The political debates for U.S. House and U.S. Senate at the University of Delaware Tuesday night started with citizens' protests and ended with accusations of corruption and health problems against incumbent Sen. Tom Carper.
The "Delaware Debates 2012" at Mitchell Hall were organized by Delaware First Media, WDDE 91.1 FM, and the University of Delaware Center for Political Education, and were moderated by Nancy Karibjanian from Delaware First Media and Jason Mycoff, a University of Delaware political science professor.
Just as the Democratic and Republican U.S. House candidates were introduced, several people in the audience began shouting, protesting the exclusion of third party candidates at the debate. As they continued shouting, police officers and security staff forcibly removed several protesters, and then the debate began with one minute for opening statements.
One-term incumbent Rep. John Carney, a Democrat, emphasized how he will work in a bipartisan manner to solve problems in Congress.
"I will continue to do in Washington what I did in Delaware: work across the aisle to get things done," he said. "I learned early on that compromise is part of life."
His Republican opponent, New Castle County Council President Tom Kovach, said Delawareans need a Representative with his private sector experience, who has proven he can work with the other party and with independents.
The majority of the one-hour debate featured questions from the moderators, and discussion of those issues between the candidates.
The first question was about how to bring down the unemployment rate.
Carney said, "Jobs and getting the economy going are the number one priority."
Tackling the fiscal cliff — the combination of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to happen Jan. 1 — is a major concern, he said.
"Small business owners tell me they need certainty before they'll start hiring and expanding," Carney said.
Working together on a common-sense approach to the looming fiscal cliff will remove that uncertainty, he said, adding that another job creator would be for Congress to pass an infrastructure bill to put people to work on transportation and utility construction projects.
Kovach said Congress and President Obama have tried stimulus packages in an attempt to jumpstart the economy, "but they haven't addressed the fundamental problems."
Kovach said government regulations such as the national health insurance law are causing businesses to reduce employees' hours and lay off employees.
"Government needs to get out of the way," Kovach said.
As for tax reform, Kovach said he wouldn't rule out raising tax revenue by making the the tax code "flatter and more predictable."
"This $16 trillion debt has got to be reined in," he said. "We can increase revenue without harming our fragile business economy."
Page 2 of 4 - Carney advocated the measures outlined by the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan committee that includes spending cuts and tax reforms, and said that he was one of only 38 members of the House — 20 Democrats and 18 Republicans — to vote for the Simpson-Boles plan.
As for budget cuts he'd make, Carney said closing military bases overseas, putting an end to "nation building" in Afghanistan, and eliminating subsidies for oil and gas companies.
Kovach said cost containment for healthcare, a better energy policy, and spending less overseas would help bring down budget deficits. He advocated tort reform — limiting lawsuits —as a crucial component of bringing down healthcare costs, because now the fear of lawsuits leads to "defensive medical procedures" such as lots of tests that aren't necessary except to help prevent possible lawsuits.
Kovach opposes the national health insurance law, the Affordable Care Act.
"I don't believe we need to require insurance for everyone," he said. "If you think healthcare is expensive now, wait until it's free and there's no personal responsibility."
Carney said the Affordable Care Act "is not perfect," and some adjustments are being made, but it's the "only chance we have to get costs under control."
In education, Carney said a strong teacher in a classroom backed up with discipline is what's needed most.
Kovach advocated less federal government requirements and more local control of schools: "The top-down approach doesn't work."
The final part of the debate featured questions from students, recorded on video, from the University of Delaware and Delaware State University.
Questions ranged from which Senator from the other party could the candidates work with, to capital gains taxes, to healthcare for the uninsured and campaign finance reform.
FIREWORKS BY PIRES AT SENATE DEBATE
The second debate of the evening featured U.S. Senate candidates, incumbent Democratic Senator Tom Carper, Republican Kevin Wade, and Independent candidate Alex Pires.
In the opening statements, Pires wasted no time in attacking Carper.
"I'm tired of the corruption in Delaware, and Tom Carper is the most corrupt politician I know," said Pires, a lawyer and businessman. "I could easily turn the Senate around as an Independent. The reign of Carper will end, and his corruption will end."
Pires later described Carper as the "waterboy for the Democratic Party and (Senate Minority Leader) Harry Reid."
"He only cares about them," Pires said. "Have you ever heard of 'The Carper Act' or 'The Carper Bill'? He's a follower, not a leader. He's a waterboy. The banks — he's their number one man."
Moderator Nancy Karibjanian asked Pires why he continues to question Carper's health status during the campaign when those claims are unsubstantiated.
Page 3 of 4 - "They're not unsubstantiated," Pires said. "I've been with him at debates and seen it. At the Jewish Community Center debate there were times he was speaking and he just stopped. He couldn't focus. It's not fair to the citizens. This is a six-year term. He should release his medical records."
Carper called Pires' claim "baloney," and said he has posted a letter from his doctor on his website, attesting to his good health and listing the medications he takes.
"Let's focus on our nation's fiscal health," said Carper.
Pires didn't stop, though, saying Carper's situation is similar to that of former U.S. Senator Bill Roth who experienced fainting spells during a couple of campaign appearances when he was being challenged by Carper 12 years ago.
After the health allegations, the candidates fielded a question from a University of Delaware student, asking if they favored marriage equality.
Carper said the states set the rules for marriage and that several different courts have ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.
"They've said we cannot treat people unfairly and I would vote against the Defense of Marriage Act," said Carper.
Pires responded, "That's what I'm talking about. That was complete gobbledygook. Did anyone understand any of that? I support gay marriage. Do you understand that? I support gay marriage."
Republican candidate Kevin Wade said gay marriage is a "fringe issue that's not what people are talking about the most" with all the other problems such as unemployment and the ever-increasing budget deficit.
"For the record, though, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that's the foundation of every community," Wade said.
At the start of the debate, Wade said, "I'm not here for the Republican Party. Washington is broken and it's reached into our homes," and he criticized politicians for being more concerned about getting re-elected than in solving the nation's problems.
He said he would bring "small business common sense" to Washington.
"I started my business at our kitchen table 30 years ago, (a speciality engineering company) and I had to balance our budget every month for 30 years," he said.
He also recommended tax reform for "the rest of us" who can't afford tax attorneys and lobbyists.
Wade said that Carper hasn't done "the hard work that should have been done years ago," that has now led to the problems that threaten the financial stability of our country for the next generation.
One of the keys to solving the financial problems will be finding ways to be energy independent, he said, utilizing the resources we have right here in America.
Page 4 of 4 - Carper endorsed the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan committee to reduce spending and reform taxes: "It's the best blueprint I've seen."
His top priorities for creating jobs include investing in transportation infrastructure, technology, and education. He said he was proud when he was governor that Delaware helped fund Head Start that was only partially funded by the federal government, as a way to make sure every child started kindergarten with a solid educational foundation.
Pires closed with more criticism of the incumbent.
"I didn't need this. I wanted to get someone to run against Carper. He's everything I hate about government," said Pires. "I believe at one time he was a good legislator, but he's become what most politicians become after they've been in office too long. The country needs new faces, independent voices. I'd like to serve for six years, and then I hope I've inspired some of you to run after that."
Carper replied, "I don't know how you say this stuff with a straight face."
Then he outlined his priorities if re-elected: creating jobs, deficit reduction as recommended by the Simpson-Bowles committee, and continuing to be a "spendthrift" by examining how to get the most for the money out of every program and eliminating fraud and waste.
After the debates, outside Mitchell Hall, more protesters held signs that read "3rd Party Voices Matter Too," "The Real Debate = No Party Excluded," and "Occupy Delaware," while chanting "This is what Democracy looks like. We are what Democracy looks like."
MORE DEBATES WEDNESDAY NIGHT
Wednesday night, "Delaware Debates 2012" continue at the University of Delaware, with the candidates for Delaware governor and lieutenant governor.