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Local candidates unlikely to debate before election

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Court Street in Athens, Ohio in August 2017. File Photo by Connor Perrett.

A debate between Democrat and Republican candidates vying to represent Athens is unlikely to occur before the upcoming election due to format disagreements.

The League of Women Voters of Athens County’s mission is “to encourage informed and active participation in government,” according to an email from the league. As such, it tries to host as many debates as possible during election seasons. This year, the league decided to move to a virtual setting for candidate debates. 

State Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Glenford), however, wanted to debate his Democratic challenger Katie O’Neill in-person.

“When they called me about a forum, before they discussed any details, I told them I’d only do it if Caiti [sic] and I was in the same room. That is the only fair way to conduct a debate/forum,” Edwards wrote in a text. “They told me they would get back with me. When they did, they had decided not to do the debate.”

Co-president of the League of Women Voters of Athens County Adriane Mohlenkamp outlined the league’s plan for debates during COVID-19 and claimed that Edwards refused to participate in a virtual debate. 

“We planned a virtual format that we thought would be safe and easily accessible to both candidates and the public. That plan includes livestreaming a Zoom event for viewing on multiple platforms. We were disappointed that Rep. Edwards was not willing to participate in that format,” Mohlenkamp said.

O’Neill has not yet responded to requests for comment. 

The league also invited Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Upper Arlington) and Democratic challenger Joel Newby to debate virtually. Stivers never responded to the invitation, according to Mohlenkamp. 

Newby agreed to two possible dates for a debate, but the league later called him and said Stivers would not be participating, according to Newby.

Mohlenkamp said the league is still planning to host a debate if the competing candidates can agree on a format and date.

The league is hosting a debate for the Athens County Juvenile/Probate Court on Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.

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