The (Precarious) Silver Lining of Ben Carson’s Visit to Valdosta
Leigh Touchton says:
September 17, 2014 at 6:25 pm
Yes, let’s encourage thoughtful debate at a public university. It’s a real shame Valdosta State University didn’t do that.
A debate would have been the proper way for Valdosta State University to bring Ben Carson here. Instead, VSU held a partisan political rally. When 501c3 money is used to bring political candidates, then all the candidates must be invited and given the same level of support. In this case, Carson received $43,000. He might be the highest paid “speaker” VSU has ever contracted with. Carson is a likely presidential candidate, on Aug 1 he formed a PAC and hired Terry Giles, the former defense attorney for Kenneth Lay, who was convicted on ten counts in the Enron scandal, if memory serves. Maybe Terry Giles is leaving lawyering and turning to politics after that ignominious defeat. Terry Giles is now Ben Carson’s exploratory campaign chair, touring the country and telling people that it’s all but a done deal, to put their money on Carson, he’s going to run for president. In fact, the most thunderous applause of the night was when a VSU Young Conservatives member, Nicole Poole, asked Ben Carson if he were going to run for president. The audience gave him a standing ovation when he indicated that “if the people want me, I will run for president” or words to that effect.
So why was VSU sponsoring a campaign rally?
The cocktail and dinner party were reserved for some 140 folks whose sponsors paid approximately $300 apiece. There were 17 tables, and they sold out quickly: South Georgia Medical Center, Farmers and Merchants bank , Southeastern Federal Credit Union, First Federal Bank, 100 Black Men, Clientell, and others.
Few, if any, students were able to attend this exclusive soiree. In fact, the Vice President of VSU’s student government wrote to VSU Business School Dean Wayne Plumly and asked if 4 representatives from VSU’s Student Government Association could attend to represent students (after all, this was an event held at a public university.) He was told that the dinner tickets were not sold individually (they would have cost $300 apiece if they had been) and that Carson’s contract required that tables seating 8 people and costing $2500 apiece were the only way people could attend. Do you see a pattern here? Where was the debate? Guests were pre-selected, only those sponsors with deep pockets who could pay for a $2500 table were allowed in.
Guests were able to have their photographs taken with him, they were able to purchase his book and have it signed, they were able to have private conversations with him. Did I mention he has a PAC? His PAC is devoted to “electing good conservatives.” Since when does a public university bring a “speaker” to grease the wheels of partisan campaigns?
Governor Deal’s Minority Outreach Director bought 20 tickets and brought a contingent of Republicans from Atlanta. State Rep Amy Carter, Republican, (ran in 2010 as a Democrat, unopposed, then switched parties ten days later) asked that she be seated near Governor Deal, the man she refers to as a “visionary”, who was originally slated to attend. Governor Deal decided late in the game to stay in Atlanta, maybe because of his latest ethics scandals, maybe because he’d already been caught on tape doing nothing when Nydia Tisdale was roughed up and dragged out of a Republican campaign event advertised as open to the public, maybe he thought better of appearing near Ben Carson at a public university six weeks prior to the election when ticket sales for this likely presidential candidate were being treated as tax-deductible donations to VSU’s Foundation and he didn’t want to be involved in another scandal, the speculations are endless. Maybe he saw the articles in Creative Loafing, in Atlanta Journal Constitution, and maybe he got wind that Better Georgia was sniffing around. Bottom line is, he was slated to appear, and then he cancelled.
Where was the debate? Carson’s carefully choreographed schedule required that he give a 45-minute speech followed by 15 minutes of Q&A, upon which his contract required that he be escorted to the exit by a school official. There were about 730 people in the live speech, and these tickets were bundled behind the scenes through word of mouth, most of them were already “sold” before ticket sales even went “live.” The ticket sales went “live” when VSU students were not even on campus. I stood outside the front door of the auditorium and watched as dozens and dozens of older folks came to hear him, it was obvious that many retirees and alumnae had managed to get tickets, but I saw virtually no students. We are clear that this event happened at Valdosta State University, where student enrollment is about 10,000 more or less? Carson visited no classes, he engaged no professors outside his cocktail & dinner party, he didn’t allow his speech to be recorded for subsequent viewing, he didn’t allow it to be recorded for local media, and he took 15 minutes of softball questions from an audience that was pre-selected from the group we refer to as “the one percent.”
Where was the debate?
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