U.S. House candidates repeat themes in debate

DOVER — There were few eyebrow-raising statements Wednesday at a forum for candidates running for statewide office with three Delawareans aspiring for the state’s open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives echoing themes they’ve said before and even re-telling some of the same anecdotes.

Sponsored by Delaware State University, the League of Women Voters of Delaware and the Dover branch of the American Association of University Women, the event featured the two major contenders and one minor-party candidate for the U.S. House, as well as the two men running for state insurance commissioner.

Predictably, Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester and Republican Hans Reigle disagreed on most topics, while Libertarian Scott Gesty shared views that more closely align with Mr. Reigle’s.

Candidates for U.S. Representative, from left, Libertarian Scott Gesty, Republican Han Reigle and Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester during the League of Women Voters of Delaware Candidates Night. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Candidates for U.S. Representative, from left, Libertarian Scott Gesty, Republican Han Reigle and Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester during the League of Women Voters of Delaware Candidates Night. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

vote-logo-2016Green Party candidate Mark Perri was not present.

The biggest stir from the audience came near the end of the night when candidates were questioned on gun control.

Candidates for Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro, right, and  Republican Jeffery Cragg debate during the League of Women Voters of Delaware Candidates Night.( Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Candidates for Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro, right, and Republican Jeffery Cragg debate during the League of Women Voters of Delaware Candidates Night.( Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Ms. Blunt Rochester spoke in favor of limiting access to “assault weapons,” while Mr. Gesty’s stated support for firearm access drew incredulous reactions from several members of the audience.

Wilmington has seen a large amount of gun violence in recent years, leading to a nickname as “Murdertown USA.” Some of that violence has trickled down to Dover.

Earlier in the night, Mr. Reigle had proposed allowing former police officers and military members who are now educators to carry guns on school grounds. Mr. Gesty went further, suggesting all teachers be armed.

Ms. Blunt Rochester took a diametrically opposed stance.

“I feel gun violence is one of the biggest challenges we’re facing right now and the last thing we need is guns in a classroom,” she said.

Green Party candidate for governor Andrew Groff reacts after finding out he would not be able to debate because Republican candidate Colin Bonini was ill and Democrat John Carney Jr. left before the debate began at the League of Women Voters of Delaware Candidates Night at Delaware State University on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Green Party candidate for governor Andrew Groff reacts after finding out he would not be able to debate because Republican candidate Colin Bonini was ill and Democrat John Carney Jr. left before the debate began at the League of Women Voters of Delaware Candidates Night at Delaware State University on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

She also differs from Mr. Reigle and Mr. Gesty on making Delaware a sanctuary state, where illegal immigrants living in the state could not be detained based on their immigration status. Ms. Blunt Rochester has said several times she believes the country should be welcoming and sanctuary state status could improve cooperation between law enforcement and the community.

Her opponents took exception.

“There’s federal laws, so the cities that pass sanctuary city rules — or sanctuary state if Delaware, God forbid we become one — are actually in violation of federal law,” Mr. Reigle said. “So, when I go to Congress to represent you, I’m trying my best to follow federal law.”

In response to a query about raising taxes on the wealthy, Ms. Blunt Rochester said she supports people paying “their fair share.”

Mr. Reigle proposed cutting corporate tax rates in an effort to bring some jobs currently located in other countries back to the United States.

A question on marijuana legalization also created interest among spectators. Mr. Reigle and Ms. Blunt Rochester both said they would consider legalization, while Mr. Gesty flat-out called for ending “prohibition” by allowing recreational and medicinal use of cannabis.

At several points during the night, Mr. Gesty criticized the federal government, which he painted as unwieldy and cumbersome.

“If the federal government wants to get involved at all, they can return some of our tax dollars they steal from us,” he said to a question about a hypothetical federal infrastructure bill.

At another point, he said the education funding provided by Washington, D.C., is not worth “the hoops they make us jump through” and later termed the federal tax code “fundamentally flawed.”

Ms. Blunt Rochester, the Democrat, blamed part of the world’s ills on “rhetoric” coming from many people, including Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whom she has previously criticized for “capitalizing on fear” and supporting “hateful, racist and discriminatory” policies.

Trinidad Navarro and Jeff Cragg, the candidates for insurance commissioner, also shared the stage, although most of the questions were directed to the congressional nominees.

Making his case for office, Mr. Navarro described his opponent as no different from incumbent Karen Weldin Stewart, who lost in the Democratic primary last month.

“So if you want someone who’s been in the industry for 25 years, who’s an insurance insider, who can sell you insurance, then I think my opponent is the right person,” the Democratic nominee said. “If you want a person who will stand up to the industry and tell them enough is enough, to tell them that it’s unsustainable, this is affecting people, not numbers, then I think I’m your person.”

Mr. Cragg replied: “I don’t look like Karen Weldin Stewart, I don’t act like Karen Weldin Stewart, I’m not Karen Weldin Stewart.”

Candidates running for governor and lieutenant governor were also invited, but only one candidate for each office attended the event.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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