Forum should mean fewer uninformed voters

The Lumberton Area Chamber of Commerce, with The Robesonian tagging along, plowed some new ground on Tuesday night, and we believe the city and county were the beneficiaries.

There was some resistance to the chamber’s first stab at providing a candidates forum by those worried it would blur the lines of the chamber’s non-partisanship status, and some who believed the goal was to provide a “gotcha” moment rather than to evoke information that any undecided voters could use to make an informed decision.

We know that The Robesonian’s participation worried some, but seven of eight candidates showed up, and the one who didn’t had an excused absence. As one of two sponsors, we thank all seven for their participation.

Shortly after the event wrapped up about 15 minutes earlier than the established timeline, which was one measure of success, a longtime local judge stopped a representative of this newspaper to share his belief that the forum was “one of the best things” The Robesonian had ever done.

We could take that two ways, but will as it was intended, and that was as a compliment. It was a sentiment that has been shared often in the short time since the forum adjourned.

The No. 1 criticism, and we anticipated it, was that the questions didn’t provide a great opportunity for the candidates to separate themselves, and in fact almost encouraged consensus. The questions were purposely open-ended, which organizers believed allowed candidates to move in multiple directions, but it was their choice to do so or not.

As an organizer of the event, we pledge to take a look at all aspects that could be improved should there be another, and there has been plenty of encouragement already for that to happen.

So what was learned? Here are our takeaways:

— District attorney candidates are more verbose than sheriff’s candidates.

— Such an event can be staged with civility, of which there was an abundance, both among the crowd and the candidates.

— The Carolina Civic Center is a wonderful venue, and we believe a few more folks found that out on Tuesday.

— There is tremendous interest. While it wasn’t standing-room-only, more than 300 people attended, and the number of views of The Robesonian’s Facebook livestream, both during and after, has surpassed 10,000. The video can still be found at robesonian.com.

— And the best for last: We are sure that the next district attorney and sheriff in this county will both be well-qualifed.

For those who are still trying to decide how to cast their ballots, there was value in both the answers the candidates offered, and in how they were delivered. From an aerial view, it was clear to us that some candidates would lead in a different direction than others, and although we would have preferred a few more details, the time restraints, two minutes for a direct question and one for a response, did not provide a wide door for that to happen.

We cling to the belief that promises are cheap, and that while ideas are nice, we want to know how they will spring from the drawing board and into action. This county has dug itself into a deep hole, and we blame leadership that has become emboldened by the way local elections are conducted, with the winners being the best at hauling on Election Day.

Those wheels will start spinning a week from today, and they depend largely on an abundance of uniformed voters. Tuesday’s forum, we are certain, means there are fewer of them.