Lt. governor hopeful cancels on AARP forum


COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's AARP on Thursday canceled a forum on aging issues that featured the state's two candidates for lieutenant governor after the Republican candidate said he had a schedule conflict.

The lieutenant governor's office oversees the state office on aging, and AARP state Director Jane Wiley said in a statement the group was disappointed that the event had to be canceled.

The nonprofit organization had set the event for Tuesday at the Newberry Opera House.

AARP Communications Director Patrick Cobb said the nonpartisan group had a confirmation from Democrat Ashley Cooper of Charleston. Republican Ken Ard's campaign informed the group by e-mail that he could not attend because of an unspecified schedule conflict, Cobb said.

Shortly after AARP issued its statement, a spokesman for Ard, Robert Cahaly, said the campaign was trying to work with AARP to set up an alternate date for the event.

Cahaly said the Florence County councilman could not be in Newberry because he was speaking to a trucking association in Charleston.

"This is definitely going to happen," Cahaly said of a rescheduled event.

In a statement, Cooper said he was disappointed.

"This forum is very important to me, after all the lieutenant governor heads the Office on Aging. If Councilman Ard doesn't care enough about seniors to participate in this, maybe he ought to just stick to raising taxes in Florence County," Cooper said.

Cobb said the AARP group had worked on scheduling the event since early summer and was uncertain whether it could be reset.

Cobb said his group is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates for public office. Its membership centers on representing those aged 50 and above and has offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

He said the group's guidelines won't allow it to hold such a forum attended by a single candidate. He said both candidates have been asked to respond to a series of written questions about aging issues that the organization intends to post on its website.

"We have 500,000 members in the state and we want to present them with an authoritative voters' guide," Cobb said.