Q&A: 18th Senate District candidates talk about the issues

Name: Jim Purcell
Party: Democrat
Office seeking: 18th Senate District
Age: 48
Occupation: Director of community relations
Family: Seven-year-old daughter McKenna Purcell, mother Judy Purcell, sister Elizabeth Keller, sister Tina Callahan
Elective experience: None

Name: Dave Wilson
Party: Republican
Office Seeking: 18th Senate District
Age: 68
Occupation: State representative, farmer, small-business owner, auctioneer
Family: Wife, Carolyn
Elective experience: Current 35th District state representative, former register in chancery, former register of wills

Why are you running for this office?

JP: I am running to bring new leadership, vision and common-sense thinking to government and our Legislature. We need someone who can look at the issues, listen to constituents and work across our diverse community to protect our heritage, but build for our future. I refuse to vote along party lines and will always look at the issue as a whole regardless of party affiliation. We no longer live in the 1970s, ‘80s or even the ‘90s. I hope to bring youth, vigor and forward-thinking ideas to tackle the issues of our day.

DW: I have a record of public service to my district and to the state of Delaware. With the retirement of Sen. Gary Simpson, I realized it was important to continue the service to the people of the district and the state by a proven public servant. By moving to the Senate, I will be in a position to continue the work I have started in the House. I will bring my experience and knowledge of the state to bear for the benefit of the people of our district and our state.

What would be your top priority if elected?

JP: I know that nothing is more important than creating good-paying jobs that can support a middle-class life — from nurses, firefighters and teachers to construction workers, factory workers and small business owners. I know that when Delawareans come together, we can do amazing things. In the last century, our leaders came together across the aisle to electrify the nation and our state, build the highway system, support groundbreaking research in medicine, science, and communications and send a man to the moon. When we are bold and ambitious, we can do big things and make our economy stronger for decades to come.

DW: Unfortunately, there are more issues facing our state than just one. I believe we must move to place our state on a sound financial and business footing. We must take steps to support businesses and family farms, both large and small. We must address concerns over the water and wastewater issues facing all of Delaware. We must make our educational system more responsive and more accountable for the use of the third of the state budget it receives.

If you could change one state policy or law, what would it be?

Dave Wilson

JP: I would review and reform our outdated revenue system. We need a fiscal policy that manages and controls spending but is also fluid enough to support revenue enhancement where it has needed in our state. I think performance-based contracts and funding is much needed within our state agencies.

One such area of focus would be to change the 80-year-old school finance system and base funding on school needs and school performance. We have too many urban and rural districts that suffer because extra funding and resources are not available to help make a difference in their schools. We have many high need students and students that need social and emotional supports, and our schools are not equipped to teach or support these kids. I also would like to reward high-performing schools, providing additional funding to high-achieving schools and their students.

DW: I believe we have moved away from the General Assembly legislating and given that authority to a growing number of administrative agencies and bureaucrats. As a result, our state has become less responsive and more hidebound. Have you ever tried to get an entrance from the state Department of Transportation, a permit through the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control or anything from the other agencies of the state? People elect us, not nameless, faceless bureaucrats who sometimes do things which the General Assembly never intended.

What are your plans to boost economic development?

JP: I will work to build a stronger rural economy that is a mix of agriculture, service and 21st century careers. I will seek increase funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers, with particular attention given to promoting environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. I will encourage programs to protect and enhance family farms, a cherished way of life for many in Kent and Sussex County.

I will expand local food markets and regional food systems that can serve our community and supply resources to the region. I will promote clean energy leadership and collaborative stewardship of our natural resources while expanding technical and good paying manufacturing jobs in southern Delaware. I will seek to expand small business opportunities in Ellendale, Greenwood, Harrington, Houston and Milford. I will spur and work with federal, state and local governments to power a new rural economy.

I support strengthening rural water, sewer and broadband infrastructure to make rural businesses more competitive. I will promote collaborative stewardship of our natural resources while developing clean fuels that will grow our economy, lower our energy bills, combat climate change and make Delaware a leader in clean, renewable and efficient energy. I will provide assistance to producers who conserve and improve natural resources on their farms and double loan guarantees that support the bio-based economy’s dynamic growth.

DW: We must stop throwing good money away. Fisker, Bloom and related projects were boondoggles that cost us millions and got us nothing in return. We must target out taxes and regulatory costs to foster an environment that supports business. We must support small businesses and farms with tax incentives, low-cost loans and partnerships to recruit and train the employees necessary to grow businesses in Delaware.

What, if anything, should be done to increase revenue for the state or cut spending?

Jim Purcell

JP: We need to revisit our taxing system and how our state raises revenue. The corporate franchise tax is under attack by other states doing the same thing. Our income tax has not grown because high-paying jobs are missing from our economy. In order to increase revenue we need to attract high-paying jobs to the state and we need to encourage cost savings at all levels of government. We have an imbalance in our financial system and we need to stop studying and implement a new fiscal policy that reflects our diverse population and the needs of our community.

DW: I do not support raising revenue on the backs of taxpayers. Look at the state of Maryland. Gov. Larry Hogan reduced taxes, lowered tolls and has turned Maryland around. We can do the same here. We must.

Do you support the legalization of marijuana? Why or why not?

JP: Yes, we have made all the right steps to decriminalize marijuana and permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes. I would support further research on the impact of legalization and make sure to set up strong regulations on where marijuana can be consumed and laws to enforce the misuse of marijuana in our community. Tax it, regulate it and prosecute if it is abused in any way.

DW: No. If the byproduct of marijuana can be used for medical purposes, that is fine. To legalize a drug often described as a “gateway drug” to other, more serious addictions is not in our best interests.

What, if any, gun laws would you change?

JP: I support the Second Amendment. However, we need to do everything we can to mitigate violence and the misuse of this constitutional right. I believe in sensible laws around background checks and the sale of firearms to people struggling with a history of mental health and violence in the community. I would support a reasonable ban on assault weapons or high capacity magazines and certain types of ammunition.

DW: I do not support additional burdensome, unnecessary gun laws. Enforcement of what we have, yes.

Would you vote for legislation reinstating the death penalty? Why or why not?

JP: I do not believe in the death penalty. We have the right approach in place and it is not for the state to determine life or death.

DW: I have always, and still do, support the death penalty for those qualifying offenses. I believe the death penalty has been properly applied in Delaware over the years and it serves as a deterrent to those who commit crime and removes the truly unrepentant criminal from society.

Do changes need to be made to the state’s employee health care structure? Why or why not?

JP: Yes, we need to make sure that employees, employers and our state are sharing the cost of affordable health care. We need strong regulation of predatory pricing by drug companies and health care providers.

DW: Yes, we must look at our health care and all benefits for state employees. We must remain competitive with our neighboring states and the private sector. We must be in a position to respond to any changes in health insurance which are initiated on the federal level as well.

What should be done to combat Delaware’s drug crisis?

JP: We must treat mental health issues with the same care and seriousness that we treat issues of physical health, support a robust mental health workforce and promote better integration of the behavioral and general health care systems. Recognizing that maintaining good mental health is critical to all people, including young people’s health and development, I will work with health professionals to ensure that all children have access to mental health care. We must also expand community-based treatment for substance abuse disorders and mental health conditions and fully enforce our parity law. In addition, we should create a national initiative around suicide prevention and PTSD awareness.

DW: We cannot simply throw money at the drug crisis. We must commit to treatment, not incarceration. We must reopen detox centers in each county. We must address the underlying issues associated with the drug crisis — unemployment, family issues and the like.

Is there anything else you think is pertinent?

JP: I will work with contractors and developers to combat the affordable housing crisis and skyrocketing rents in many parts of our state, which is leading too many families and workers to be pushed out of communities where they work. I will preserve and increase the supply of affordable rental housing by expanding incentives to ease local barriers to building new affordable rental housing developments in areas of economic opportunity.

I will work with the state and local government to substantially increase funding to repair, construct, preserve and rehabilitate thousands of affordable housing rental units. Not only will this help address the affordable housing crisis, it will also create good-paying jobs in the process. I believe that we should work with our nonprofit and faith communities to provide more resources to the people struggling most with unaffordable housing: low-income families, people with disabilities, veterans and the elderly.

In addition, I will fight for robust funding to end homelessness in our community through targeted investments to provide the necessary outreach, social services and housing options for all populations experiencing homelessness. We must make sure that everyone has a chance at homeownership.

DW: It is important to remember one thing. Presently, Delaware is controlled by one political party. One-party control is never a good thing. There must be checks and balances in order to maintain proper governance. If another senator is added to the majority party numbers, it will only make one party control more entrenched. Additionally, I ask folks to look at the records of the candidates for this office. I have a long and positive record of public service without the hint of scandal or impropriety.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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