10th district senate race heats up at VCU debate

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RICHMOND, Va. — The race for the 10th district seat in Virginia’s state senate stopped by VCU’s University Commons Theater this week, featuring a town hall debate with Democratic candidate Dan Gecker, Republican Glen Sturtevant, Independent Marlene Durfee and Libertarian Carl Loser.

The candidates fielded many questions on topics ranging from college debt and sexual assault on campus to gun laws and minimum wage.

“I think it went very well,” Durfee said after the debate. “I love to see these kind of forums and I think we should have more of these opportunities and also allow more candidates to be able to step up for the cause.”

The debate was broken into five segments: First, opening statements, followed by four questions from a Virginia21 panel of young adults who live and work in the 10th District. Later, each candidate was given the opportunity to ask a question of a chosen opponent. Finally, candidates were asked questions posed by audience members, followed by each candidate’s closing statements.

When it came his turn to ask another candidate a question, Gecker questioned Sturtevant’s stance on minimum wage. Specifically, he cited the Republican candidate’s opposition to raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour.

“You resisted the idea of raising the minimum wage in Virginia. If you had the opportunity would you eliminate it?” Gecker asked.

“No of course not,” Sturtevant replied. “It’s about equipping Virginians with the skills and education they need to be able to earn at a higher capacity and we’re not doing that right now.”

Gecker explained his position on minimum wage further in an interview after the debate. “In the Commonwealth today, a worker working for 40 hours per week at minimum wage makes about $15,000 a year, that is not enough to raise a family, it’s wrong,” Gecker said.

“We are fortunate living in Virginia that other places have already chosen to raise their minimum wage so we will have the benefit of that data when we address that issue moving forward in the General Assembly,” he added. Sturtevant was not available for an interview for this story after the debate.

Coming into the event, Gecker and Sturtevant commanded much of the audience’s focus. But Loser repeatedly stole the spotlight from the major party candidates with several controversial comments. One remark, an attack on foster care and the adoption system, elicited gasps and boos from the audience.

“That’s the reason you have your kids, you stole them from someone else’s parents,” Loser said, referring to Sturtevant, a father of three adopted children. Loser explained later that he was specifically trying to address the methods by which the Department of Social Services decides to remove children from their parents and place them into foster care.

“I’m providing an objective standard that no other candidates are providing,” Loser said. “I’m trying to provide other issues that are interested by the public…to bring that to the state senate.”

VCU turned out a crowd of around 300 people who wanted to hear for themselves what the candidates had to say.

“I think the town hall did a really good job of involving young people,” said Ben Weiner, a VCU senior journalism student. “Gecker and Sturtevant seemed very human, while the third party candidates couldn’t really connect … Loser came off as really unlikeable.”

Loser, on the other hand, expressed his approval of the SPJ and the organization’s approach on setting up the debate. “This is the best forum that I’ve attended thus far,” he said.

Virginia21 and the Society of Professional Journalists in conjunction with VCU’s Political Science Department and the Robertson School for Media and Culture sponsored the debate on Tuesday evening. The 10th district race is crucial in the Nov. 3 election as Republicans want to defend their slim majority in the state senate as Republican John Watkins is retiring and putting the district’s seat up for grabs.

By Bryant Drayton and CJ Paschall (Special to WTVR.com)
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported the following story.