With an eye toward educating and engaging voters, and turning them out at the polls during the May 20 primary election, the Gainesville-Hall County chapter of the NAACP held a forum with political candidates Thursday night at Antioch Baptist Church in Gainesville.
“It makes a big impact” when candidates can meet face to face with voters, said Phyllis Brewer, president of the local NAACP chapter.
Republican Hall County school board candidates Traci McBride and Paul Godfrey, Republican Public Service Commission candidate and Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Steen Miles, Democratic state school superintendent candidate Denise Freeman and Democratic U.S. House of Representatives candidate David Vogel spoke at the forum.
Each was given an opportunity to engage about two dozen attendees and field their questions.
In many ways, the forum was an opportunity to address issues of particular relevance to minorities and low-income families, and that fact was not lost on the candidates.
Vogel, for example, boomed like a preacher when he spoke about income inequality, minimum wage and voting rights.
“They don’t want you to go vote,” he told those in attendance, speaking of faceless bureaucrats who are out of touch with minorities. “So go vote.”
McBride, meanwhile, shared an anecdote about the time she met author Maya Angelou and the impact that meeting had on her life and career.
“I come tonight not as a politician, but as an educator,” she said.
And Lutz openly addressed the elephant in the room.
He asked if anyone planned on casting a Republican ballot in the primary. No hands were raised.
But Lutz said that response reaffirmed his reason for participating in the forum, adding he hoped to change a few minds.
And it almost worked.
Gainesville resident Jerry Castleberry, who typically votes Democratic, said he was most impressed by Lutz’s speech.
Miles addressed what she sees as the racial, political and economic divide that disenfranchises minority voters, promising to fight for better wages and reform the nation’s prisons.
“Fairness and equality for everyone is at the core of my being,” she said.
Vennie Marble, a Gainesville resident, said the forum was informative and will help her make a decision about whom to vote for in the primary.
“The African-American had a voice tonight,” she said.