Student-Run Debate Sparks Backlash From Local Politician

Novalea Verno, Staff Writer

On Tuesday, Oct. 11 the fruition of students from Bloomsburg University’s Political Science Student Association (POSSA), College Republicans and College Democrats finally paid off. These students had managed to plan and successfully put on a debate featuring candidates from the 109th district. Despite some setbacks including a lack of response from Republican Robert Leadbeter until three hours before the debate and Democrat Edward Giannattasio pulling out for health reasons leaving Libertarian Tom Anderson to take the stage alone, the students left the event feeling confident in what they could provide to the community and fellow student body- an opportunity to engage with local politics. Those same students woke up the next day to an article published by the Press Enterprise featuring a statement from the no-show Leadbeter criticizing the debate and hinting at it being rigged against him.

In his statement, Leadbeter made the claim that a professor involved in organizing the debate made his support of another candidate running against Leadbeter public. He also claimed that the same individual had been a campaign manager for Leadbeter’s opponent. The professor in question is Dr. Neil Strine, a political science professor and advisor for the College Republicans. Strine did acknowledge that Leadbeter’s claims are true but remained firm in his belief that his own political loyalties had no influence over his position in the debate as an advisor.

“It is true that I am supporting Mr. Anderson for office, but that does not mean that I would be unfair to others,” said Strine.

Strine also pointed out that he wasn’t the only individual tasked with planning this event. He worked alongside faculty advisors for the College Democrats, the faculty advisor for POSSA, a faculty member from the journalism department, Tim Pelton, the Civic Engagement Coordinator and Dan Knorr, Director of External and Governmental Relations at BU. Strine emphasized the fact that the debate was a student-run event. The listed advisors were only involved in the process of reaching out to the candidates and working with Bloomsburg University to set up this event.

“My only involvement was to invite Mr. Leadbeter, which I did on September 5th, and to help the students find a location on campus for the debate. The students did everything else,” said Strine.

Following the release of Leadbeter’s statement, students involved in the debate began to express their own frustrations regarding the candidate. The students were already disappointed in Leadbeter’s radio silence and what they interpreted to be his lack of care for his own district. Mason Kay, the president of the College Republicans, felt that Leadbeter’s severely delayed response and published statement called to question his character.

“[Leadbeter’s] whole excuse for not attending the debate yesterday was because he was under the impression that Dr. Strine would be rigging questions. Instead of getting in contact [with us], he reacted immaturely and instead ignored POSSA and the College Republicans,” said Kay.

Students weren’t the only ones disappointed by Leadbeter’s behavior. Anderson also defended the students and retained that they created a fair and unbiased environment.

“There was nothing but transparency and fairness involved in this debate…. It was entirely non-partisan and uninfluenced by any faculty advisors, to the best of my knowledge,” said Anderson.

Fueling the fire, Leadbeter included in his statement that voters interested in learning more about him could check out his primary debate on YouTube or send him an email. This comment sparked much discourse and anger among those involved in the debate who dedicated time and resources to provide a time and place for the public to meet their potential representatives.

“Is he going to skip committee meetings and debates at the capitol building if he knows that others will oppose him? I do not want someone like this to represent me and our area in Harrisburg if he is going to hide from conflict,” said Strine.

Even Anderson felt that Leadbeter’s actions spoke to his true character, much louder than any words that could be said at a primary debate.“I think this reflects poorly on his character, his judgment, his leadership skills, and his dedication to the people of Columbia County whom he presumes to represent,” said Anderson.

When contacted for a statement elaborating on his actions, Leadbeter did not respond. The student-run debate held in Carver Hall featured questions focused on healthcare, education, and the local community.