Carney, Murray spar on COVID restrictions, education at debate

The Delaware Debates 2020 gubernatorial debate was held by the Center for Political Communication and Delaware Public Media on Tuesday. The debate was held remotely due to COVID-19 with moderator Ralph Begleiter in the University Media Services video studio and the participants, incumbent John C. Carney Jr. (D) and Julianne Murray (R), video conferencing in. (University of Delaware/Evan Krape)

DOVER — Sharply differing viewpoints from Democratic Gov. John Carney and Republican challenger Julianne Murray were on display during a debate Tuesday, particularly in regard to the pandemic.

Held by the University of Delaware every general election cycle, this year’s debate took place virtually because of COVID-19. Gov. Carney and Ms. Murray took turns answering questions from moderators for an hour, seeking to make their pitches to voters ahead of the Nov. 3 contest.

Ms. Murray, who won a six-way GOP primary last month, argued Gov. Carney overreacted and overreached after coronavirus hit the state in March. Businesses were closed and people were shut indoors for too long, she said.

“Fear is powerful, and we need to step back from that fear,” she said.

Ms. Murray also took issue with the state’s mask mandate, describing it as unnecessary and a violation of individual liberties.

Gov. Carney pushed back, calling wearing a mask “the most important thing people can do to prevent the spread of the virus.”

But Ms. Murray continued to maintain the state’s response to the virus was overly restrictive, based on politics rather than science.

“We also need to be talking about that it is not fatal. I can’t liken it to the chickenpox, but it’s less deadly than the flu in many circumstances,” she said.

Although much is still unknown about COVID, experts agree it is more dangerous than the flu.

Education also occupied several questions, as candidates sparred over a lawsuit alleging major inequities in Delaware’s education system that was settled just the day before.

Gov. Carney touted expanded funding for students who come from low-income backgrounds or don’t speak English as a native language, while Ms. Murray countered it only came after the lawsuit was filed in 2018.

The two agreed property reassessments, which have not been done in decades, should take place, with Gov. Carney noting such an evaluation would actually not lead to tax increases for many people.

“You don’t automatically get more revenue,” he said of the state and county governments.

The governor reiterated his opposition to “assault weapons” and legal marijuana, while Ms. Murray indicated she would veto a cannabis bill and any gun control measures.

Gov. Carney also defended Delaware’s mail-in voting law approved for this year because of the pandemic, saying much of the skepticism about voting by mail comes from very public denunciations from President Donald Trump. Ms. Murray, in contrast, expressed concerns about the reliability and security of mail-in voting and over the unusual, partially virtual legislative session, again calling on Delawareans not to fear COVID.