2 Loudoun Candidates Pull Out Of Debates

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 30, 2007

At least two Republican candidates have pulled out of a series of highly anticipated debates in the race for the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, prompting the head of the local League of Women Voters to resign yesterday.

The Loudoun County chapter of the league, a nonpartisan political education group, has scheduled three debates for supervisor candidates, beginning Wednesday. The league has a national reputation for sponsoring impartial election debates at every office level, including the presidency.

Months ago, two GOP incumbents, Stephen J. Snow (Dulles) and Mick Staton Jr. (Sugarland Run), told the league that they would participate. But on Friday, they said they were withdrawing from league-sponsored debates because the league had not planned debates for some state legislative candidates.

The exclusion of some races shows "they're favoring Democrats" who are incumbents, said Paul Protic, chairman of the Loudoun County Republican Committee. "It's more about the voters of Loudoun," Protic said. "They need to hear from all the candidates."

Staton also questioned the group's nonpartisan status. The league president, Betsy Mayr, is also treasurer of Voters for Loudoun's Future, a nonpartisan slow-growth political action committee that has endorsed his opponent. The group endorsed a slate of candidates that include Democrats, independents and a Republican.

Yesterday afternoon, Mayr said she will step down as league president after five years.

"It was pointed out to me that it was a conflict of interest," she said of her membership in both organizations. "I therefore am resigning immediately in order to protect the league's nonpartisan status."

On Friday, Protic asked Mayr to add a debate for state legislative candidates, especially one between incumbent Democrats Sen. Mark R. Herring and Del. David E. Poisson and their Republican challengers.

Mayr said she told Protic that the all-volunteer group could not hold debates for all races in the Nov. 6 election. In July, the league had chosen five races based on its members' interests. The group cannot plan a forum now, five weeks before the election, she said.

More important, she said, "the League of Women Voters doesn't make its decisions based on the threat of any political party."

In response, Protic told Mayr on Friday that he would urge Republican candidates to boycott the three supervisors' debates. Snow said he will abide by the Republican Committee's decision not to participate in the debates. "I intend to be in solidarity with the rest of my Republican brethren," Snow said.

Supervisor Eugene A. Delgaudio (R-Sterling) also pledged not to attend the debate, Protic said. Mark A. Albright (R), who is running against incumbent James Burton (I) in the Blue Ridge District, declined a debate invitation weeks ago for scheduling reasons, Mayr said.

Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) did not return telephone messages Friday.

Incumbent Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run) and Geary M. Higgins (R), who is running against Supervisor Sarah R. "Sally" Kurtz (D) in the Catoctin District, said they will attend the league forums as promised, Mayr and Protic said. Late Friday, Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) said in an interview he would also go ahead with his debate against C. Kelly Burk (D).

Of the debates held each election season in Loudoun and other counties, those sponsored by the league are among the most anticipated. Each candidate is questioned by reporters and members of the public. Mayr said that a recent debate between the three candidates for sheriff drew 135 people.

Clem, a veteran Loudoun politician who has participated in many debates over the years, said the league's debates have been among the best. "It's the most respected, and a lot of people put a lot of credibility into the League of Women Voters," he said. "They've always run a fair and balanced program."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company