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JU Public Policy Institute Director Rick Mullaney welcomes the crowd at the first round of debates at Terry Concert Hall.

Public Policy Institute, WJXT to co-host debates in races for State Attorney, two U.S. House seats

The Public Policy Institute and WJXT Channel 4, The Local Station, will co-host debates (#JUdebates) Aug. 16-18 among candidates for State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit, U.S. Representative for Florida Congressional District 4 and U.S. Representative for Congressional District 5.JU PPI new logo

The debates in the 400-seat Swisher Theater will give voters a chance to see how candidates in each of the hotly contested races differ on important issues, said Rick Mullaney, director of the Public Policy Institute. They’ll also be able to witness pivotal conversations in high-profile races.

JU PPI Director Rick Mullaney
JU PPI Director Rick Mullaney

“All three races are historic for the voters of North Florida,” said Mullaney, a former prosecutor who was later Jacksonville’s general counsel. “For example, it’s very unusual to have a serious challenger to an incumbent State Attorney. In the nearly 50 years since consolidation of Jacksonville’s government, only three people have served as State Attorney, excluding Don Nichols, who served for a year and a half.”wjxt

In addition, only three people have served in Congressional District 4, a seat that became open after U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw announced his retirement. Meanwhile, Congressional District 5 has been redrawn, and incumbent U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who has served for more than two decades, faces a serious challenge.

“It is very rare for any of these races to be contested. To have all three contested in one year is unprecedented,” Mullaney said.

News4JAX anchor Kent Justice will moderate the events focusing on key issues facing the community. Justice also moderated debates at JU last year for Jacksonville’s mayor and sheriff.

“Kent Justice is the pre-eminent political journalist in the Jacksonville market. His knowledge and experience is unparalleled in town, and no one is more in tune with the issues that need to be discussed,” said WJXT Vice President and General Manager Bob Ellis. “Kent knows what needs to be asked of each candidate to get the people of Jacksonville the answers they need to make educated decisions at the polls.”

In the State Attorney Fourth Judicial Circuit Republican primary, incumbent Angela Corey will debate challengers Melissa Nelson and Wes White at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16. The Congressional District 4 Republican primary candidates will debate at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17, and the Congressional District 5 Democratic primary candidates will debate at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18.

Brown and challengers Al Lawson and LaShonda “L.J.” Holloway are all scheduled to appear at the Aug. 18 District 5 debate. Among the seven District 4 candidates, those polling at least 3 percent support in opinion polls will take part in the Aug. 17 debate. In the latest University of North Florida poll released Aug. 9, former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, former St. Johns River Water Management District Director Hans Tanzler III, state Rep. Lake Ray and St. Johns County Commissioner Bill McClure meet the threshold.

The Aug. 17 and 18 debates will be aired live on WJXT Channel 4, and will stream live on WJXT’s website at http://www.news4jax.com. The Aug. 16 debate will stream live on WJXT’s website.

Mullaney said the debates offer voters a close-up view as they decide who will take on crucial leadership roles in the region.

“We are honored to co-host these discussions with Channel 4 on substantive issues related to the future of the city and region,” he said. “Elections matter, and an informed voting public is crucial to ensuring that the right candidates are chosen to lead our city.”

Tickets to the debates will be given to the campaigns to distribute as they choose, Mullaney said.

JU was a finalist to host a 2016 Presidential debate, and Mullaney said the University is becoming a central non-partisan gathering place for public policy discussions.