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10th Congressional District Democratic candidates break down into insiders vs. outsiders

05/25/2018

In contrast to the afternoon rainstorm that was pouring down on Fairfax County outside, the prevailing atmosphere at the Virginia 10th Congressional District Democratic candidate forum held on May 22 at Chantilly High School was one of calm geniality.

Moderated by Washington Post senior regional correspondent Robert McCartney, the forum began shortly after 6:00 p.m. with Sully District Democratic Committee chair Maggie Godbold telling the audience that all five candidates in attendance had agreed they would come together after the June 12 primary to support the party’s nominee.

State Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-33rd) was absent since the Virginia Senate convened Tuesday for budget discussions as part of the General Assembly’s ongoing special session.

Since they largely expressed agreement on issues ranging from gun violence and criminal justice reform to Metro funding and support for federal workers, the Democratic candidates frequently turned to their varied backgrounds to distinguish themselves from their competitors and from incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.).

For instance, Julia Biggins, an infectious disease scientist, explained that she had decided to run for Congress “to fight for science,” asking the audience during her closing statement to “cast their ballot for the first woman scientist to ever serve in the House.”

While all five candidates agreed that healthcare should be a right rather than a privilege, Biggins was the only person at the Sully and Hunter Mill District Democratic Committees-hosted forum to explicitly express support for single-payer health care, where all U.S. residents would have essential medical costs covered by a national, publicly funded system.

“My campaign is focused on not only helping you and I, but looking to the next future generations, and that’s why I’m in support of a single-payer healthcare program,” Biggins said, arguing that it would be the only way to “provide true universal coverage.”

Other candidates suggested alternatives when asked how they would address issues in the current U.S. healthcare system.

U.S. Army veteran Daniel Helmer and former State Department official Alison Friedman both say they would support allowing people to opt into Medicare when using the exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act.

Creating an option for individuals to join the publicly administered health insurance program would help extend coverage to more people without completely disrupting the current healthcare system, Helmer says.

“We need to use the power of government to get better prices without taking away options,” Helmer said.

A Fairfax resident who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Helmer positioned himself as a “credible messenger” when it comes to tackling gun safety after McCartney asked the candidates what gun violence-related laws they would prioritize.

Paul Pelletier, a former Department of Justice federal prosecutor, called for an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, and red flag statutes that enable law enforcement to remove firearms from individuals considered an extreme risk to themselves or other people.

Currently, five states in the U.S. have red flag laws, but more states have considered enacting that kind of legislation since a gunman who had previously drawn the attention of police and the FBI shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, according to The New York Times.

Friedman, who focused on combating human trafficking while in the State Department under the Obama administration, criticized a compromise gun legislation package signed by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2016 that said Virginia would recognize concealed-handgun permits from other states in exchange for banning firearm possession for people under a permanent protective order.

McLean small business owner Lindsey Davis Stover, another former Obama administration official, has been endorsed by the activist nonprofit Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety.

Three of Stover’s cousins were at Santa Fe High School on May 18 when a student entered the Texas school and fatally shot 10 people. They survived the shooting unharmed, but Stover announced a brief suspension of campaign activities on Twitter that day.

During the forum on Tuesday, Stover advocated for legislation that would prevent people with a record of domestic violence from acquiring firearms.

“The idea that ending gun violence is too complicated an issue for Washington to do something about is outrageous,” Stover said.

Some of the candidates, including Biggins and Helmer, positioned themselves as political establishment outsiders who differ drastically in experience and background from Comstock, who also served in Virginia’s House of Delegates before being first elected to Congress in 2014.

By contrast, Stover, Pelletier, and Friedman cited their past experience in the federal government as evidence that they have the knowledge and composure necessary to work in a demanding environment like Congress without succumbing to petty partisanship.

“We have to have pragmatic, problem-solving moderates to win this race that have the character, the culture, and the experience to show the American people and the people of Virginia 10 that we can do it,” Pelletier said.

The former Justice Department prosecutor pointed the recent special election victories of Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) and Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), both also former federal prosecutors, as examples.

“I have spent my entire life standing up to abuses of power, whether that would be people who would infringe on voting rights, a patient’s right to privacy, or human traffickers,” Friedman said. “…But I’ve also worked across the aisle, and I’ve worked across the aisle to get concrete reforms through that would make a difference for people often left out or not listened to in the system.”

Virginia will hold primary elections for both Democrats and Republicans on June 12.

Comstock is being opposed in the Republican primary for Virginia’s 10th Congressional District House seat by Air Force veteran Shak Hill.

The Republican primary ballot also includes a three-way race between Prince William County Board of Supervisors at-large chairman Corey Stewart, Del. Nicholas Freitas (R-30th), and conservative minister Earl Walker Jackson Sr. for incumbent Tim Kaine’s (D-Va.) Senate seat.

Voter registration for the primaries closed on May 21, but the Fairfax County Government Center Office of Elections has been open for in-person absentee voting since Apr. 27 with June 12 as the deadline for returning absentee ballots.

Read the original article here. 

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