Dr. Walton shares a connection to presidential debates

As the 2016 presidential contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton finishes up, most people have probably given little thought to the challenges which take place in order to plan and pull off a presidential debate.

One member of the Prep family, however, has given it a great deal of thought. Dr. Jason Walton, Jackson Prep’s Head of School, has a unique experience with aiding in the planning, setting up, and carrying out one of these highly publicized events.  

Presidential debates are seen by millions across the nation as simply questions being asked between two candidates (although sometimes with many interruptions that make great television). What the public does not witness is the many moving parts and people working behind the scenes to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Dr. Walton’s experience with debates did not begin on the Presidential level. Rather, Walton lent a helping hand in planning the debate between congressional candidates, Roger Wicker and Jamie Whitten while he was still 18 in Senatobia, Mississippi. It wouldn’t be the last time he was involved in such an endeavor.

By 2010, Dr. Walton was employed as Chief of Staff at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, where he was instrumental in the decision to have the school apply to host a presidential debate. Just to apply to host the debate cost $7,000, and the university would have to raise 5 million dollars to improve the facilities and security of the campus.

Lynn was one of 40 schools across the nation to apply and one of 12 to be visited by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The debate the university applied for would take place in 2012 between the incumbent Democratic nominee and incumbent president Barack Obama and the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.  

After the Commission on Presidential Debates finished the long process of reviewing the applications, Lynn University was chosen to host the fourth and final debate in the 2012 election cycle. Once chosen, the university, which had around 2500 students at the time, became the smallest university to ever host a debate. To put things into perspective, Lynn is just three times the size of Jackson Prep when it comes to enrollment and campus space.

When two public figure heads converge on one location, certain security measures are taken to ensure their safety. The Secret Service would take special precautions to create a safe area for the President and the Republican nominee. They ran the entire debate off of two large generators so the power for the debate was not reliant on Florida’s power grid.

Along with securing power, the Secret Service was worried the electronically controlled air conditioning units might be compromised and used to ventilate toxic gases so changes occurred in order for the Secret Service to feel safe. Since the debate was in Boca Raton, which is on the coast of Florida, Naval Ships were located near the shore in case of an emergency. Along with these ships, helicopters circled the area for days leading up to the debate to pinpoint any unforeseeable issues.

Of course at a presidential debate, there will be a heavy media presence. The debate at Lynn drew six-hundred media outlets to cover the debate, and the university’s brand new performing arts center, one of the main reasons the university was able to acquire the debate, had to have chairs removed to fit the media platforms.

Because there were so many media outlets at the debate, the university had to fill in a freshwater lake to accommodate to their parking.  The debate drew about sixty million views on television.

The audience for the debate was divided into thirds:  ⅓ for the incumbent, ⅓ for the challenger, and the remaining ⅓ to be split between commission on presidential debates and Lynn University, which raffled some of their part to students.

Dr. Walton’s picture of the debate site.
Dr. Walton’s picture of 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry at the 2012 debate.
Official documents from the 2012 debate.
Debate credentials for Dr. Walton and his family.
A commemorative picture of the debate stage, one of Dr. Walton’s many keepsakes from the 2012 debate.
Dr. Walton with the 2012 candidates.

As shown by all of the measures that take place to stage a debate, it is a long and difficult process. Dr. Walton and the staff worked over two years in order for this debate to be a success. Although the public glory for their efforts was only for 90 minutes, the debate had a significant impact on Lynn University–enrollment has increased every year since the debate took place–as well as the town of Boca Raton. Additionally, it provided Dr. Walton and all those involved an experience that they will never forget.   averyoct214

Dr. Walton shares his insights into presidential debates in a recent visit to the Sentry I class.