CHARLESTOWN — About 75 Charlestown residents filled the downtown square Thursday night to hear from candidates seeking local office, as part of the first of a series of forums hosted by the South Central Indiana League of Women Voters.

However, something was missing.

The Republicans.

"Some had conflicts and some didn't return my calls," said Katie Hutchinson, volunteer with the LWV and a Republican herself.

Five Democrats seeking office did show, including the Democratic mayoral candidate, clerk candidate and three people seeking a council seat.

Hutchinson said the LWV is a non-partisan group with four officers, one each being Democratic, Republican, independent and Libertarian. She said LWV originally started to spread the word to women to get out and vote. Now, she said it is about getting more people involved in the political process.

"We want people to know the person they are voting for, not just the party," Hutchinson said.

That's why the league is hosting four local forums, where candidates can give a stump speech and answer questions from the public. The first stop was Charlestown, with additional stops scheduled in New Albany, Jeffersonville and Clarksville.

LWV President Barb Anderson said she was pleased with the audience turnout in Charlestown, but was disappointed the Republicans didn't show. She promised the audience that she would ask the Republicans again to be at a future forum and, if there is interest, she said she will host another event in Charlestown.

She said these events are meant to offer a chance for there to be "civil discourse" that's "not judgmental and not overbearing."

"The people who didn't show lost an opportunity to hear directly from 75 constituents," Anderson said. "The people want dialog with their elected officials and they want access [to talk to them]."

That feeling was echoed among those in attendance.

"I definitely want to see another one of these before election time," said Jeff Shepherd Sr. "I've already heard most of [the Democratic side] for what they want to do with Charlestown, but I want to hear from the other side."

"I liked it, but I wish the other candidates showed up, so that we could hear what they had to say," said Mary Sparrow.

Charlestown resident Pat Shanks said though he wished he had heard from all sides, he was happy to see so many people come out for the event.

"I'm glad people are finally getting involved in politics, because this country is splitting apart like splinters in a storm and anything to bring the community together is a good thing," Shanks said. "They're talking, starting the conversation. Communication is number one."

A total of five candidates spoke Thursday at the event, including Democratic mayoral candidate Treva Hodges and clerk candidate Tina Barnes.

"I hope [the audience] heard that I do care and I will speak up [for them]," Barnes said.

"This is the spirit of public service," Hodges said, referring to being available to answer audience questions. "It reveals your true character being caught on the spot to answer questions and not being scripted."

Other candidates who spoke included Democrats Angela Cornett, Susan Bottorff and Steve Coyne Sr.

Attempts to reach Republican Bob Hall, who is seeking his fifth term as mayor, were not successful.

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