The University of Mary Washington will host two public debates next month between candidates for local elected office.
Joshua Cole (D) will face off against Lee Peters III (R) for Virginia’s 65th District House of Delegates seat on Wednesday, Sept. 13, in the Weatherly Wing of UMW’s Seacobeck Hall. Later in the month, Tara Durant (R), Monica Gary (I) and Joel Griffin (D) will vie for the District 27 Virginia State Senate seat on Wednesday, Sept. 27, in George Washington Hall’s Dodd Auditorium. Both debates will take place at 7 p.m.
“I am delighted that the local candidates have agreed to participate in this important community service,” said Professor of Political Science and Center for Leadership and Media Studies Director Stephen Farnsworth, who will moderate the hourlong debates. “Candidates standing side by side to discuss current policy challenges provides vital opportunities for voters to compare the alternatives offered on the ballot.”
The debates are being hosted by Mary Washington’s Student Government Association (SGA). They are co-sponsored by the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, The Free Lance-Star and the League of Women Voters of the Fredericksburg Area. Farnsworth, along with fellow UMW Professor of Political Science Rosalyn Cooperman, who chairs the department; WFVA Radio News Director Ted Schubel; and a representative from The Free Lance-Star will ask questions of the candidates. Audience members will be able to submit questions for consideration before the start of the events.
Both Virginia’s House of Delegates District 65 and State Senate District 27 cover Fredericksburg and parts of Stafford and Spotsylvania counties.
65th District Virginia House of Delegates Debate: Wednesday, Sept. 13.
Raised in the Fredericksburg area, Joshua Cole became the youngest person and the first Black person elected from the Fredericksburg region to the General Assembly in 2019. In office, he has supported expanding access to affordable healthcare, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and investments in schools, public safety and transportation infrastructure. Cole is a pastor, husband and father of two.
Lee Peters III is a Marine Corps veteran and career law enforcement officer who currently serves as commander of the Stafford County Sheriff’s Department Special Operations Division. A member of the board of Ellie’s Elves, a local nonprofit dedicated to supporting and encouraging local families during times of crisis, he also is a Rape Aggression Defense instructor and coaches youth athletics. Peters is a single father of one.
27th District Virginia State Senate Debate: Wednesday, Sept. 27
Tara Durant assumed office as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates for the previous 28th District in January 2022. There, she has supported lowering taxes, restoring excellence in education and investing in law enforcement. A Marine wife and former elementary school teacher, she has lived in Stafford County for 20 years, serving with local nonprofits and the PTO board, and as a youth coach. She is the mother of three.
A member of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors for the Aquia District, Monica Gary serves such groups as the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Rappahannock River Basin Commission. She has worked to support the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office, and to establish the county’s first Diversity Advisory Coalition and conservation specialist position. Gary is the wife of a Marine Corps veteran and a mother of seven.
Joel Griffin is a Marine and small business owner who founded a company dedicated to supporting veteran entrepreneurs. After his older daughter passed away from a heart attack at school, he and his wife cofounded Gwyneth’s Gift Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to educating people about CPR and the use of automated external defibrillators. They lobbied state government to pass Gwyneth’s Law, mandating CPR training in Virginia schools. The couple has one other daughter.
“It’s so important that the University hosts these debates because it sets a standard for active youth within civic engagement,” said UMW SGA President Jaylyn Long. She said participation is often difficult for students, especially those from areas outside of Fredericksburg who may not be familiar with the candidates in local races but have an opportunity to vote here. “These debates give them the opportunity to find that connection to the candidates, but also that deeper connection to the Fredericksburg area.”
UMW’s Weatherly Wing, inside Seacobeck Hall, is located on College Avenue, between Rowe and Seacobeck streets.