Thanks to David Pratt for the video of Saturday’s VA-10 Democratic forum in Winchester (big crowd on a snowy day, by the way). Candidates participating were: Sen. Jennifer Wexton, Deep Sran, Paul Pelletier, Dan Helmer, Alison Friedman, Lindsey Davis Stover and Dr. Julia Biggins. See below the video for a few notes I took as I watched. Overall, I’ve just got to say, this is almost an embarrassment of riches, in that any one of these candidates would represent a MASSIVE upgrade on Barbara Comstock. Let’s go out and win this thing!
Strong opening statements by the candidates; any one of these people would be infinitely better in Congress than the individual currently MISrepresenting Virginia’s 10th CD — Barbara Comstock
On funding infrastructure, Biggins talked about increasing light rail and the need for massive investment. Pelletier said this is the “perfect example of Barbara Comstock not doing her job” and ripped the GOP tax bill. Wexton talked about “outrageous” tolls on the Dulles Greenway — “that is what you get when you privatize infrastructure” — and said she finds it “frightening” that Trump would suggest selling off our airports. Sran said we need to think about public schools and “human capital” and asserted, “we know government works.” Helmer said our politics are dominated by special interests (he specifically mentioned Dominion) and said we need to have campaign finance reform.
On gun control, Sran said the fact that we have to even ask the question, that gun control still hasn’t happened, highlights the problem — “our gun control issue is a uniquely American problem” — and said that the vast majority of American support things like universal background checks. Stover said it’s “flat-out ridiculous” that nothing’s been done on this issue — “Barbara Comstock is in the top 10 elected officials who receive the most money from the NRA…we need to ban assault weapons…[have] universal background checks.” Friedman said the NRA has a stranglehold on policy, so we need to first deal with campaign finance reform and defeat representatives like Comstock who are in the NRA’s pocket. Wexton said we’re not going to change Republicans minds on this issue, “we need to change their seats” and that “we need to stay angry, we need to stay outraged….children are being murdered just for going to school in the morning.” Pelletier said he grew up hunting, that the NRA today is not the NRA of his youth, and that we need universal background checks. Biggins said we need to look at this problem from a scientific point of view, repeal the Dickey Amendment and allow the CDC to study gun violence.
On public education and affordability of higher education, Alison Friedman said we need to get our priorities right and focus on education. Sran said this is what he cares about more than anything else, that this is the engine of economic opportunity and social justice. Stover said she’s the product of good public schools and we have to work to strengthen them; the Trump-Comstock budget wants to cut…[programs like] work/study by 50%…without the work/study program, I wouldn’t be sitting on this stage right now. Wexton said this administration is working to “systematically dismantle public education in America” so we have to fight back against these attacks and FOR public education. Biggins said we need to prioritize funding for our students, including reduced and free community colleges and public universities. Helmer talked about the importance of public education in his life and proposed that you can get two years of higher education for every year of national service you perform.
On using the military to stabilize troubled regions in the world and on the military budget, Helmer talked about not funding other elements of our national security; “what we need in the world today is American leadership…[Congress needs to be taking the lead to] prioritize peace and American leadership” around the world. Friedman talked about how critical the military is and also how critical diplomacy is, and that unfortunately right now we are dealing with a president who “governs by tweets and tantrums” and without a Congress willing to hold him accountable. Pelletier talked about taking care of our troops when they come home, that Barbara Comstock has failed them. Stover said we should never make the decision to go to war without also funding the programs to take care of veterans when they come home.
On the balance of states/local rights and the federal government, Pelletier said there are issues where people look to the federal government to solve; the problem is when Congress has not come together to solve problems. Sran said that as a history teacher, he knows that all of the progress we cherish (e.g., desegregation) came about due to federal action; we need to push back on the GOP attack against the federal government and the power of government to do good. Friedman said the federal government has the responsibility to protect our security and to provide opportunity. Helmer said this question is fundamentally about our values — opportunity ought to be distributed broadly; need a new generation of proven leaders from outside politics to get change that works for everyone.
On minority Americans feeling without a voice or representation, Stover said we feel threatened and attacked right now and we need to stand up or our values – for equality and justice, against the Muslim ban, etc. Wexton touted the amazing, diverse new class we just elected to the House of Delegates – we need to do the same thing for Congress and stop Trump et al from moving us back 50 years. Sran said he’s worried about Muslims, South Asians, etc. being attacked, that this is the direct responsibility of the Trump administration, and that we change it by making Congress more representative. Friedman talked about voter suppression, said the Trump administration has stoked injustice and bigotry, including the “unconstitutional Muslim ban” and sexual assault against women. Biggins talked about protecting the the LGBTQ community against discrimination and also HIV/AIDS. Helmer talked about classmates of him being kicked out of the military because they were gay, said that Trump is empowering white supremacists and that’s one of the many reasons we need to impeach him. Pelletier said Comstock is doing nothing on the Muslim ban, DACA, Charlottesville, Trump’s “dog whistle tweets” that empower the white supremacists of America, etc.
On policies to counter Trump’s tax plan and massive deficits, Wexton said we need to roll back the “outrageous” GOP tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans but NOT to cut important programs. Sran said the GOP tax bill exposes the fundamental hypocrisy of Republicans – supposedly caring about the deficit/debt, working people, etc., and that this is part of a GOP attack on Social Security, public services, etc. Pelletier said this bill would also increase insurance rates. Helmer said it’s time to prioritize protecting health care in this country, supporting Medicare as a public option, getting rid of all the carbon subsidies in our budget and moving to a new generation of energy. Friedman said this tax bill illustrates the hypocrisy of every Republican – it was a horrible product for what it didn’t do for workers and families. Stover said Comstock voted for this tax bill not once but twice, a bill that raises taxes for 34 million American families, raises our debt, etc. – and Comstock needs to be held accountable for her votes. Biggins said we can balance the budget, that this tax bill was “absolutely horrible” although it does do some good for the middle class.
On whether all the candidates will support the nominee, Wexton said “absolutely”; Sran said he’d follow the “Tom Perriello model”; Pelletier said yes; Helmer said he’ll do whatever it takes; Friedman said yes; Stover said we have to beat Barbara Comstock; Biggins said “whatever it takes!”
On gun control, Biggins said universal background checks; Stover said ban assault weapons and weapons to violent criminals the mentally ill; Friedman said she’s a mom who demands commonsense gun reform; Helmer said we absolutely need to keep weapons of war off our streets; Pelletier talked about our weak gun trafficking laws and the need to strengthen them/enforce them; Sran said reducing the likelihood of school shootings should be a top priority; Wexton said Comstock voted to make it EASIER for people with mental illness to buy firearms — supports universal background checks.
On the most important legislation for VA-10’s economy, Helmer said we will need fundamental campaign finance reform and that he will bring business experience; Friedman said we need meaningful tax reform to incentive education/worker retraining/etc.; Stover said education is an economic engine and we need to invest in it as well as in transportation; Biggins said we need to bring more renewable energy jobs to the area; Wexton said we need an open and welcoming environment plus focusing on workforce development and infrastructure (e.g., fully funding Metro and providing high-speed broadband); Sran said we need to make it clear that Democrats are good for small business and work to bring small businesspeople back into the Democratic fold; Pelletier said infrastructure is key, we have roads that are crumbling and we need to fix that.
On a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United, all the candidates said “yes” or “absolutely.” Same thing with contributions from the NRA. Same thing with a national minimum wage (although Sran said we have to listen to small businesspeople).
On going after Comstock, Pelletier hit her for not showing up for town halls because she doesn’t want to stand up for her record; Sran we need to steal back her voters; Wexton said Comstock voted 97% of the time with Trump and that we need to look at her record and how she votes against people; Biggins said we need to listen to voters; Stover said we need to talk to every community; Friedman said Comstock talks like us and votes like Trump, but she is a very effective campaigner who will beat us with lies if she can’t beat us with the truth; Helmer said Comstock had a terrible record before Trump, but we also need to paint a stark contrast with Comstock and show a different vision of service to America.