Hall-Long and Gunn meet in undercard lieutenant governor race

 

DOVER — In many ways, the lieutenant governor race is about contrasts. There’s the obvious Democrat versus Republican story, as well as other clear dichotomies: a black man versus a white woman and a longtime state lawmaker versus a businessman with no elected experience.

Both Bethany Hall-Long and La Mar Gunn have talked about the need for creating jobs, fighting the spread of heroin and preparing students to enter the workforce, but their visions, predictably, differ.

State Sen. Hall-Long, the Democratic nominee, is making a bid for higher office after 14 years in the General Assembly, where she represents the Middletown area.

Mr. Gunn, who lives in Dover, lost by two votes in a 2014 run for Kent County recorder of deeds, his first attempt at public office. He is seeking to become the first Republican to hold the office in 24 years.

Only one African-American has ever been elected statewide in Delaware, and just one woman has ever been lieutenant governor.

As a member of the legislature, Sen. Hall-Long sees herself as the most prepared candidate for the office, which has sat vacant the past two years.

Noting former Lt. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner served in the House and Senate before being elected lieutenant governor in 1992, Sen. Hall-Long said she has developed close relationships with other lawmakers and could use those ties to accomplish an agenda.

“I am ready on day one in that position,” she said.

Bethany Hall-Long

Bethany Hall-Long

Mr. Gunn, in contrast, paints himself as the outsider the state needs, an example of someone who will be elected based on ability as opposed to popularity.

“I think people are ready for a change,” he said.

Statewide connections

Both candidates have ties throughout the state.

While her connection to New Castle County is apparent, Sen. Hall-Long is quick to point out she is from Sussex County and represented part of Kent while in the House.

Mr. Gunn, who grew up in Wilmington, serves as president of the Dover branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and in that role has worked with creating closer ties between the black community and police.

He describes his climb from an impoverished beginning as “inspiring.”

“I hope that I can send a signal to these young minority men, especially these young black and browns boys, that their future doesn’t have to be violent,” he said.

La Mar Gunn

La Mar Gunn

In an interview last week, Mr. Gunn gushed about the potential impact he thinks he can have, calling himself as Dover’s “honorary chief of police” for helping to better relations between minorities and the Dover Police Department.

“To whom much is given much is required,” he said.

He was less complimentary of Sen. Hall-Long, accusing her of abandoning her oath of office by running for another seat while in the Senate — something not prohibited and done by several others in this election alone — and, although he later backed off of the claim, hacking his website.

He does not have any evidence of who was behind the hack.

Sen. Hall-Long has avoided criticizing the Republican, focusing instead on her experience and goals.

She’s noted many times during the campaign the next governor will have “unprecedented challenges,” such as a budget deficit and a heroin epidemic, and said she wants to help solve them.

The chair of the Senate Health & Social Services Committee, she said she has “sponsored most of or all bills that combat addiction and expand treatment over past few years.”

To those who know her, that is not a surprise. She’s deeply interested in public health issues and works as a professor of nursing at the University of Delaware.

She intends to keep teaching if elected lieutenant governor, saying “it keeps it real for me and keeps me connected to the people I represent.”

Sen. Hall-Long’s economic platform includes fostering entrepreneurship and increasing career training pathways, initiatives championed by Democratic gubernatorial nominee John Carney. He served as lieutenant governor for six years while Sen. Hall-Long was in the state House, and she said she is looking forward to working with him again.

While those economic plans figure to be largely bipartisan, her support for paid family leave could prove more controversial.

In the realm of health care, she has proposed expanding substance-abuse and mental-health treatment services, sending community health workers to low-income areas and placing more focus on prevention of illnesses and conditions.

“The more we can invest upfront, every dollar in prevention saves $7 outside,” she said.

Mr. Gunn describes himself as a “jobs ambassador” focused on bringing companies to Delaware. He said he will go into low-income, often minority, communities and work with residents there help them stay away from drugs and find work.

Health care and
constitutional duties

The candidates have their eyes on state employee benefits, the cost of which is growing quickly.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jack Markell proposed locking future state workers into a Health Savings Account, shifting part of the cost for health care away from the state. The idea failed to gain traction with lawmakers, however.

The two major-party gubernatorial nominees have expressed concern over rising health care expenses, putting the issue in the forefront once more.

“How we handle the State Employee Benefits Committee will determine in large part the future of our state, because if we get it wrong next year we’re toast,” Mr. Gunn said, arguing his background in finance makes him the best fit to chair the committee.

Sen. Hall-Long wants to examine HSAs more, although she said felt “Delawareans and state employees did not seem ready to make that their only option” during discussions in the winter and spring.

The lieutenant governor has few constitutional duties, leaving it up to the officeholder and the governor to decide what he or she will be responsible for.

Sen. Hall-Long and Mr. Gunn are confident they can work with whomever is elected governor and find niches of their own. For Sen. Hall-Long, that’s health, while Mr. Gunn has his eyes on jobs and the minority community.

“I want to redefine this position,” he said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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