Seven candidates looking to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. met Tuesday evening to debate issues ranging from the Supreme Court and student loan debt to the pandemic response and party differences.
In the debate hosted by VTDigger in Essex, four Democrats took the stage first. Three Republican candidates followed.
On the Democrat side were Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, Dr. Louis Meyers, and former aide to U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Sianay Chase Clifford.
The Republican candidates included former U.S. Marine Liam Madden, an Independent running on the Republican ticket, as well as accountant and YouTube show host Ericka Redic, and former congressional candidate Anya Tynio.
Asked about how each would work to support LGBTQ communities, Balint expressed her frustration that more isn’t getting done.
“We need to pass a more robust equality act so that the students of this country feel like their country is standing with them, is looking out for them, and has their back — and that’s not what we see right now,” she said.
Balint continued that the U.S. Supreme Court might even revisit current voting laws.
“I think that the next set of rights may be voting rights,” she said. “We don’t know where this court will stop.”
Gray, while answering a question about her own voting records, said she believes in making sure that elections “are fully accessible.”
“We know that here in Vermont ballots are out [for the primary],” she said. “We don’t have vote-by-mail; you know that I’ve been a strong champion for vote-by-mail. We do have same-day registration so that Vermonters can go to the polls and register and vote on the same day. … I’m going to do everything I can for voting rights.”
On the issue of canceling student loans, Meyers commented that the root of the problem is continued high tuition costs.
“I think, basically, if we don’t control the cost of college, we’re going to be right back in this situation,” Meyers said. “We could wipe out every bit of college debt tomorrow — $75,000 to $100,000 a year in tuition — and the next cohort of students is going to be in the same situation.”
The candidates were asked about the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, sending the issue of abortion back to states and their elected representatives to decide. Chase Clifford suggested that impeachment of judges might be in order.
“I think impeachment, which is one of our checks and balances for the Supreme Court, should absolutely be pursued where there is due cause,” Clifford said. “Certainly we saw on the record what folks had to say about what they said at the time was settled law. And we’ve seen their decision to be the opposite, so I believe that impeachment should be pursued when necessary.”
When the Republican candidates took to the debate stage, Redic said discontent with the government is so high that she believes even conservatives can reach across the political spectrum and appeal to left-leaning voters.
“I actually have some people who call themselves socialists and Bernie bros who support my candidacy,” she said. “Because regardless of what letter you have behind your name, all of us can see that our government officials, our elected officials, have gone too far.”
Redic took a jab at the Democrat candidates for alleged contradictions.
“We heard from the stage that they care about bodily autonomy, and yet they call to force-vaccinate. We hear that they care about housing and yet they raise taxes. People are really starting to see that the Progressive and Democrat is not for them and does not have solutions or answers to make things more affordable,” she said.
Tynio, when asked a question regarding COVID-19, took the opportunity to emphasize the national security implications of pandemic widely reported as having originated in China.
“Unfortunately the world witnessed how we shut down our country,” Tynio said. “We need to view this as a national security threat and be working very hard through the government function to make sure that we are mitigating threats from other countries who wish to do the same thing.
“We should also be looking at punishing China, who through negligence or deliberate act [allowed] this to spread worldwide and kill over a million people. We need to be strong on this, we need to send the message that this will never be tolerated again.”
Madden was asked why he’s running as a Republican when he considers himself an independent and is critical of the two-party system.
“I am very upfront; I am an independent running in the Republican primary,” he said. “And I’m doing that for the obvious reason that you get much better attention in the primary election if you participate in the primary process.”
Madden added that in Vermont he feels aligned with the Republican Party on issues.
“I think there is some alignment on that issue and some other issues as well,” the former Marine said.
Madden was asked why his platform includes reducing military spending. Madden said that the U.S. outspends all of the rest of the world.
“If we can’t feel safe by just having the most expensive military in the world, then we will never feel safe,” he said. “I think the biggest defender of this republic is the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and we do have a very fine fighting force — I intend to continue to fund that.”
Watch the full debate on YouTube here.