See below for video and some highlight the “Virtual VA 5th CD Candidate Forum.” The Democratic candidates vying to take on Rep. Denver Riggleman (R) or his Republican challenger, Bob Good, are: RD Huffstetler, Cameron Webb, John Lesinski and Claire Russo. The moderator of this forum is Del. Elizabeth Guzman. Also, see here for yesterday’s post about the four Democratic candidates. The primary is on June 23.
- Opening statements – Huffstetler says he’s a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, first in his family to graduate from college, is from the working class and for the working class, has a problem with inequality in our country. Lesinski argues “we’re living on the precipice of a failed state,” that Riggleman has “stood by [Trump] in lockstep,” that he’s been elected previously in rural Virginia and that Dems can win VA05 this cycle, “but only with the right candidate.” Russo says she’s running because the politics of the last few years have been “too personal for me,” and she’s “unwilling to stand on the sidelines” as the constitution she swore to uphold (in the U.S. Marines) and defend is “trampled,” as Republicans work to strip women of their right to choose and to healthcare, etc. Webb says he grew up in central Virginia, “service defines me,” “equity and justice…are things that I’ve lived in the last 20 years,” works as an internal medicine doctor, says we’re “in a crisis right now” and he can “get the job done.”
- Question #1 is on gun violence as a public health crisis. Lesinski – Absolutely considers it to be a public health crisis, voted against the 2nd amendment “sanctuary resolution,” praises Virginia General Assembly, says most gun owners agree with commonsense legislation like one-gun-a-month, red-flag laws and background checks. Russo – Gun violence is absolutely an epidemic in this country, carried assault weapons as a Marine, “we have to pass universal background checks.” Webb – Gun violence absolutely a public health crisis; he’s seen it as a health professional; this all comes down to commonsense gun reform (background checks, red-flag laws, etc.). Mentions the name of Ahmaud Arbery…”as an African-American mean, we feel that very personally…We lost him because of this crisis.” Huffstetler – Comes from family of hunters, wants to try to “bridge the gap,” supports universal background checks, assault weapons ban, extreme risk protection orders, repeal Dickey Amendment to study gun violence…
- Question #2 is on our “broken healthcare system,” as exposed by the COVID-19 crisis – Medicare for All? Medicare X? Expand ACA? Other? Russo – Believes healthcare is a human right, every American deserves healthcare, the status quo is no longer acceptable, we have got to act…supports Tim Kaine’s Medicare X, as it expands access, lowers prices, enables direct negotiations with drug companies. Also, women’s healthcare cannot be an afterthought, it is essential. Webb – Healthcare is “the centerpiece of my campaign,” is a practicing internal medicine doctor, healthcare policy is his area of core expertise, including working for President Obama on the WH healthcare team…is focused on univeral health coverage…passionate about a public health insurance option, decoupling employment and health insurance, fixing private insurance to put people over profits. Huffstetler – Grew up in a union household and had good healthcare; supports Tim Kaine’s Medicare X plan, supports caps on costs, early Medicare buy-in, prescription drug negotiations, funding rural healthcare, making sure we’ve got great doctors serving in rural communities, women shouldn’t be treated differently in healthcare. Lesinski – Wife was an occupational therapist, he sits on a hospital board; commends Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for bringing the concept of Medicare for All forward…would also embrace/improve the ACA, introduce a “fast-track public option to universal care,” concerned that Medicare X might not happen quickly enough.
- Question #3 is on the top legislative priority regarding economic inequities exposed or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Webb – “This is my area of expertise,” “equity is a core part of my role,” “we have huge inequities in…education…income inequality…housing,” have to root out inequality on all fronts, have to make sure economic recovery from COVID-19 is equitable…everyone should have opportunity for health and success.” Huffstetler – Focused on tackling issues that make people’s lives better directly, people don’t have the same job for 30 years now, people have to upgrade their skills constantly…advocates partnering with community colleges…need access to affordable healthcare, broadband internet…everyone needs a fair shot. Lesinski – Lack of broadband access has contributed to inequality in many ways, including education, healthcare, jobs and the economy, attracting industry into VA05…also has created haves and have-nots…rural kids, communities of color, peole who can’t afford high-speed internet are disadvantaged. Russo – This pandemic has highlighted the inequalities in this country. The people who were already struggling have been hit the hardest. It’s going to take bold leadership to guide our country out of this crisis in a fair and just manner. Need to focus on Main St. not Wall St., getting money into the hands of workers and small businesses…addressing inequities such as lack of internet access, healthcare access.
- Question #4 is on federal elections laws to ensure that all citizens can exercise their right to vote. Huffstetler – HR1 has a comprehensive set of steps to reform elections, campaign finance. Should be a motor voter law, no-excuse absentee voting for an extended period everywhere…need to be encouraging people to participate in our democracy, NOT making it harder to vote. Lesinski – It’s no secret what the GOP has been advocating for, it’s not even a dog whistle anymore, Trump has explicitly said that the more people vote the less Republicans win…the strategy here is clearly voter suppression who Republicans feel won’t support them…This is something Democrats need to stand up for…applauds General Assembly for making election day a state holiday. We don’t want to see travesties like we saw in Wisconsin. Russo – “Voting is foundational to our democracy.” Every single American has a right to participate in our government. We have to build out vote-by-mail infrastructure in this country, so Americans can vote regardless of the circumstances. There have been significant, deliberate obstacles to vote. Criminal justice reform – we’ve got to restore voting rights to those who have been stripped of those rights. Webb – “Dittos” all of his colleagues…criminal justice is a key part of the equation, making voting as simple as possible is key…Leslie Cockburn lost by just 20,000 district…the district leans Republican only because of voter suppression. (Del. Guzman says voting is a sacred right, we have to make it as simple/easy as possible)
- Question on top legislative priority in Congress, and what committees would you want to serve on? Lesinski – Issue he’s the most passionate about is climate change. This pandemic is a canary in the coal mine for fighting climate change – if we don’t get on top of this, we’re going to lose a lot more lives. Need to get off fossil fuels, focus on wind/solar/batteries/electric vehicles…that creates 21st century technology jobs that we can get here in the 5th district. Fighting climate change can help create good jobs and get people back to work. Interested in serving on the Foreign Relations Committee, Intelligence Committee. Russo – We have to do something about healthcare, specifically address women’s reprodutive rights; we can’t have a healthy economy without healthy Americans…HR1, campaign finance reform, voting rights, election security…we have got to secure our elections. Interested in Veterans Affairs Committee, Financial Services Committee, Defense Appropriations. Webb – Economic mobility, education, workforce development; climate change; COVID-19 has showed us that 2020 is going to be the healthcare election as the central priority…we need to build a better healthcare system right now; mental health, women’s reproductive health, long-term care, expanding access to telemedicine. Would like to serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Huffstetler – Intelligence Committee, HELP Committee. Doing this to make people’s live better in VA05. We need to invest in basic things like education and healthcare.
- Closing statements. Russo – Would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the catastrophic response of the Trump administration to this crisis. This will take bold, experienced leaders willing to take on tough fights to lead us out of this crisis. “Being someone whose bone spurs did NOT disqualify me from a war….my job was to train my Marines and provide them with every single piece of protective equipment they needed before we got to a fight”…take lessons from past wars and use them in the current war. We have a president who has cut funding to the CDC. Need leaders who will speak truth to power, invest wisely and smartly to lead us out of this crisis in an equitable manner. Webb – Wanted to be a doctor since he was 5 years old, is passionate about service…healthcare determines so little of your health, it’s more social determinants of health (education, food access, housing instability, transportation, income inequality). “I’m passionate about taking care of people and serving people.” Also have to have a plan to win elections. Thinks he can win because this will be a high-turnout, presidential election year…can beat Riggleman or Good on healthcare…it’s about energizing voters to turn out. Huffstetler – This is a tough district, Trump will carry the district on election day in November…we have an ideologically diverse district, have to send forward a person who can go into every community…and he thinks he’s the person who can do that…”I have lived the American dream in this country,” wants that for everyone. Lesinski – This pandemic allows us to do a very hard reset to address many problems facing our nation…on healthcare…invest in infrastructure such as solving rural broadband crisis once and for all…create green jobs and transition to a 21st century economy, fight climate change, focus on renewable energy sources…cuts across many areas (national security, economy, environment, etc.). Will take leadership, “and I’ve done that” in elective office and in business.