Q&A: 6th Senate District candidates take on the issues

Name: David B. Baker

Party: Democrat

Office seeking: State Senate, 6th district (Milton, Lewes, Rehoboth, Dewey, Angola, Harbeson, Cool Spring)

Age: 66

Occupation: Former Sussex County accounting director, finance director, county administrator and financial advise

Family: Married for 42 years to Sandy, four sons, six grandchildren

Elective experience: Cape Henlopen School Board

Name: Ernesto B. López

Party: Republican

Office Seeking: State Senate, District 6

Age: 41

Occupation: State 4-H extension specialist, University of Delaware and state senator, District 6

Family: Daughters, Anna Christine and Claire Elizabeth

Elective experience: Incumbent state senator since 2012

Why are you running for this office?

DB: As senator, I will bring effective improvements for the district, county and state. I will work to improve infrastructure, especially roads, clean water and open space.

Also, we will address the shortage of doctors and the drug crisis. Finally, we will focus on establishing a sustainable budget with a long-term financial plan, with help for the middle class.

EL: I am running for re-election to continue my record of meaningful and successful bipartisan legislative accomplishments on behalf of the people of the 6th Senate District.

What would be your top priority if elected?

Dave Baker

DB: Investments in infrastructure has not kept up with growth. I will work to ensure that our share of state funding for infrastructure in Sussex increases to begin to address the large population growth that we see here. As noted below, state funding for major road improvements here is woefully inadequate. The Delaware Department of Transportation should request a fair share of funds for roads from developers of new projects.

As your senator, I will also push the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to step up enforcement to protect our drinking water. DNREC must ensure that large industrial operations such as poultry processors and wastewater treatment facilities abide by our environmental laws and are good stewards of the environment. We must continue to support water, wastewater and stormwater improvements.

I will fight for consistent strong funding for open space and farmland preservation easements. When state revenues were down during most of the last 10 years, open space funding was sharply reduced annually. It is important that consistent strong funding for open space becomes a high state priority and that we preserve for the future. It is important that sufficient funds are available when an opportunity like the Groome Church property on New Road arises.

EL: To make sure the budget smoothing bill, which I co-sponsored last year, comes back and gets a full and fair hearing followed by ultimate passage. We need to get our state back on a firm and stable fiscal track and this bipartisan model provides for fiscal stability in the years ahead.

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

DB: I will work to increase the share of state funds that we receive for major capital road improvements. During the fiscal year that ended June 30, Sussex County only received 9 percent of state funds for major capital road improvements. Given the county’s population of 23 percent of the state and the tremendous growth and summer time visitors, it is essential that we receive a larger slice of the pie of transportation improvement funds. At this pace, we will fall further and further behind each year, and will never come near to catching up to the growth in coastal Sussex.

Ernie Lopez

EL: I would enact a bill that has been stalled by Senate Democrats enabling certain public safety officials such as corrections officers along with probation and parole officers, a 20-year pension and retirement package. The work these public servants do daily on behalf of all Delawareans needs to be recognized with meaningful pay and salary changes and it needs to happen now.

What are your plans to boost economic development?

DB: Strong education is key to our economic future, locally and nationally. I believe that we need to improve our educational opportunities here. We need more emphasis on programs to meet our needs here in medical fields, including doctors, nursing, medical technicians and medical office management. Also, there are shortages of construction trade carpenters, plumbers, HVAC specialists and electricians. I would work to encourage Sussex Tech to expand their trade offerings, which have shrunk in recent years. I would also push for additional help for Delaware Technical and Community College, which needs infrastructure funds to continue its mission.

As county administrator, I worked with DelTech administrators and others to establish a new airframe mechanics training program. That program was needed to train local residents who were able to assume jobs for a local business, Pats Aircraft, which employed about 300 during the Great Recession in Georgetown. At the time, Pats Aircraft decided to stay in Georgetown partially due to this new program which provided them and other employers with skilled workers.

It is also important that we continue efforts to attract new business here. But, we must remember that small businesses are the backbone of our economy and are the prime generator of new jobs. We must ensure that we help them where feasible to succeed.

Expansion of broadband and better internet and wireless access is important. As we all know, every industry depends on the internet and wireless technology to succeed in todays business world. I support efforts to expand broadband here for business, education and personal use.

EL: I think it is important that our state continues to provide incentives and tax breaks for our small businesses, which are the backbone of our state economy. A clean and consistent revision of health insurance policies for both medium and small businesses will free up capital and enable these businesses to hire more people and grow right here at home. Our state needs to stop the failed Democratic policies of the past, which based economic incentives on throwing money at out-of-state companies luring them to come here as opposed to taking care of our local businesses right here at home.

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

DB: A thorough review of spending with a bottom up approach is needed. Staff who work daily with state programs are better able to determine what works and where we are not effectively spending money. This information enables management to make good decisions.

Also, I believe that we need a sustainable budget with a long-term financial plan. Currently the state does not have a sufficient usable rainy-day reserve fund. A usable rainy-day reserve fund will help avoid situations such as last year when the General Assembly voted for 20 percent cuts to grants for senior centers, fire companies, paramedics and many other small social service organizations. This type of sudden drastic cut means reduced services and less assistance for those who can least afford it.

Regarding revenues, we could consider if needed the use of a homestead property tax exemption. Such a provision would enable the state to recover only from out-of-state property owners additional property tax revenues to cover costs of public safety and human service costs as well as other costs provided by the State. Currently, out-of-state property owners do not pay Delaware income tax so they contribute little for state services. But, when someone calls 911 from their home, they receive state services such as police, ambulance, paramedic or social services.

EL: By changing the way we spend our money through the budget smoothing amendment, the state will have a clearer picture of how finances are shaping up over time. This will allow for smarter investments of tax payer dollars, much of which can be used for long-needed capital improvement projects such as roads and water infrastructure. Once in process, they will be the groundwork for private industry to commit to expand and in turn increase tax revenue for our state.

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

DB: I do support medical marijuana and decriminalization for possession of small amounts of marijuana. I prefer to monitor the impact of legal recreational marijuana in other states before making a decision. We need to evaluate the pros and cons with information regarding experiences in other states that have legalized it.

EL: No, I do not. We are in the midst of one of the most severe drug and opioid addiction crisis in our history. The last thing we need in Delaware is an addictive drug being deemed legal by the state. With that said, I have always and will continue to support the research of medical marijuana in order to improve the health of individuals with diagnosed illnesses.

What, if any, gun laws would you change?

DB: I am concerned about gun safety at public events and in our schools. There are many facets to this issue, especially regarding mental health, where there is much need. There are problems with drugs, poverty, bullying, etc. to be addressed. We must support safety measures in our schools. As far as some of the additional gun safety measures that have been proposed, I support the ban on assault style weapons. That bill is similar to the federal ban supported by Presidents Reagan, Carter, Ford and Clinton, which was in effect from 1994-2004.

I also support the bill to increase the age to 21 for the purchase of non-hunting-style weapons. Although I am not an attorney, I believe that these provisions are constitutional since we already have other provisions pertaining to gun safety such as banning bump stock purchases. I have six grandchildren, two of whom are in local public schools, and I am concerned for their safety as well as for many others at our numerous public events.

EL: I feel as though Delaware has made tremendous strides in enacting meaningful legislation to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who should not have them. I will continue to support efforts to that effect which do not infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.

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

DB: I would not vote to reinstate the death penalty for a number of reasons. First, there have been many recent cases where convicted individuals are later determined to be innocent. Also, there is a question of fairness when those who cannot afford their own defense counsel may not receive the highest quality of legal help. Another aspect to this issue is the fact that there are no takebacks with the death penalty.

EL: No, I would not. I do not believe it is the right of the state to take the life of a human being. I believe that all life is sacred and will continue to be a consistent advocate for the protection and value of human life.

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

DB: The health care structure for state employees requires constant review. I was formerly involved with this for Sussex County employee’s health plan. Each year a thorough review is needed to consider cost saving measures such as greater encouragement for preventative care. It is important to periodically bid out the plan and to encourage other companies to bid.

I am concerned about the state’s plan for health coverage for pensioners. Currently that plan is only funded at a 4 percent level, which is inadequate to meet future costs. A plan should be developed to begin funding the pensioner health plan for the future to meet the promises made to state employees.

EL: Yes, I do. We need to continue to work with our state employees to maximize health benefits in order to provide value. The Insurance Commissioner’s Office must look to expand the pool of providers in our state. The fact that Highmark is the only provider in our state is not a feather in Delaware’s cap. Competition brings a better product and I look forward to returning in January to Dover and strongly advising the insurance commissioner to work toward making improvements in this area.

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

DB: The drug crisis here is tragic, where an average of one per day dies in this small state. As senator, I would work hard to continue and strengthen the fight against this problem. I would recommend additional education efforts in our schools to explain the lethal risk of these drugs and promote prevention. I also would emphasize long-term rehabilitation to help those with an addiction problem to fight this disease. Long-term drug rehabilitation is severely limited in this state. Insurance coverage issues are also a problem. For medically assisted recovery, there are issues such as lack of prescribed drug availability that result in illegal drug relapses. The lack of sufficient public transportation is also a problem for those fighting addiction.

EL: Delaware needs to continue to partner with local nonprofits and our medical services community to end the stigma of addiction of all kinds. Our state is a community of neighbors and as difficult as this conversation is, we are dealing with the beauty of life regardless of its stage or place. Investments in local on the ground advocacy groups like atTAcK Addiction must continue and the investment in substantive rehabilitation must continue to be a priority. This challenge will not go away but be faced head on with clear eyed determination by all parts of state government along with health agencies, public and private.

Is there anything else you think is pertinent?

DB: There is a shortage of doctors and other medical professionals here. It often takes over a year to get an appointment with specialists such as a dermatologist or a general practitioner. We must be proactive in addressing these shortages, especially as our population grows and ages. I believe that we must consider new options such as a downstate residency program, a Delaware medical school, additional medical school slots for Delaware students or other financial incentives to encourage doctors to come here and stay in Sussex. This problem will only get worse as more move here and age.

As senator, I will also push for funding for a flood mitigation plan, which is sorely needed here. A state match for a $1.5 million federal grant is needed as soon as possible to enable us to develop such a plan which is needed to determine what our options are to reduce the chances of flooding here.

EL: Delaware’s unique quality of life must be protected and the allocation of funding for infrastructure and transportation resources should continue to be a priority with protected lines of funding dedicated to that endeavor. Growth and development must be managed consistently and fairly, and DelDOT and DNREC must lead the way in working with developers in making sure they are paying in their fair share to the benefit of all.

 

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