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Candidate skips forum over foe’s tea party ties

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Spotsylvania County Supervisor Gary Skinner bowed out of a candidate forum Monday evening because of his opponent’s ties to the local tea party group that hosted the event. 

A press release from Skinner’s campaign said candidate Mark Shigley’s Fredericksburg Patriots membership created an “unavoidable conflict of interest.”

Any forum or debate should be held by a group that neither candidate belongs to, Skinner said.

“I welcome that opportunity at any time, but I will not participate in a so-called community forum hosted by my opponent’s own tea party colleagues,” Skinner said in the press release issued Monday morning. He initially agreed to attend the forum, but notified its organizer Monday he would not be there.

Both Skinner and Shigley are running as independents for the Lee Hill District Board of Supervisors seat. Shigley, the only candidate at Monday’s forum, answered questions about housing developments, taxes, traffic and other issues. He described himself as an “independent conservative.”

“I think when the economy is not allowing people to make more money right now, it’s unconscionable for the county to turn around and ask for more,” Shigley said at the forum.

The Fredericksburg Patriots will host their final forum today for Berkeley District candidates. A forum for Battlefield District candidates was held earlier this month.

Fredericksburg Patriots member Bryce Thorpe, who organized the forums, said no candidates have complained about being treated unfairly. His questions to Shigley were similar to the ones he asked at the forum for Battlefield District candidates.

“The goal of the forums is for candidates to share their views with the public, not the patriots,” Thorpe wrote in an email. “I think I can fairly say all the candidates are being given the same opportunity.”

He said he personally prepares the questions and doesn’t share them with anybody in advance, including the Fredericksburg Patriots board of directors.

Fredericksburg Patriots Chairman Michael Hirsch criticized Skinner for withdrawing the day of the event.

In addition to the forum, Shigley addressed the Fredericksburg Patriots at the group’s last regular meeting. Thorpe said Skinner was welcome to do the same at its next meeting on Sunday.

Skinner’s press release notes that a tea party member solicited a meet and greet for Shigley on the Fredericksburg Patriots website.

The release also points out a comment Shigley made on the website regarding a community forum last month on the Affordable Care Act.

“Perhaps we should get together early and agree on questions to make sure they get asked regardless of who is called,” Shigley wrote on Sept. 23.

Skinner’s press release asks, “How can anyone have confidence this kind of coordination won’t take place in a forum they themselves host?”

Shigley countered that he was simply trying to make sure the group’s concerns could be addressed by moderators at the health care meeting. And he said he had no idea what he would be asked at the candidate forum.

“This is not a debate, and I am not certain how this forum can be construed to favor one over another,” he said in an email.

At the forums, each candidate has a block of time to introduce themselves and field the same questions.

Shigley said he joined the Fredericksburg Patriots because of their “activism with respect to federal issues.” He noted that he hasn’t discussed local issues on the group’s website.

Meanwhile, Skinner says party politics shouldn’t play a role in local government.

“We’re not here to serve a party, we’re here to serve our constituents,” he said.

The Spotsylvania Education Association and the local NAACP will host a forum on Thursday for all Spotsylvania candidates. Skinner and Shigley have both said they will attend.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402