Nov. 15, 2002 – Gov. Charles W. Turnbull declined an invitation from the League of Women Voters to take part in a televised debate with gubernatorial race runner-up John de Jongh, should the absentee ballots from the Nov. 5 election make a runoff necessary.
Erva Denham, LWV president, said the organization sent letters out in October to all eight candidates for governor asking if they would participate in such a debate, should they find themselves in a run-off situation. She said de Jongh, Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II and Cora Christian responded affirmatively.
The LVW traditionally has hosted debates in gubernatorial election years. This year, because eight candidates were running, the organization held forums instead.
The Boards of Elections for the two districts are to count the absentee ballots on Saturday, with the final voting results expected to be announced immediately thereafter. If Turnbull, who finished with 50.46 percent of the on-island vote, secures a majority, or 50 percent plus one, of the total votes cast for governor, he will be the winner. If he fails to do so, he will face a runoff on Tuesday with the second-place finisher, de Jongh.
Denham said she arranged with WTJX-TV/Channel 12 for the debate, should there be one, to be held on Monday evening. She said she spent most of Wednesday trying to get an answer from Turnbull's office as to whether he would agree to take part. Late in the afternoon, she said, she received a call from the office saying that "the governor does not want to debate."
Denham said no reason was given.
She said she was disappointed by the response. "After six weeks of work, it was disheartening," she said. "We had set aside two hours to give the candidates ample time to get out serious information, with time for rebuttal. We had formulated 12 basic areas for the candidates to address."
Nothing that the league "doesn't endorse or oppose" any candidate seeking office, she added that the organization wanted to provide a forum for "a true debate between the two contenders … to provide the electorate with what they need to know about how government functions." It would, she said, have been "a wonderful opportunity for one last chance for them to present their views and program solutions."
And the questions, she added, "would have hit each candidate equally hard." As examples, she cited two:
– How would an increased payroll be funded, and what does it mean to the electorate?
– How do you balance economic growth with maintaining the environment?
On Friday afternoon, Government House spokeswoman Rina Jacobs McBrowne confirmed that the governor had turned down participation in the potential debate. "He has not accepted the invitation," she said.
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