The University of Richmond hosted a debate last night between Henrico Republican Delegate John O’Bannon and Democratic Challenger Tom Shields in the Alice Hanyes Room of the Tyler Haynes Commons on campus. Political Science Professor Dan “The Buzzer” Palazzolo moderated.
Note: A basketball shot clock was used to keep time, and several times, the buzzer designed to be heard in the entire Robbins Center accidentally went off. LOUDLY! Thus the nickname for Professor Palazzolo who did an outstanding and professional job.
The difference between the two candidates was apparent during the entire debate. Delegate O’Bannon appeared relaxed and comfortable, was in ready command of the facts and is actually a wealth of knowledge on the history and evolution of each and every issue, and the problems or benefits of each. Tom Shields stammered and stumbled over words, had no solutions or ideas and was, in general, ill prepared for the debate. His main thrust was to attack O’Bannon for being partisan, attack Republicans for being obstructionists and generally try to affix blame for any and all problems on O’Bannon and House Republicans. Shields claims to represent a “New Generation of Independent Leadership” who will reach across the isle and foster bipartisan solutions to problems. Problems he blames on the people he wants to reach out to. First, he needs to learn the issues, then, come up with solutions, and lastly, control his partisan anger and blame. With his attitude, it will be impossible to do anything except grow the partisanship in the House. Perhaps the most partisan statement of the evening was when Shields said he thought the Governor had done a good job over the last two years. That brought groans from the audience.
I spoke with local businessman Mike, who identified himself as an undecided independent during the debate. He is concerned about his small business and wanted to see who had the better ideas to help him. He said that, after watching the debate, Tom Shields was too angry and hung up on slamming his opponent, where Dr. O’Bannon was gracious and well up on all of the issues. He made his decision last night to vote for Delegate O’Bannon.
And I spoke with several other independents who said the same thing, but only about half of them had made up their minds. Those that had were going to vote for O’Bannon.
Please view the video clip at the end of this post!
This was a clear victory for Dr. O’Bannon. The Shields camp cannot be happy with the stumbling, disjointed and angry performance by Mr. Shields. This debate strongly delineated the calm confidence and command of facts that only comes from experience. Dr. O’Bannon was able to be a gentleman and a professional while Tom Shields seemed angry and petty. Shields’ lack of experience was obvious and it was hard not to see he was completely out of his element.
Blow by Blow
The candidates opened with their opening remarks. Challenger Tom Shields was selected to speak first. Shields opening remarks contained a number jabs at Delegate O’Bannon accusing him of being negative and a partisan politician.
O’Bannon’s opening remarks remained positive and highlighted his accomplishments and his record as the 73rd House District elected Representative.
The first question was on the recession. Specifically, what can the state do?
O’Bannon said we need to protect the core services, Education, Transportation and Public Safety. These are the primary functions of State Government.
Shields said the budget is poorly conceived and filled with waste. Shields failed to mention that the Democrats are the ones that crafted the budget, and ultimate responsibility is with his own party.
On Education, O’Bannon mentioned the 1/2 % increase in the sales tax that was provided for Education, but also mentioned he was against the tax increase. Shields would like as much money as possible to be poured into education at any level. Of course, being a teacher, this is no surprise.
On transportation, Shields said he see this as a jobs and economic issue, wondering if traffic congestion in Northern Va. and Tidewater might convince companies to look elsewhere. He offered no solutions or ideas on funding. O’Bannon said we need to reopen rest areas, as this is a safety issue. O’Bannon said that the Virginia Dept. of Transportation was the third largest in the country, even larger than California. In most states, the roads are built by the state, then turned over to the localities to maintain, with a budget provided by the state. He said Henrico County has done this since 1936 and is extremely frugal with the funds. Implementing this in other areas could stretch our transportation dollars further.
During his rebuttal on this question, Shields emphasized that he does not support a gas tax for transportation, but believes the money would be better spent on Education.
On Gay Marriage, Tom Shields supports it and disagrees with the Marriage Amendment. O’Bannon supports the Marriage Amendment.
The Subject of Health Care was next. Shields accused O’Bannon of cutting $8 million from children’s health insurance. O’Bannon corrected him and said there was actually an increase, although proponrnts wanted more. There were other programs where O’Bannon thought that money would do more good. o’Bannon, the only Physician in the House, said we need Tort Reform, we need to put a halt to Defensive medicine and he wants to keep the medical decisions between you and your doctor.
During a question on Energy, O’Bannon pointed out his opposition to Cap and Trade and challenged Shields to iterate his position on Cap and Trade. Shields ducked the question. Obannon supports using Virginia’s resources to make sure energy is cheap and plentiful.
Concerning Jobs and employment, Shields accused O’Bannon of being out of touch with Qimonda and voting against $14 million in grants for the high tech computer chip company. Shields said O’Bannon was told they were in trouble. O’Bannon responded their talks with Qimonda produced no such information, and that Delegate Joe Morrissey (many in the audience moaned at the mention of Morrissey) made a speech, as he is prone to do, but offered no proof or evidence. Besides, said O’Bannon, Qimonda was doomed already because they were making obsolete chips and any money given to them would be tied up in German courts, as the parent company filed for Bankruptcy.
Shields also challenged O’Bannon on the $125 million Unemployment Stimulus. O’Bannon responded that if it came without strings, they would have taken it. But, adding part time workers onto the backs of businesses, who are the ones that pay for the unemployment insurance, would delay or reverse any recovery, according to the small business men and women O’Bannon has talked to. Shields thought paying unemployment to part time workers so they could go to school was a good idea.
On the subject of taxes, neither candidate supports raising taxes. O’Bannon pointed out that Shields had advocated $600 million in new spending and has not suggested a way to pay for it. Shields still wants to reach across the isle to the Republican party of “no”.
If Shields is serious about a bipartisan effort, he should first stop attacking Republicans and blaming them for any and all problems. At one point Shields blamed the House for killing a bill, and O’Bannon pointed out that the bill was actually killed by the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.