Virginia Statewide Disability Forum Event Goes on without Two of Three Democratic Candidates

Posted: Aug 13, 2021 10:00 PM

On Thursday, the Statewide Candidate Forum event put on by the Arc of Northern Virginia to discuss disability issues was affected by absences and early departures from two of the three Democratic candidates. Del. Hala Ayala, the candidate for lieutenant governor, was able to attend. All of the Republican statewide candidates, which included Glenn Youngkin, Winsome Sears, and Jason Miyares participated. Princess Blanding, the Liberation candidate for governor, also participated.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe was able to participate in only part of the forum, leaving 30 minutes into the forum's event after giving his introductory remarks and answering questions reserved for the gubernatorial candidates. He was in Las Vegas to campaign with Gov. Steve Sisolak (D-NV). 

While McAuliffe initially experienced problems with unmuting himself, the events organizers emphasized the early departure was "communicated to event organizers beforehand and noted in our opening remarks, and not attributable to the aforementioned technical difficulties."

Attorney General Mark Herring, the Democratic incumbent who is running for re-election, did not show up at all. 

Similar forums have been held during the primary, which Democratic candidates were able to attend.

Del. Jason Miyares, the Republican candidate for attorney general, expressed disappointment with Herring not showing up, sharing in a statement for Townhall the personal experience his family has. "As the father of a daughter who has been identified to have disabilities, this topic has always been important to me. I have long been an advocate for autism both in my community and in the General Assembly and was thrilled to have an opportunity to discuss it with the Arc of Virginia and hear from all the other statewide candidates," Miyares said. "It's a shame that Mark Herring couldn't find the time in his schedule to attend and had to cancel at the last minute."

Tonya Milling, the executive director of the Arc of Virginia provided a statement for Townhall explaining the nature of the difficulties, but also the event overall:

“We experienced some regrettable but overall minor technical difficulties, during the onset of last night’s Statewide Candidate Forum. Thankfully, these tech issues did not prevent us from starting on time, hearing thorough responses from the candidates in attendance to all planned questions, or from concluding our program as scheduled. Candidate absences and/or departures were communicated to event organizers beforehand and noted in our opening remarks, and not attributable to the aforementioned technical difficulties.

“The Arc of Virginia is grateful for how graciously and good-naturedly all of the candidates in attendance responded to our tech issues. It was wonderful to have a majority of the candidates for statewide office participate in last night’s event, and we remain appreciative that so many of the full slate of candidates on the ballot in November participated in forums hosted earlier this year by The Arc of Northern Virginia, one of our Chapters.

“It is our hope that the substantial policy content of last night’s forum remains the central focus, when reflecting on the event.”

The forum allowed participants were ask questions reserved for specific races. They were left without being able to hear from certain candidates, however. 

A video clip of the forum included a chat feature.  "Yes, thank you to the candidates that made this event a priority. Unlike former Gov McAuliffe, who made it known before we started that he would only take one question," one message read. Although the chat message read that it was from Tonya Milling, technical difficulties showed some participants entering in as Milling rather than their own names. Milling herself did not make any of the comments in the chat. 

Another video clip showed a message from Hattie Higgings-Greene. "We appreciate ALL of the candidates for being here this evening. It’s unfortunate that some had scheduling conflicts."

Mark Llobell wrote in the chat "Absolutely Thank you the canidates [sic] who found the time to listen and speak to our families! Our kids deserve better!"

In another, Jacob Matthees said "Thank yo [sic] Mrs. Ayala for being the only democrat on this call. Tells a lot about your priorities. Thank you."

The Virginia GOP released a press release strongly condemning McAuliffe leaving early. In addition to highlighting that the gubernatorial candidate was fundraising with Gov. Sisolak, it called on McAuliffe to apologize, emphasizing the offense he caused. 

It in part read:

“Terry McAuliffe must immediately apologize to Virginia’s disabled community for his disgraceful and disrespectful behavior yesterday, when he deserted The Arc of Northern Virginia Candidate Forum and members of the disabled community to fundraise with an accused domestic abuser. Virginia’s next governor needs to put people before money, and that’s what Glenn Youngkin will do. He will respect all Virginians and unite them around a vision for the future where Virginia is the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”

Arthur “Lee” Talley, a Virginia father said, “As an advocate for both my son and Virginia’s disabled community, I was horrified that Terry McAuliffe would leave us high and dry in order to fundraise with someone accused of domestic abuse. That decision was disrespectful, reprehensible, and shows bad judgment not at all fitting of someone who wants to be governor. He added, “Last night clearly showed that a vote for McAuliffe would be dangerous for any family with a loved one with special needs. A vote for him represents a continued status quo of a system not working for our families and a worsening of services for families in Virginia.”

The Arc of Virginia is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) organization. It does not endorse candidates or parties. It was emphasized throughout that the event was not a debate, but rather an opportunity for candidates to share with participants how they aim to benefit the disabled community. 

Update: This article has been updated to clarify the mis-attribution of chat comments to Tonya Milling, as well as to include Liberation candidate for governor Princess Blanding's participation, and to clarify the issues surrounding the early departure of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.

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