Virginia Senate candidates former Gov. George Allen and former Gov. Tim Kaine clashed over issues of health care and environmental sustainability during a debate at the University of Richmond on Oct. 7.
The debate, part of the Sharp Viewpoint Series, was hosted by the Richmond Scholars and was held in a nearly full Alice Jepson Theater. Each candidate was given 30 minutes to answer questions written by the Richmond Scholars in connection to the series’ theme “7 Billion,” addressing the human population topping 7 billion in 2011.
President Edward Ayers mediated the debate, covering topics including food security, economic impact, biodiversity management and climate change.
Republican candidate Allen, who spoke first, talked about providing basic necessities by focusing on the economy.
Allen’s solution was a strong economy, made possible by repealing “Obamacare” and introducing a bill that allows Virginia to produce oil and coal. This “blueprint for America’s comeback” would send the message domestically and internationally that “America is open for business again,” Allen said.
When asked the same question, Kaine, the Democratic candidate, took a different approach, calling the energy issue “the 21st century innovation challenge.” Humans, Kaine said, have “a compelling moral and scientific call as a species to move down the carbon ladder.” He proposed to invest in alternative energy, make processes cleaner and stop relying on countries that “do us harm.”
Both candidates agreed that the gridlock in Washington was preventing important bills from being passed and needed to be addressed.
“You find people on the other side of the aisle who you agree with,” Allen said. “You may only agree on one out of five things, but get that one thing done.” The Senate adheres too much to partisanship and process, he said.
Kaine discussed filibuster reform to address the gridlock. “Congress is the ankle weight right now,” he said. The lack of accountability in the filibuster process is allowing senators to abuse the system, Kaine said.
The candidates were split on the issue of health care.
Allen proposed the idea of health savings accounts, which he said were “personal, more affordable and portable.” Consumers would not be dependent on the government or employers under this system, and there would be less strain on small businesses to provide health care, he said.
Health care, Kaine said, is one of the great challenges in public policy because the needs of the population are huge. “The example of other nations suggests you can expand coverage and bring costs down,” he said.
What Kaine called the “healing of America,” would require both providers and citizens to shift from a focus on procedures to a focus on health.
In the penultimate question, Ayers asked about diversity and policymaking.
“The genius of our country is the genius of diverse people,” Kaine said, drawing on his time as a civil rights lawyer.
Allen spoke about salient law enforcement and how growing up with an immigrant mother in a family focused on sports had contributed to his understanding of diversity. “The great thing about sports is that it’s a meritocracy,” Allen said.
Kaine expanded on the definition of diversity by introducing sexuality and disabilities into the discussion.
With two minutes remaining, Ayers told the candidates to make their closing remarks. Both spoke about students and university graduates as the future of the nation and said they were glad to see so many young faces in the audience.
This year’s election, Allen said, is a “rendezvous with destiny.” Virginia will decide who the next president of the United States is, he said in closing.
Kaine ended his segment with a call for optimism. “We need optimists today,” Kaine said. “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”
The Richmond Scholars hosted a reception following the event, and after thanking the candidates and Richard Sharp, who was in the audience, Ayers invited everyone to “celebrate the spirit of bipartisanship with donkey and elephant cookies.”
Senior Alyssa Boden, a political science major who attended the event, said, “I think it was great to see [the candidates] views in a relaxed setting instead of a debate where competition is valued over facts.”
Richmond Scholars were invited to a private reception with candidates Kaine, Allen, Richard Sharp and other donors before the event.
“It was interesting actually how well they got along,” Molly Rossi, a freshman Richmond Scholar said. “They were talking and were both very personable.”
Aarti Reddy, a sophomore Richmond Scholar, said she had not submitted a question, but enjoyed meeting the candidates. “It makes a difference talking to someone as a person and then seeing them on stage,” she said. “They seem more like people.”
Students from leadership professor Thad Williamson’s Justice and Civil Society class attended the event. “It was a great example to see liberty of thought and discussion in opposed positions at a really high level,” Williamson said. The style of the debate had provided greater depth and an honest picture in a short amount of time, he said.
Allen’s political career spans 29 years. He has served in the House of Delegates and the U.S. House of Representatives, was sworn in as governor of Virginia in January 1994 and was elected to U.S. Senate in 2000.
Kaine practiced law in Richmond for 18 years and first ran for Richmond City Council in 1994. He served as councilman and mayor until 2001. In 2005, Kaine was elected governor of Virginia, according to the event program. The governor teaches a seminar on the Future of Equality in American Constitutional Law at Richmond.
Contact staff writer Taylor Cloonan at firstname.lastname@example.org