I finally managed to scrounge up some video – it wasn’t easy, for whatever reason! – of the 10th CD Democratic debate on Sunday put on by the Dranesville District Democrats at Colvin Run Elementary School in Vienna, Virginia. See below for the video, as well as a few notes/highlights by yours truly. My overall view is that there are six strong candidates, all progressives, any one of whom would be infinitely better than the abysmal Barbara Comstock (R), currently misrepresenting Virginia’s 10th Congressional District! Also, nice job moderating by Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post, who asked several of my suggested questions, so I’m of course happy about that. 😉 As for the crowd, I’ve heard numbers ranging from 300 to 400, but regardless of the exact number, it was large, yet again showing the enthusiasm Democrats have right now, headed into what will hopefully be a “blue wave” this November!
In his opening statement, Dan Helmer emphasized being a combat veteran and said that the weapons he carried in Iraq and Afghanistan “shouldn’t be in our schools or on our streets.” Helmer said he’s been “fighting for us all my life” and pledged to “fight for our progressive values” in Congress if he’s elected. Alison Friedman said “both inside and outside of government, I’ve spent my career standing up to bullies and abuses of power; that’s why I’m running against Barbara Comstock.” Lindsey Davis Stover said Barbara Comstock “serves corporations over our communities,” said she’s the only candidate in the race with “extensive federal legislative experience” and can go “head-to-head with Barbara Comstock and win.” Paul Pelletier said he’s running to “end the era of broken government,” that he has “courage and experience” and “know[s] what good government looks like” as a long-time federal prosecutor who never let the bad guys win. Julia Biggins said she’s a scientist running to defeat Comstock but also to fight for science. She added that we’re not governed by scientists, but “by a professional political class…who are dismissive of data, afraid of transparency and more interested in saying the right things than doing the right things.” Jennifer Wexton said she’s going to “repeal and replace Barbara Comstock.” She emphasized that she’s been representing central/eastern Loudoun and western Fairfax in the State Senate, has been “getting things done for my constituents” and will do the same thing in Congress.
The next question was about the health care individual mandate. Helmer said the ACA “was a great start” but it’s time to “go beyond the ACA” with a “Medicare for All option.” Also need to be able to negotiate drug prices. Friedman said healthcare is a “fundamental right,” that the individual mandate is “absolutely critical,” that she’d support a Medicare buy-in option. Stover said health care is a right, not a privilege we have to keep fighting for; we have to keep the ACA and then move towards a situation where “every single American has access to affordable and quality healthcare.” Pelletier said “everyone is entitled to access to affordable health care,” that we need to drive down the cost by taking on health care fraud. Biggins said health care is a right not a privilege, that we need a single-payer healthcare system, namely Medicare for All. Wexton talked mostly about trying to get Medicaid expansion in Virginia.
On ensuring the long-time viability of Social Security, Friedman said the budget is a statement of priorities, and the GOP budget “sets up the gap that we are now scrambling to fill”; need to set our priorities properly so we can fully fund Social Security and Medicare. Stover said we have to ensure that we protect Social Security, that the GOP budget puts large corporations ahead of families, and that we have to prioritize Social Security and Medicare. Helmer said Republicans passed a tax bill that adds $1.5 trillion in debt and puts Social Security at risk, that he will fight to fully fund Social Security and take care of ours seniors. Biggins said we are judged as a country by how we care for our aging population, that we need to ensure that Social Security is there for the elderly and for future generations, and that we should lift the income cap for the Social Security tax. Wexton said the GOP tax plan is creating a squeeze on discretionary spending, that we need to oppose privatizing Social Security and should raise the cap for wealthier people on paying into Social Security. Pelletier said Social Security and Medicare are not “entitlements,” that the GOP tax bill massive increases the debt and that’s putting pressure on Social Security, so he would repeal the GOP tax cuts to corporations.
On the Iranian nuclear deal, Stover said “our greatest national security threat is Donald Trump,” that we should not undermine the Iran deal – “we have to stay true to our commitments.” Helmer said he’s lost friends due to Iranian activity, that Iran should never get a nuclear weapon, and that we should continue to maintain and enforce the Iran nuclear deal. Friedman said Iran is “a human rights violator and national security threat,” that we can’t let Iran get nuclear weapons, which is why we “have to stay engaged” via strengthening our diplomacy and holding Russia accountable.
On sanctions against Russia, Wexton said Russia definitely meddled in our elections, that the leaders of Russia need to be sanctioned, plus we need steps to prevent the meddling from happening again. Pelletier said Trump isn’t fully imposing sanctions on Russia, that he should, and that we need to build the State Department back up and lead in the world via diplomacy. Biggins said our sanctions need to be fine-tuned, aimed at the people responsible for meddling in our elections.
On the GOP tax bill, Helmer said it’s not patriotic, it’s “cynical,” it “undermines the future of our country” and we need a “new tax law entirely from scratch” while not letting Republicans putting us in a political box, “play by their game” or fall into the Republicans’ trap. Friedman said this tax bill was a “horrible product,” because of “what it didn’t do for workers and families,” that we need investments in infrastructure and education. We need to focus on building inclusive growth going forward. Stover said she absolutely would not have voted for the GOP tax bill, that she will champion middle-class/working families over large corporations. Pelletier said it’s a “really bad tax bill” and that if Democrats are in charge, we could get “real tax reform.” Biggins said we need to have a tax code that is honest and truthful to everybody, that taxes wealthy individuals appropriately. Wexton said the vast majority of the benefits in the Republican tax plan go the tiny minority of the wealthiest Americans, that we need a tax code that works for the middle class.
Regarding online political advertising, Friedman said there are a number of problems in our elections, including the need for campaign finance reform, that we need initiatives to make campaign ads more honest. Stover said that Russia undermined our democracy in 2016 and could do it again; also that we need transparency about the money in our politics, that she won’t take corporate PAC, Dominion or NRA money. Helmer said we need transparency in campaign finance ads, that he won’t take a dime of corporate PAC money, also accused “a candidate [on this stage] who…has accepted over the course of her career tens of thousands of dollars of corporate PAC money, including from the makers of Marlboro cigarettes, from Dominion and from big coal.” Biggins said we need things like making sure online ads are fully disclosed and take measures to protect ourselves from Russian meddling. Wexton said online privacy is something we all need, that consumers should be given the option of opting out of selling their data. Pelletier said we need to strengthen online privacy, fight back against Russian meddling in our elections.
On various methods of combating climate change, Stover said we need to take a look at all options, including getting back into the Paris climate accord, fully fund the EPA, fight the rollback of environmental regulations and invest in renewables. Helmer said climate change is “not just a moral imperative,” but also “critical to our national security.” Friedman said we need to fight climate change with good governance, global leadership [e.g., rejoining the Paris climate accords] and great investments.”
On the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Wexton said the Obama administration worked hard to get as good a trade deal as possible and that we need to look at getting back in to the TPP. Pelletier said China “is eating our lunch” because Trump is allowing them to do that; “it is imperative that we get back into TPP.” Biggins said we need to get back into the TPP instead of risking a “dangerous” trade war with China.
On combating gun violence without changing gun laws (huh?), Helmer said we need to change the seats of those who won’t put necessary gun laws in place or stand up to the gun lobby. Friedman said we need campaign finance reform so that politicians are not beholden to the NRA; she looks forward to earning an F from the NRA. Stover said we have to have universal background checks, that the weapons our soldiers used in Baghdad should not be on our streets. Pelletier said the assault weapons ban definitely cut mass shootings and we need it back; we also need a “red flag statute” which takes away guns from someone who poses a danger to himself or others. Biggins said we need to allow the CDC – and fund them – to do gun violence research. Wexton said “guns are a necessary part of gun violence,” that she has “never accepted a dime from the gun lobby” but HAS proudly accepted a failing grade from the gun lobby; she also defended her vote for Gov. McAuliffe’s gun compromise. She added that she does NOT support national concealed carry, that you have to compromise when you govern. Helmer doubled down, said the deal was a bad one, more than 60 gun safety groups said so, and that national concealed carry is the NRA’s #1 priority. Stover said concealed carry reciprocity “added guns to the streets here in Virginia…it opened the door to a national concealed carry reciprocity…that Barbara Comstock supported…it’s reckless and it showed bad judgement.”
On whether Nancy Pelosi should be Speaker again, Friedman said the only reason we even are getting this question is because Republicans are trying to divide us and that this is not a conversation we should be having right now. Stover praised Nancy Pelosi for getting nursing rooms in the capitol, that we need a leadership we can look up to. Helmer said Pelosi has done amazing things for our party and our country, including getting the ACA; he added that we need “a new generation of leadership” in this country.
On fracking and/or new fossil fuel infrastructure, Biggins said “no” to all of the above, that we need to move forward with renewable energy investment and deployment. Wexton said “why we would double down on fossil fuels is beyond me…fossil fuels should be a thing of the past,” that we need to focus on the renewable energy of the future. Pelletier said global warming is the greatest threat out there today, that we need to expand renewables.
On DACA, Stover said “we have to support our DREAMers,” we have to “reverse Trump’s decision on DACA,” put in place a clear path to citizenship, block the “symbol of hate” – Trump’s “wall.” Helmer said if you came here as a child, you should be able to stay in this country; that we need a robust and fair immigration system. Friedman cited Comstock’s appalling comment about tracking immigrants like FedEx packages; she added that she supports a path to citizenship for every DACA recipient and all law-abiding immigrants, that we need to fight the assault on communities of color by Trump.
On moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Wexton said it wasn’t based on our best interests but on rewarding “a couple of his friends and donors,” that it will only “inflame tensions in the region” and create “further instability.” Pelletier said Trump “refuses to do his homework,” that we need a two-state diplomatic solution and that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is not helpful. Biggins said it was “absolutely the wrong decision” to move our embassy unilaterally.
On answering a question the candidates weren’t asked, Helmer said we need more veterans in Congress and to focus on diplomacy. Friedman used the time to talk more about her background in non profits, protecting voting rights and an independent judiciary, and fighting human trafficking around the world. Stover talked about the importance of public education, which is now under assault by the Trump administration – “we have to ensure that education is at the top of our national agenda.” Pelletier said accountability is what democracy is all about, and that we shouldn’t have to beg and plead Congress to protect our democracy. Biggins talked about the need to combat the opioid crisis, including getting the pharmaceutical companies out of our doctors’ offices and devoting funds to mental health. Wexton talked about needing more rights for women – paid family/medical leave, ratification of the ERA, etc.
In the closing remarks, Helmer said there are “real differences” between the candidates, including on Medicare for All, impeaching Donald Trump (not a “wait-and-see approach”), rejecting all corporate PAC money (he attacked a candidate who “has taken tens of thousands of dollars over the course of her career from corporations”), voting for a bill to liberalize gun laws in this country (he again went after Wexton for voting for the McAuliffe gun deal). He said we need a candidate against Comstock who has a record of military service and, more broadly, a different profile than the candidates who ran against Comstock previously.
Friedman said we have a “tyrant in the White House,” that we need “new leadership” in Congress and that she’s the “best chance” to defeat Comstock due to her background standing up to abuses of power and her ability (“and I hate this part”) to raise the most money needed to communicate with voters about Comstock’s bad record.
Stover said “anyone in this entire room would be better than the Congresswoman we currently have,” that she never thought she’d run for office but “we know how important this election is” because “there is no path for Democrats to take back the House in 2018 without coming through the streets of VA-10.” She emphasized her “lived experience” and her “extensive legislative experience” that will let her “hit the ground running on day 1.”
Pelletier said we need a nominee who can show they can fix “this broken Congress,” “get things done for Northern Virginia,” and of course win in November. He talked about his record getting things done and his ability to work across party lines. He promised “I will tell you the truth, I will fight for what’s right, and I will never back down from making a difference in your lives.”
Biggins said we need a more diverse Congress, that you consider nominating the first woman scientist to ever serve in the House.”
Wexton said she has shown “what it takes to run and win challenging races in the district and then to govern once I get there.” She said she has “deep roots” in Loudoun County and surrounding areas and has worked “like hell” in Richmond for her constituents. She said she’s been endorsed by Gov. Ralph Northam, Congressmen Gerry Connolly and Donald McEachin, by “all of the delegates and the Senator who are here today.”