At the first congressional candidate debate of the 2020 election cycle, one candidate pushed their moderate point of view and the other focused on their ideas for change.
The debate of Democrats at Bucks County Community College’s Gene and Marlene Epstein Campus at Lower Bucks on Veterans Highway (Route 413) in Bristol Township was void of fireworks and both candidates presented their viewpoints in a measured way.
Dr. Christina Finello, of Ivyland, opened the event by citing that she grew up in the lower end of the county and then moved to the central portion. She modeled herself as the moderate choice that can bring together voters by focusing on the issues.
“If we’re not talking about the issues that are important to the people in this district, then we’re certainly not doing anything for the people of this district,” she said.
Skylar Hurwitz, of New Hope, started off by mentioning that income inequality has grown, CEO pay has jumped to almost unbelievable levels, and taxes increase on families while large corporations get tax breaks and their workers need public assistance.
“That’s what my campaign is about – real structural changes in our system,” he said.
He said he supports Medicare for all, tackling climate change, and education.
The first question by moderator Bill Pezza, a professor at the community college, was whether either candidate sought the endorsement of Debra Wachspress and some of the cash from her campaign coffers. Wachspress dropped out last week after lawsuits surrounding the Pennsbury School District, where she is a school board member, came to light.
Finello noted that Wachspress threw her support behind her campaign in the statement announcing she was leaving the race. Finello further noted that Wachspress understood her background. She stated she did not seek the former candidate’s financial support at this time.
Hurwitz said he did not seek Wachspress’ support or money.
“Given what when on in that camp, I’d rather let them sort out that situation,” he said.
Pezza next asked the candidates their stance on health care.
Hurwitz noted the high cost of health care and spending in the nation. He said too many families are going bankrupt due to the health care system and advocated for Medicare for all and a single-payer system. He said the current system is broken and a 4 percent payroll tax would help fund his proposed system, adding his system would actually create a monthly health care savings for many families and get rid of surprise medical costs.
“I believe this is going to be a process. Bottom line, we need to get to a place very quickly where we have quality affordable health care,” Finello said.
Finello cited her experience working in the county housing and human service’s department and as a clinical psychologist. She said she supports moving to create a public option. She said the Affordable Care Act’s protections are important and need to be kept.
Pezza followed up by asking about whether a person who liked their insurance through their employer could keep it.
Hurwitz said Medicare for all would allow people to go to their own doctor while spending nothing out of pocket.
“I don’t think the answer is to take something that they like away from someone,” Finello said, adding improving and enforcing some of the Affordable Care Act rules would be helpful.
The next question asked by Pezza probed the candidates on environmental issues.
Finello said more needs to be done and the President Donald Trump’s administration is “actually going backwards.” She said there needs to be “true investment” in alternative energy and transitioning the workforce for the future. She added that she supported the Paris Accord and President Barack Obama’s clean power rules. In addition, she said clean water should be the top priority in the First Congressional District, alluding to contamination by military facilities in Central Bucks County and Montgomery County.
“We need to address this in a way that is not going to hurt our economy and is going to actually result in us leading,” Hurwitz said. “We have eight years to make some major changes. Now at the end of that eight years, does that mean the world will end? Of course not. It just means that this is our time for action.”
Hurwitz said he proposed a spending plan to transition workers to a new, clean energy economy through investing in job training. He said the plan would cost less than the price tag of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, he said addressing energy and clean water could be part of a broader infrastructure plan.
Pezza followed up by asking the candidates how they would convince voters when the president said the Green New Deal wants to stop people flying in jets and taking cows away.
Finello said convincing people will depend on what is proposed by lawmakers.
Hurwitz said the best approach is join a Green New Deal with a larger program that would create jobs.
The next question was pointed toward getting the candidates to state who they supported for president in 2020 and what makes them most electable in the First Congressional District.
Finello said the campaign for president “is just getting started” and declined to name one person she supports. She said the there are bold solutions offered and suspected a more moderate Democrat would appeal most in the district. She said her views, values, and experience best fit the area and give her the ability to represent the majority of residents.
Hurwitz said he would support both senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, adding he is concerned about billionaire Mike Bloomberg pushing his way into the race. Locally, he said he hopes his substance on positions help him to deal best with voters in the district.
Pezza asked the candidates their assessment on the economy.
Hurwitz raised concern over the way the GDP is measured and trends that show people working more without making much progress. He pointed to CEO pay that was more than 800 times the average workers and listed ideas on how the economy could better be measured.
Finello pointed to the middle class shrinking as a way to show the economy had issues. She said she’s seen her family and other struggle with finances over the years. She pointed to a stagnant minimum wage as a problem.
“I don’t see everyone doing great. I see people struggling. And that’s what we need to talk about more,” she said.
Pezza asked how the candidates can appeal to the middle when people in their party are running as Democratic Socialists.
“I’m not a big fan of terms,” Finello said.
She said it’s just a word and doesn’t get to the basics of what people look for in a congressional candidate.
Hurwitz said Democrats can come together and that he’s not afraid to work with local Democratic socialists. He said winning the election was about forming a collation.
In the last election, a friend of Pezza’s who is a bartender said all their blue-collar customers were Trump supporters. Pezza asked the candidates how Democrats lost that support.
“You want a candidate who knows what they’re going through,” Finello said. “And that’s me.”
Finello said she is running to bring a voice to people who aren’t being well represented by Democrats. She called the blue-collar workers the base of the party. Noting her endorsements, she stated she received support from Lower Bucks County and that is a base of support.
“We have to be able to unify and bring everyone under one umbrella,” she said.
Hurwitz said his father-in-law is a Trump supporter who owns a construction company. He noted that his father-in-law teetered on supporting Sanders or Trump because they promised to bring massive structural changes. As a candidate, Hurwitz said focusing policy on what blue-collar workers would find important would gain their support.
“Each of these issues are what working families care about,” he said.
The following question tackled student debt. Pezza asked the candidates how they planned to deal with growing student debt.
Hurwitz said student debt needs to be handled because it causes a negative impact on the economy. He proposed a wealth tax on people with $32 million or more to cover student debt, make college free, and cover the cost of child care. A Wall Street speculation tax would also contribute to the plan.
Finello said a program to deal with interest rates on student loans and protect everyone from predatory companies. She said the predatory companies need to be eliminated immediately and debt forgiveness programs need to be expanded.
Another question was about the separation of powers.
Finello said the separation of powers was important and the president should not be doing “diplomacy on Twitter.” She called out incumbent Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick for not reigning in the executive branch.
Hurwitz said he agreed with Finello and chided the violation of the War Powers Act in Yemen.
“I don’t know if we have another four years of Trump. To be completely honest with you, I don’t know whether we’ll be able to wrestle control back,” he said, citing Democrats need to hold the U.S. House of Representatives and win the U.S. Senate in 2020.
Pezza asked the candidates about the Middle East peace plan outlined recently by Trump.
Hurwitz said the plan was flawed and the nation needed to “slow down” and have “well-rounded discussions” on he region.
Finello called the Trump administration’s actions on the Middle East “cavalier” and without a focus on what may happen.
“This approach needs to stop.We need much better solutions and diplomacy,” she said.
Pezza asked if the candidates agreed with Trump’s assertion that the nation is stronger on foreign policy under his leadership.
Finello and Hurwitz both disagreed.
Finello said the country needs to work more with allies. While she said she believes the Trump administration wants the best, but the way they approach policy is flawed.
Hurwitz was overseas in Asia for work during the 2016 election. He recalled his driver telling him “your people are not welcome here anymore” after Trump won. He said the people were upset that the U.S. went from Obama to Trump overnight.
“It’s a matter of really fulfilling that vision about what the United States has proclaimed itself to be for so long. What we have been doing the past two years has been so contrary to that,” he said.
The community college hold debates between congressional candidates every election cycle. After each event, the public can greet candidates and free hot dogs are offered.