By Michael Buettner
The Democratic nominee for the Fourth Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives faced a grilling Monday from a panel of tough, well-informed questioners - students at the Appomattox Regional Governor's School.
Dr. Wynne LeGrow, a retired physician from Emporia who is challenging incumbent Republican J. Randy Forbes of Chesapeake, spent nearly two hours Monday morning taking questions from students in social sciences instructor Sarah Melton's government classes.
The students' concerns reflected wide awareness of the issues that are being debated nationally, and their questions included a couple that would make almost any political candidate in the nation at least a little uncomfortable.
For example, one student asked how LeGrow feels about medical marijuana use and calls for legalization of the drug. The former nephrologist (kidney specialist) and operator of a dialysis center said he believes "the laws on marijuana need to be changed" because they "are making criminals out of young people who are doing what young people do."
However, he said, "That's not to say I'd encourage it (marijuana use)." And further work needs to be done on creating a test for motorists, equivalent to existing tests for alcohol use, because "people should not be smoking marijuana and driving down the highway."
On another potentially touchy topic, a student asked LeGrow what role his religion should play in his political campaign and whether he thought it would affect his chances of getting elected. LeGrow explained that while his father was a Protestant minister and that he "grew up in church," he has been a "non-believer" since his teen years.
"The most important thing I learned in church was the golden rule," he said. "I don't need anything more than that."
LeGrow said non-believers or atheists have been elected to Congress before, and one congressman currently serving, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., has acknowledged being an atheist. LeGrow acknowledged that it does make a difference that "he's from California, not Southside Virginia."
More generally, he said, "I'm very strongly in favor of separation of church and state," noting that many of the nation's founders "came here with the idea that they didn't want the government telling them" what to believe or how to express their beliefs.
Not surprisingly, education was a topic of interest for some of the students. Asked about his policies on education spending, LeGrow said he agrees that money is not the solution to all the problems public schools face, but "that's not to say that money is not important."
In particular, he said, "Teachers need to be paid more than they are" because higher pay will attract more talented, better-motivated people into the profession. But overall, "the money has to be spent wisely," he said.
Another student asked LeGrow if he thinks Standards of Learning measures are really important to the teaching process. LeGrow answered that in some subjects, such as math and science, standard measures and standardized tests make sense. "There's only one correct answer" to a math problem, he explained.
But knowledge of some other subjects is less easily translated into standardized performance measures, and perhaps educational administrators need to find alternatives, he suggested. And because learning standards are set on a state-by-state basis, there's no way to compare one state's performance with another's, he said.