Statewide candidates make first appearance together at forum

WILMINGTON — With the primary election in the rearview mirror, voters received a chance to hear from all the candidates for Delaware’s five statewide offices up for grabs for the first time Monday.

Hopefuls seeking the offices of U.S. senator, U.S. representative, Delaware attorney general, state treasurer and state auditor took part in a two-hour forum sponsored by Siegel JCC and the Wilmington Chapter of Hadassah.

Each candidate made his or her pitch to the audience and answered a few questions from a moderator.

Some of the candidates had to win primaries to get there, while others were unopposed.

After winning the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate earlier this month, Rob Arlett sought to pivot and attract voters beyond just the GOP base.

Rob Arlett

“We know what’s going on in Washington, and it’s broken. They are very divisive, they’re not working for the American people,” he said. “It frustrates me every January, whoever’s the president, the opposition party sits on their hands during that presidential speech. Isn’t it time that we stand up for Americans?”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat seeking his fourth term, arrived just after the event ended, having been delayed by Senate votes on an opioid package.

Reading from a prepared statement, his campaign manager echoed comments made by the senator prior to the primary election, highlighting Sen. Carper’s priorities of fixing the Affordable Care Act, protecting the environment and upholding checks and balances around President Donald Trump.

The third-party candidates for the Senate received harsh responses from the audience in response to a question about a sexual assault allegation involving Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Green Party nominee Demitri Theodoropoulos said he needs to get more information about how serious the alleged act was before passing judgment.

Tom Carper

“It happened to the guy when he was 17 years old. Are we all going to be judged?” he asked, leading to boos from the crowd.

Libertarian nominee Nadine Frost had similar thoughts, saying the alleged victim seemed to be describing a scene from the movie “16 Candles.”

U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Democrat aiming for a second term in Congress, urged people to vote for candidates who will “bring Americans together” and pledged to continue working for Delawareans if reelected.

Both she and her opponent, Republican Scott Walker, expressed distaste with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Rep. Blunt Rochester said she voted against the tax cuts because most of them went to the “rich” and the bill did not reflect the needs and wants of Delawareans. Mr. Walker said he initially supported the bill but then decided it was a “political stunt.”

Mr. Walker, who earned 53 percent of the vote in the GOP primary two years after gaining just under 5 percent in a Democratic primary for the same seat, said he ran this time because God instructed him to do so.

“And God has his hand on my shoulder now, and he’s guiding me, and I’m going to take the seat back and give it to the people, and when I go to Washington I’m going to be unorthodox,” he told the crowd.

“My wife likes to say, ‘Well, Scott, you don’t do things the right way. You don’t do things the conventional way. You don’t do things the dignified way.’

“But I’m not going to Washington to do things the conventional way. I’m not going to Washington to do things the dignified way. I’m not going to Washington to do things the right way. I’m going to Washington to fight, to fight for you and you and all of you back there.”

The two state attorney general candidates sounded similar notes in calling for major changes in the criminal justice system and a decrease in the incarceration rate.

Democrat Kathy Jennings, who won a four-way primary with a majority of the vote, pointed to her years working for the Delaware Department of Justice as evidence of what makes her the best candidate. Republican Bernard Pepukayi cited his background as a convicted felon who turned his life around, became a lawyer and received a pardon.

“I am the living embodiment of change within the system that everyone acknowledges needs to exist,” he said. “There has never been another candidate like me before.”

Attorney General Matt Denn, a Democrat, is not running for a second term.

Treasurer Ken Simpler, one of two Republicans holding statewide office in Delaware and the only one seeking reelection, urged voters to pick him for another term because of his financial background and what he has done as treasurer so far.

Comparing the state’s financial systems to the operating system on a phone, Mr. Simpler said treasurer is an office that may be overlooked but performs a critical function. Just like an OS is necessary for a smart phone, things stop working if the state’s finances have issues, he told the audience.

Democrat Colleen Davis said she will fight to protect government services by ensuring money is available.

Asked about school funding and property tax reassessment, she said the state should look for options other than increasing taxes, while Mr. Simpler gave a more technical answer.

“We have a lot of retirees that have graced us with their presence,” Ms. Davis said. “The truth is they bring with them a lot of wisdom and a lot of experience and I believe that the value is actually in the individual, not necessarily their pocket. I think that there’s an opportunity to pull them into mentorships and boost our economy in that way versus putting a greater burden on those individuals that have a cap on their personal budget.”

Green nominee David Chandler, who gained about 3 percent of the vote in a 2014 bid for the seat, said the state should adopt a more progressive income tax to fund education.

In the auditor’s race, Kathy McGuiness and James Spadola are competing to succeed Republican Tom Wagner, who is retiring.

Mr. Spadola, the Republican nominee, criticized his Democratic counterpart for potential conflicts of interest. He said the fact she has received endorsements and donations from some state officials, including several lawmakers, “stinks to the public.”

For her part, Ms. McGuiness defended her connections, saying she has strong character and is willing to go against the grain.

“I’m proud that I raised a lot of money because I had support from Republicans, independents and a load of good Democrats because they believe in my vision, they know my results and they know I have a proven track record of making things work more efficiently and more effectively, which at the end of the day is watching out for your tax dollars,” said Ms. McGuiness, who won a primary against two other hopefuls.

The general election is Nov. 6.

 

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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