Carney and Bonini take friendly tone in calm debate


PHOTOS: Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran

NEWARK — Though they disagreed on marijuana legalization, capital punishment and state spending, John Carney and Colin Bonini never butted heads during an hourlong debate Wednesday.

Hosted by the University of Delaware and Delaware Public Media, the event featured U.S. Rep. Carney and state Sen. Bonini, the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor, respectively, followed by the major candidates for the open seat in the U.S. House.

In the second debate, Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester and Republican Hans Reigle also mostly avoided direct criticism of each other while making their cases to replace Rep. Carney.

The candidates representing the Libertarian and Green parties were not allowed to participate.

The tone of both events was in direct contrast to the national presidential debates, where Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have engaged in a war of words, mostly coming from the Republican.

Rep. Carney and Sen. Bonini appeared to largely stay within their talking points during a very cordial back-and-forth that included disagreement but no dislike — Sen. Bonini even admitted he has voted for Rep. Carney in the past.

The two did not deviate from previous positions they’ve taken, with the exception of Rep. Carney, when pressed, stating he would “probably” veto legislation reinstating the death penalty.

The Delaware Supreme Court in August ruled the state’s capital punishment statute is unconstitutional, but 15 Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Bonini, have said they intend to bring legislation to restore the death penalty next year.

Sen. Bonini and Rep. Carney reiterated their stances on marijuana legalization during the debate, with, contrary to the typical viewpoint, the Democrat opposing and the Republican supporting.

“We have decriminalized marijuana in Delaware, marijuana possession, to the point where it is de facto legal,” Sen. Bonini said, noting the fine for possession is less than the penalty for speeding. “My point is, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it all the way. Let’s regulate it, let’s try to keep it out of the hands of kids, let’s regulate it, let’s enforce it.”

Sixty-one percent of Delawareans support legalization, according to a recent poll from the university.

While acknowledging the survey, Rep. Carney expressed concerns about marijuana leading users to heroin and said he wants to see the effects in the four states that have already legalized the drug.

“I don’t make all my decisions based on what the poll says,” he said. “I think my approach is a smarter approach.”

While Sen. Bonini was steadfast in his belief Delaware needs right-to-work laws, Rep. Carney said he has never heard any companies deciding whether to relocate to Delaware or not clamoring for right-to-work policies, something his opponent questioned.

“We have created an environment that businesses do not feel welcome in Delaware,” Sen. Bonini said.

One of the most right-leaning members of the General Assembly, he’s advocated for lowering electricity rates and reducing regulations in addition to instituting laws effectively preventing workers from being made to join unions.

Rep. Carney, who cited his education and economic plans, stressed the need for shifting the state’s focus to adapt to a changing economy.

“The economy for the future is going to be more on small businesses, innovation and that is about creating a climate where businesses can be successful and thrive,” he said.

“Government doesn’t create jobs, they create a climate where businesses can be successful. They fund infrastructure so businesses can get their products to market, they provide us with a university, the talent businesses need. Increasing, it’s about talent and workforce in terms of where the jobs are going to be.”

Rep. Carney is heavily favored in Nov. 8’s election,, something Sen. Bonini has acknowledged.

Throughout the debate, even as he praised his opponent as a “great guy,” the Republican nominee urged voters to vote for a change.

Twenty-four years of Democratic governors has hurt the state, he argued.

“I think Delaware is facing extraordinary challenges, and my contention is simply doing more of the same, voting for more of the same, you’re going to get more of the same,” he said. “So I think the choice tonight is very, very clear.”

Rep. Carney said he would continue some initiatives begun by Gov. Jack Markell over the past eight years and change others, with his top priority being creating jobs.

“I understand better than ever how competitive we have to be economically,” he said. “We have to be at the top of our game.”

Congressional candidates

The congressional debate, like the one that preceded it, was friendly and included few attention-grabbing statements.

Mr. Reigle did say he supports arming teachers who were formerly members of a police force and received firearms training. In contrast, Ms. Blunt Rochester reiterated her commitment to gun control.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two came in regard to their comments on the presidential candidates. Referencing Mrs. Clinton’s scandals, Mr. Reigle said he plans to vote for Mr. Trump, while Ms. Blunt Rochester criticized the GOP nominee for “hate speech” and touted Mrs. Clinton’s experience.

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