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Va. lieutenant governor candidates duke it out

By Fredrick Kunkle

Virginia's candidates for lieutenant governor duked it out in their one and only face-to-face debate in Salem Monday night with feisty and sometimes personal exchanges over taxes, jobs, education and each other's competence.

In a one-hour debate hosted by Roanoke College, Republican Lt. Governor Bill Bolling repeatedly blamed Democratic challenger Jody M. Wagner for making poor decisions as a top finance official that complicated Virginia's efforts to cope with the recession.

Bolling said Wagner, who served as secretary of finance under Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, had muffed important revenue forecasts while preparing the current two-year budget, forcing the governor to cut jobs and take other drastic measures to keep the books balanced.

"We're in this mess because four years ago we adopted a budget that was based on a totally unrealistic fiscal foundation," Bolling said. He also accused Wagner of wanting to raise taxes at every turn.

But Wagner, 54, who owns a small confectionary business and also served as treasurer for former Gov. Mark Warner, argued that her record as a financial steward had left Virginia in a better place than most other states. And she used almost every question as another opportunity to zing Bolling for not coming to work.

In what has become a cornerstone of her campaign, Wagner said Bolling attended only four of 67 meetings for boards and commissions of which he was a member, an attendance record that amounted to about 6 percent.

"The forecast isn't why we're making why we're making cuts. We're making cuts because the money isn't there," Wagner said. "But if you had shown up, you'd know that."

At times, things got rough. Bolling seemed peeved as Wagner continued to harp at him for being a no-show lieutenant governor. Wagner appeared momentarily flustered at the beginning of the debate when she was pressed to find a specific topic on which she agreed with gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell and would work together with him if they were both elected.

Bolling and Wagner also clashed over education funding, transportation, and who was to blame for a contest marred by more and more mudslinging.

WSLS Channel 10 anchor Jay Warren and Virginia Tech professor Bob Denton were moderators for the debate, which was sponsored by Virginia Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division and carried online and on television.

Bolling, 52, who is seeking reelection to the part-time job, cast Wagner as a friend to any tax increase proposal put forward during her tenure with Warner and Kaine. Bolling also said no solution has been reached on Virginia's transportation gridlock because Wagner and fellow Democrats have relied on a single-minded and failed approach during the past eight years that has always required raising taxes.

"And I might mention that she supported every single one of those tax proposals, every single one," said Bolling, who is a vice president of an insurance company. "The people of Virginia want us to solve the transportation with existing revenues, not by raising taxes."

Bolling challenged her to say whether she would, as gubernatorial running mate state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds has pledged, push for a transportation plan if it relied on raising taxes.

In response, Wagner said she did not support raising any taxes now and pointed out that she had been supportive of Kaine and Warner when several, such as estate taxes, had been cut. She also argued that the forecasting process is a complicated, bipartisan process that Bolling could have helped shape had he chosen to participate. She also said that Virginia's revenue forecasting, while inaccurate, was no more off the mark than the forecasts of many other states. But she said Bolling had no right to criticize the revenue forecasts when he never bothered to show up at the Governor's Advisory Council on Revenue Estimates.

Likewise, she said that Bolling, as both state senator and lieutenant governor, had a similar opportunity to work for a bipartisan solution on transportation but absented himself from a solution.

"In 2005 you ran on fixing transportation. And then you forgot about it," Wagner said. "You were nowhere to be found. You were not part of the solution."

Her jabs at Bolling's attendance record started about six minutes into the debate and kept coming until the closing statement when she thanked him for showing up for the debate, eliciting a round of laughter from the audience.

"Well, it's not about ideas, it's about implementing ideas. While you've come up with a hundred good ideas, you haven't implemented any good ideas," Wagner said. "Sending staff is not the same thing as being there and leading."

In defense, Bolling said he attended every board or commission meeting that he had to attend, and he said he sent staff when he could not. Saying his attendance record was about 80 percent, he accused Wagner of failing to tally the 182 days over four years when he could not leave his duties presiding in the Senate.

"When my attendance was required, I appeared," Bolling said. "And, Jody, what about the boards and commissions you served on? Her record is not stellar...If I was a no-show at some of my meetings, so were you."

The two even argued over the rules of the debate when Bolling whipped out an article from The Washington Post to make his point that Wagner supported raising the gas tax to fix the state's roads -- though he also appeared to attribute to Wagner remarks in the story that were not direct quotations and should have been attributed to the writer.

Wagner objected both to Bolling's characterization of the article and to his use of outside notes, which she said had not been allowed under the rules of the debate format.

During a break long after the volley was concluded, Warren announced that both candidates had been right. Each had received a different set of rules from the Virginia Bar Association.

By Editor  |  October 19, 2009; 10:21 PM ET
Categories:  2009 Lieutenant Governor's Race , Debates  
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Actually, they both received the same rules. After several revisions, the rules agreed to and signed by both camps allowed the use of notes. The Wagner camp later called for clarification on whether or not notes could be used, and were told that notes were not allowed. The VBA representative answering that call made an honest mistake, forgetting the change.

Posted by: lug21 | October 20, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

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