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Jefferson County GOP candidates skip NAACP forum

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. – Republican candidates running for legislative offices have declined an invitation to attend a forum hosted by the Jefferson County chapter of the NAACP because the Republican Executive Committee says the NAACP is partisan, according to a recent letter.

George Rutherford, president of the Jefferson County NAACP, said the allegations in the letter blindsided the group.

“Our biggest concern is the allegation that we are partisan, because that is a serious allegation. My concern is I don’t know how they can say that we’re partisan since our forums have always been the same,” Rutherford said. “The public asks the questions, and the public can ask some hard questions, and I think that’s where the problems stem from, but the NAACP asks no questions.”

Rutherford said the forums are set up in a “town hall” format, allowing the audience to ask the questions rather than a panel.

Anne Dungan, chair of the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee, said she believes the group shows partisan tendencies.

“The whole atmosphere of that forum, it seems to us, has become more and more partisan over the years, and it’s just not a comfortable forum for our candidates. We have a very diverse group of candidates, and they’re made to feel very uncomfortable,” Dungan said. “It just seems as though their time would be better spent elsewhere. The candidates asked if we would do this.”

According to the letter, members of the Republican Party representing Jefferson County feel that they can’t have constructive discussions at the NAACP forums.

“We also strongly believe that in order to arrive at optimal and effective solutions to the problems we face, we need to engage one another in discussions that allow all points of view to be heard and respected,” the letter states. “Unfortunately, past NAACP forums have failed in this regard and have not proven a fair venue for the exchange of ideas.”

Rutherford said this is the first time all legislative candidates on the Republican ticket have chosen to decline an invitation to the NAACP forum.

“Candidates have boycotted on their own before, but never the whole slate. I just can’t believe this. I guess my concern is, we expect those candidates to represent us in Charleston, and if they can’t think through an issue like this, how can they think through the bigger issues in Charleston? I may disagree with their position sometimes, but I also disagree with Democrats,” Rutherford said. “We want diversity in every party. That’s the only way we can progress. We have no intention of knocking any of the parties.”

Dungan said the candidates are diverse, and the executive committee is also diverse, and they have the interest of African-Americans and other minorities in mind.

“The executive committee is very diverse, and it’s almost like the Democrats seem to try to paint us as (discriminatory) or something. I think our committee, the standing, shows that we’re not,”Dungan said. “It’s really discouraging.”

Tonight’s debate will be held in the Jefferson County Commission meeting room on the lower level of the Charles Town Library on East Washington Street from 7 to 9 p.m.

Candidates invited are 65th House of Delegates District candidates Sammi Brown, D, and incumbent Jill Upson, R. 66th House of Delegates District candidates David Dinges, D, and incumbent Paul Espinosa, R. 67th House of Delegates District candidates Riley Moore, R, and Rod Snyder, D. 16th Senatorial District candidates Patricia Rucker, R, and Stephen Skinner, D.

Staff writer Emily Daniels can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 132, or twitter.com/emilykdaniels.

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