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Decency and Debates

For those of you who were left disappointed by the chaos and rudeness of the presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, know this—there is still civility in politics and you can find it right here in West Virginia.

Tuesday night’s West Virginia Broadcasters Association debate between incumbent Governor Jim Justice and Democratic challenger Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango demonstrated that it is still possible for opponents in a hard-fought, high-stakes campaign to have a respectful encounter.

Sure, there were a couple of moments where the candidates sniped at each other, but most of the dialog was generally respectful.

Michele Crist, executive director of the WVBA which organized the debate, credited the two campaigns for their cooperation.

“Each party promptly accepted our offer, fully acknowledging our terms, knowing on our side we would carry out a fair and professional event,” Crist said.

“The ease in which the debate flowed and the exchange between the candidates gave voters a chance to take away valuable information they’ll need to make an informed decision,” she said.  “This will go down in our books as the best one.”

Justice and Salango deserve a lot of credit for how they conducted themselves. They knew there were time limits on their answers and rebuttals, and they stuck to them. I had the latitude to let the candidates spar a little more when there was a clear dispute, and they took advantage of that several times without being overbearing.

Their conduct stood out in stark contrast to the presidential debate. What we remember most about that is how Trump, and to a lesser degree Biden, talked over each other, ignoring the rules.  Moderator Chris Wallace struggled to keep the debate from going completely off the rails.

I had no such problem as moderator of Tuesday night’s debate because Justice and Salango played by the rules and respected the process.

You were not able to see it, but the three of us filled the anxious ten minutes before air time by chatting easily about things not related to politics—family, hobbies—just some general small talk.  We also had a short chat together after the debate.

That demonstrated to me that these are decent individuals, comfortable in their own skin, and cognizant of the fact that even in today’s rough-and-tumble political environment, there is still room for comity.

Rob Rupp, West Virginia Wesleyan Political Science Professor, said on Talkline Wednesday, “We showed the nation how to have a debate because there wasn’t shouting and there wasn’t interruption.”

By that standard, West Virginia was the big winner Tuesday night.

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