Degner Declines VFF, Wants Public Debate

Brent Finnegan -- May 26th, 2010

Harrisonburg Mayor Kai Degner has publicly called for debates with his opponents in the race for 26th district delegate, Republican Tony Wilt and independent Carolyn Frank. Last week, Degner accused Wilt of dodging opportunities to engage candidates and voters on the real issues at the VAIL candidate forum.

This week, conservatives fired back at Degner for declining to participate in a political event organized by the Valley Family Forum (VFF) scheduled to take place this Friday. Here’s an excerpt from a story in Wednesday’s Daily News-Record, under the headline “Forum To Conduct Two-Thirds Debate,”

. . . Degner, the Democratic candidate, said last week that he would not take part, calling the Valley Family Forum “far from being nonpartisan.” . . . Degner said last week that he had a prior commitment Friday night and could not attend the event, but also declined Valley Family Forum efforts to reschedule. The organization, he said, does not meet his requirement for joint appearances with other candidates . . .

The mayor’s position did not sit well with Valley Family Forum supporters.

“Mayor Degner complains that this is not a ‘nonpartisan’ event. But the only obstacle to it being a nonpartisan event is Degner’s refusal to participate,” said Valley Family Forum Director Dean Welty in a statement released over the weekend.

Wednesday the Wilt campaign sent out an email featuring “an opinion from” local Christian minister Steve Wingfield:

Who is dodging who? Mr. Degner belittles an organization that is, “committed to renewing the spiritual, moral, and cultural vision of the Founding Fathers…and building faith, family, and freedom in our homes and community.” . . .

This is not an issue of Democrat, Republican, or Independent . . . I encourage [Degner] to reconsider the invitation from the Family Forum. Carolyn Frank and Tony Wilt are planning to attend. If you snub your nose at the people of faith who make up the vast majority of this beautiful valley, you are in deep trouble politically.

Wilt, Degner and Frank

Is VFF nonpartisan?

VFF has repeatedlyeducated” conservative voters with info sheets that favor Republicans, although the group does not officially endorse candidates. VFF Director Dean Welty said his group is nonpartisan, with a focus on family-centric issues, not political parties. For example, on the About Us page on the VFF website, the group states that “marriage is now also in danger of becoming redefinable in the campaign to legalize so-called ‘marriages’ between same-sex partners.”

According to data available on VPAP, Welty himself has given $885 to Republican candidates and causes between 2006 and 2009. Despite that report, Welty insists that he remains nonpartisan. “I will give [money] to any candidate from any party if we agree on the issues,” Welty said. “I don’t care about his political affiliation, I just care about the issues.”

Welty pointed out that last year, the Democratic Party candidate for delegate, Gene Hart participated in the VFF candidates’ forum. According to a TV3 report, the event was attended by dozens of voters (you can read the “nonpartisan” VFF summary of that debate here).

Hart, who is now chair of the Rockingham County Democratic Committee, said the circumstances surrounding his participation in the forum were different in 2009. “We made it a point in the campaign that I would go anywhere I was invited, and that’s what I did,” Hart said. “But this is a compressed election. You need to be talking to your voters to get them to the polls. There are no Kai Degner voters that will be at that event.”

Hart added that he believes his participation in the VFF event convinced “absolutely no one” in attendance to vote for him. “[VFF] is not a nonpartisan organization,” Hart said. “Not that that’s a bad thing, but it is as nonpartisan as NARAL.”

Degner said that, contrary to Wingfeild’s claim, he never belittled VFF. “I respect what Valley Family Forum does in terms of promoting the values of its members,” Degner said. “It’s just the design of this particular event didn’t meet the criteria of having a nonpartisan host.”

Degner is hopeful that there will be a debate featuring all the candidates that the working public will be able to attend. “The Chamber event is slated for 8:00 in the morning on a weekday, and the VMRC event is at 11:00 in the morning. So an evening debate is something I’d like to still have added to the mix.”

The VFF candidates’ forum will be held this Friday at 7 p.m. at Cornerstone Church near Massanetta Springs.

The election will be held on Tuesday, June 15.

Jeremy Aldrich contributed to this story.

49 Responses to “Degner Declines VFF, Wants Public Debate”

  1. Brooke says:

    The way I see it, Degner’s not “snubbing people of faith” by declining this invitation. He’s declining an invitation put forth by a very focused PAC that is anything but TRULY non-partisan. I get why Kai doesn’t want to attend. I don’t think he’s dodging anything. He’s trying to make the most of the little time he has, and focusing his energy and debating in venues where there is a wider range of people. The VFF doesn’t fit the bill of what he said he wanted to do with these debates.

    While I know many of the people involved in VFF, and would definitely consider them people of very deep conviction and committed faith, they are, at the end of the day, people with a very narrowly focused political bent. While I have many views and beliefs common with their members, especially spiritually, they certainly don’t speak for me as a person of faith, and I bet that even though many people of faith could find points in common with them, they are not in any way somehow representative of all people of faith in the Valley.
    Even among those that hold the same spiritual beliefs, not everyone is going to agree with their proposed political solutions to the issues we face in this country.

    And because of their history of being extremely right-leaning in their political support, I don’t see how anyone can honestly claim they are *truly* “non-partisan.” They are *technically* “non-partisan” because they never come out and say, “We endorse this party” but I don’t think anyone is fooled by them using the term non-partisan. Their literature is almost always extremely skewed right, and the wording in the literature I’ve seen them hand out (sometimes even at church) is extremely manipulative in how it presents issues, and candidates stands during elections. It’s anything but un-biased.

    The fact that Mr. Wingfield would make that statement, equating Degner’s acceptance or refusal of the invitation to some “snub” of “people of faith” is problematic and actual a bit arrogant. It makes it sound like the VFF speaks for all Valley Christians. They don’t. Not even all theologically conservative Christians.

  2. I don’t know this boy Steve Wingfield but if he wants to call himself a Christian leader and man of God he needs to heed the Ninth Commandment.

    You know, the one that says “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor”.

  3. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    I am saddened by this series of events. Good people are treating one another disrespectfully. Steve Wingfield is no “boy”, Bubby, he is a pillar of the local evangelical community and a powerful Christian evangelist with a fruitful ministry. Here is what I posted on his Facebook page last night:

    “Kai just hosted an interfaith summit on Sunday, his second one in less than a year. It is unfair to say he snubs his nose at people of faith.

    Is the VFF really fair to any Democrat, or does it only ask ‘values’ questions that make the particular Republican(s) running look good? For example, how about asking about laws related to divorce, or caring for orphans and widows, or loving the aliens in our land, or dealing with usury? Choosing to highlight only the values in line with one political party is NOT ‘non-partisan’.”

    Steve was kind enough to respond this morning, emphasizing the importance of valuing life in addition to the things I had mentioned. I think he, like many evangelical Christians in the area, sees the abortion issue as a kind of watershed topic that says a lot about your approach to other issues. Kind of like the adage, “Never trust someone who hates dogs.” And the VFF has been a consistent voice on trying to restrict abortions legislatively.

    But in my opinion, the VFF focuses on a ridiculously narrow band of Christian values and only on those that benefit Republicans. It also pulls in some clearly non-Christian “values”, like opposition to taxes (check out Jesus and the Apostle Paul’s teachings on this issue). While doing that, it ignores other values that make Republicans (and often both parties) look bad, like the four examples I gave above that are all mentioned in Scripture repeatedly. I’m not saying all the solutions are in government intervention, but if your stance is that you should find solutions outside of legislation then you ought to do that for abortion and gay marriage too.

    I agree with what Brooke wrote above.

    The bottom line for me is that VFF is not a fair forum (judging from the way they acted in the past such as with Hart’s participation in their event). I do wish Kai had chosen to participate anyway to build a bridge to conservative evangelicals in our community, very few of whom have attended Kai’s interfaith summits (most of the Christians I know of who participated were from mainline denominations).

    Nonetheless, none of these three candidates are the kind to “snub their nose” at anyone, even if they don’t participate in their events. If Dean Welty called Kai, or if a NARAL activist called Tony, or an anti-gas tax person called Carolyn, they would find a kind listener on the other end of the line. I hate to see good people demonized in pursuit of turning out the base.

    • This always happens around election season.

      I recall how ugly things got during the Clerk of Court race, particularly the comments online.

      • This is nothing. You should have seen the trash-talk when the war-loving Philistines sent Goliath against the Israelites in the Valley of Elah. That big dumb giant scared the snot out of elder Saul. When young David stepped forth you could no doubt hear laughter and taunts the whole way back to the gates of Ekron in Gath. Such is the conceit of the wicked.

  4. republitarian says:

    Jeremy, that was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever read.

    I think your take on Jesus and taxes needs some theological help.

  5. Lowell Fulk says:


    Have you ever attended one of these forums? Have you ever seen the candidate questionnaires?

    And, do you plan to attend and report on the forum?

  6. Dave Briggman says:

    We got so screwed when Gene wasn’t elected…get the K-Y Jelly ready cause it’s going to happen again.

  7. cook says:

    Two thoughts unrelated to one another:

    Candidate Degner is in a difficult position: As the local Democrat he needs to be an “anytime, anywhere – I’ll be there” candidate. But he also knows that at VFF he will be asked questions only about issues he doesn’t want to discuss.

    I really appreciate your comments above, Brooke and Jeremy, and I also appreciate that VFF does not use the word “Christian” in the name of the organization (cf. Christian Coalition). Anytime we mix Jesus’ message (the kingdom of God is here and open to all) and political advertising (we are the sort of people who could fix everything if we could just get hold of the One Ring), it is the Gospel that gets diluted. As politically aware/involved Christians we must work very hard to advocate for our political positions (how human governments ought to seek to accomplish certain goals), informed by our faith, but without identifying our political positions with Jesus’ message.

    • Not “questions that he doesn’t want to discuss”; rather demands he can not honor. Welty and VFF seek to gauge a candidate’s willingness to disregard Constitutional rights and substitute religious beliefs – theirs.

      Anyone elected to public office is sworn to obey our sacred Constitution, including the provisions that protect individuals from the tyranny of the state. Ironic that the same people who demand their religious freedom would seek to deny others their due process. It is an impossible basis for a “debate”.

      • cook says:

        No, I insist on “questions that he doesn’t want to discuss.” You mischaracterize your opponents’ positions … to your detriment. It is such mischaracterizations – from both sides – that prevents constructive dialogue about substantive issues from being heard above ad hominem diatribes.

        • Lowell Fulk says:

          I disagree Cook, what is there at one of these forums to discuss? I tried for years to have constructive dialog with Mr. Welty and Co. more than you have any idea, and it simply isn’t a go…

  8. Brooke says:

    I completely agree, Aaron. :-)

  9. For the record, Jesus never said a word about either abortion or homosexuality. However, he did say that “it is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.” Then there is the minor matter of his throwing the money-changers out of the Temple. Somehow the money-grubbing televangelists do not speak about these matters when they put themselves forward as the really true Christians, although if you listen to them you would think that all Jesus ever talked about was their pet issues.

  10. republitarian says:


    Jesus didn’t tell the government to come take the rich man’s money and redistribute it to the poor. Televangelists have nothing to do with the how the government is to operate, and Jesus did speak of all sexual acts outside of marriage as sinful. Quit trying to use Jesus to justify your humanist theology.

  11. Myron,

    And Jesus did not say that the government should not do so. “Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and give unto God that which is God’s.” He made no statement about how what is “Caesar’s” should be determined or what should be included in that. And he certainly evinced great sympathy for the poor and substantial disdain for rich, even presumably those who “earned” theirs.

    Every time I turn around I see televangelists rolling in dough trying to run the government, starting with the govenment of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The governor has run from his past of kneeling before Pat Robertson somewhat, but AG Cuccinelli seems to be unable to run fast enough in wasting VA taxpayers’ money in so kneeling.

    Oh, and where did Jesus declare all sexual acts “outside of marriage” to be sinful? He clearly criticized adultery, which is forbidden in the Ten Commandments, but if you are going to try to stretch verses in Matthew 15 and 19 to cover more than that, well, good luck, as you will be stretched out over a large chasm. Sure, Timothy and Paul ranted about “fornication,” but not Jesus.

  12. Dave Briggman says:

    New Wilt flyer hit today….Mentions every endorsement by local law enforcement — except Kurt Boshart’s.

  13. David Miller says:


    ie, he’s not one of us, outrider, interloper type of bs comes to mind. Who’s this Wilt guy to call our Mayor a big city liberal? Its offensive even though I’d love to know how they turned liberal into a bad word. Its offensive just like it would be if Degner’s campaign had come out calling Wilt a backwoods hick being run by Elitist Republican puppet masters. And yes I do see the irony of turning the word Elitist into a negative term but this is how attack politics goes right? Degner’s campaign would be swarmed by local “media” demanding an explanation of his attack, no way that will happen for Wilt’s transgressions though. Business as usual

  14. Brooke says:

    Wow, that’s kind of slimey, Tony, on more than one count. Blech.

    • Lowell Fulk says:

      No Dave, it is not.

      • Lowell Fulk says:

        And thanks to all who have sent me scans of the mail piece.

        Looks like Team Tony is ready to throw mud…

        And keep in mind folks that this isn’t Tony calling the shots, this is the party. This is how it’s going to be… Tony stopped having any say in things when he agreed to be candidate. This is how it will be if he wins…

        He will be told what to do, and he will do it.

    • BANDIT says:

      Don’t forget about the “Macocca Event”, from an established, well known, Republican Politician.

  15. David Miller says:

    From Personal

    • Wow.

      Well, it’s pretty clear what RPV and the Wilt campaign thinks of Harrisonburg.

      This does nothing but drive a giant wedge between city and county. Thanks for framing it that way, RPV.

      If John Elledge or Ted Byrd had won, I doubt you’d see a mailer worded like that.

  16. Emmy says:

    The sad thing is, that for as bad as all of this has been from the beginning, it isn’t going to make one bit of difference when it’s time to vote. Only that big “R” is going to matter.

    • Renee says:

      “Only that big “R” is going to matter.”
      Yep, I agree, Emmy – though I wonder if more or fewer people will show up to vote based on the campaigns run.

      I got a call about this race from a pollster 2 days go – does anyone know if poll numbers have been published anywhere yet?

  17. Lowell Fulk says:

    Emmy and Renee,

    It isn’t going to make one bit of difference???? With that mindset, perhaps it won’t. Get fired up! Be the change you wish to see! You can make the difference… Especially in a special election!


    • Renee says:

      I do think the election is important and the campaigning will make a difference in the turnout for each party, which can of course affect the outcome.

      I’m just saying I find it hard to believe Wilt is going to attract any new voters with the statements he’s made, and the people that will vote for him are the people that will vote for whoever is running as a Republican.

  18. Dave Briggman says:

    Listen to WSVA this morning between 9 and 10…I’m going to try and paint the kind of pictures I like to paint of the VFF, legislation offered by Mark Obenshain, and is that the kind of Delegate the 26th District really wants. I hope it’s more that just a little entertaining and slaps some people extremely hard. :-)

  19. Emmy says:

    It isn’t about Kai Lowell, convincing those who would vote for Wilt to vote for Kai would be a futile mission. I’d be more inclined to make sure Dem’s and independents are getting out there and voting. Turnout is going to be a big deal.

    It’s more about the fact that there are really two Republican’s running in this election and Wilt will still come out on top.

  20. seth says:

    i think we need to let people know how shady they’re willing to be. there are a ton of moderate conservatives who might not jump ship and vote for kai, but who’d probably be just as happy not to associate themselves with these kinds of politics.

  21. FWIW,

    WSVA has Carolyn on at about 3:35 Monday afternoon, Wilt an hour later…he’s set aside 3:10 for Kai, should he change his mind.

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