumbent Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, and Democratic challenger Sheila Bynum-Coleman. The second put the spotlight on Senate District 10 — incumbent Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, and Democratic challenger Ghazala Hashmi.

Minutes before the event, there was a buzz in the room. Attendees thumbed through pamphlets left on their chairs. But a few feet away was a rare opportunity — a moment to mingle with the candidates, who brought voice to the words they put on paper or TV.

Topics ranged from access to affordable health care, rising college costs, abortion, gerrymandering and climate change. Some questions were state-level, such as right-to-work laws and raising the minimum wage. Other exchanges were district-specific, such as the proposed rezoning of Richmond Public Schools in SD 10.

The answers were not as simple as a TV ad script. The candidates were forced to think and, in some cases, ask “Could you repeat the question?” The public also was able to influence the discussion. At the start of each forum, ChamberRVA passed out notecards and pens to pitch questions.

“Thirty seconds!” shouted a VPM producer.

“I want to get a card,” whispered one attendee in the next row over.

The main guideline was to pose questions that could be asked of both candidates — a welcome change from one-sided ads. One audience submission that reached the main stage asked what to do with the remaining $400 million in the taxpayer relief fund. Maybe that topic wasn’t addressed in debate prep.

We commend Cox, Bynum-Coleman, Sturtevant and Hashmi for interacting face-to-face with voters on critical issues, and ChamberRVA and VPM for hosting these events. The quality of the answers is heightened by the participation of the people who will decide the election — voters like you.

Visit’s events page or do a quick web search for “Virginia candidate forum” to find events with other area organizations. Don’t sit at home. Get out and see the candidates in person.

Chris Gentilviso

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