Republican primary challengers to Sen. Bernie Sanders meet in forum

In a primary election forum hosted on Thursday by Town Meeting TV, three Republican candidates running for U.S. Senate made the case for why they should be chosen to challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the general election.

The three candidates were Jasdeep Pannu, a criminal defense attorney of 13 years from Burlington,  Lawrence Zupan, a real estate broker from Manchester, and H. Brooke Paige, a Washington resident.

In his opening statement, Pannu criticized the political climate in Washington, D.C., and laid out a succinct version of his platform.

“We have a very common sense and educational-based platform — we want roads not rehabs, crayons not computers, pencil and paper back in school,” he said.

Pannu also took aim at the war on drugs: “The drug trade is the most vicious, violent, corrupt epic failure in criminal justice history. … There are over 30 million people involved in the modern day slave trade. It’s disgusting. We’ve lost children to the slave trade because we are chasing drug dealers — that is inexcusable prioritization.”

He said one of his priorities would be breaking up child trafficking rings, particularly by advocating for the replacement of the Drug Enforcement Agency with the Child Trafficking Enforcement Agency.

“I’ll start with one number here — we spend $80 billion a year to house nonviolent drug offenders,” he said. “And that is just the incarceration costs; that does not include money that goes towards the DEA, money that goes towards court costs, nor does it include money that goes towards local drug court costs.”

Pannu said America’s drug rehab programs are failing the taxpayers, and so he would aim to see that funding cut by 90 percent over several years and then redirect those savings towards infrastructure improvements such as roads.

“We know the drug rehabilitation industry is a complete failure because it is growing,” he said. “That is an industry like cholesterol, it should not be getting higher numbers.”

After appearing a few minutes late on the set, Zupan opened by explaining that his current work as a real estate broker includes regular interaction with overseas governments.

“I opened up the Soviet Union to art expeditions previously prohibited by world-famous artist Peter Max,” he said. “I’ve set up packing plants in foreign countries to source scarce goods for the American industry. I worked with three different presidents’ offices, both Democratic and Republican, to support their visions.”

On issues, Zupan was quick to attack Sanders’ “Medicare for all” proposal, which he said will cost taxpayers over $30 trillion.

“I’m for health care for all, but the only way it will ever become available is through competition and innovation, not through a government monopoly and not through crony capitalist monopolies,” he said.

Zupan said his solution would be to open up interstate competition for insurance companies in addition to no longer requiring the purchase of private insurance in the first place.

Regarding high college education costs, Zupan suggested that expensive physical facilities paid for by high tuition costs need to become a thing of the past.

“To me the biggest issue with education is the emphasis on pushing our high school graduates into brick-and-mortar schools and jacking up $50,000 to $150,000 in debt, which is the way they start their post-graduate careers,” he said. “Ironically, (this is occurring) at a time when all of the wisdom, all of the knowledge, and all of the learning accumulated through all of history is, almost miraculously, being made available online.”

Paige, a perennial Vermont politician who also is running for a U.S. House seat and three Vermont state seats, wasted no time before taking political aim at incumbent Bernie Sanders.

“He’s promising them everything for free and never bothering to explain to them who actually has to pay for it,” he said. “He used to rail against the millionaires and billionaires until people started pointing out that he was one of the millionaires, and so he’s kind of cut that from his rhetoric.”

Paige, who described his candidacy as “a placeholder” for the Republican party — implying that if he wins he expects the party to put someone else in his place to face Sanders — said one of his priorities is to foster bipartisan cooperation in Washington to help end gridlock.

“The economy for one, foreign trade for another, dealing with the immigration troubles that we are currently having, these are all important topics and they are all things that aren’t getting taken care of,” he said. “Everybody is finding their little corner to hide in and refusing to budge or make any moves towards the middle.”

A caller who phoned into the forum asked Pannu how he felt about schools moving away from pencil and paper while embracing computer tablets and laptops. He responded that the old-fashioned approach is better.

“When you are handwriting something, your mood, temperament and IQ are literally manifested by the handwriting, because there is a physiological connection when you write something,” he said.

Regarding the issue of pollution in Lake Champlain, Pannu said sewer and water infrastructure needed updating.

“We have sewer pipes that are antiquated, they are causing leaks, and this is obviously what is happening in Vermont, and it’s really sad about the antiquated septic tanks that are the core issue of this pollution,” he said.

On the same water quality issue, Zupan said new farming technologies such as “precision injection fertilizer” which would allow phosphates to stay on the farmland and out of the lakes.

“That means that the farmers can now focus the exact amount in the exact location at the exact time the fertilizer for the exact crop,” he said.

Paige offered a different take, claiming that farmers are being unfairly blamed for phosphorus in the Lake.

“Unfortunately, the news media and the advocates have all pointed to the farmer, as if the farmers’ biggest desire is to pour the valuable phosphates that are supposed to feed his crops into the river and allow his topsoil, his big investment, go the same way.”

The candidates wrapped up with calls for support in the primaries and beyond. The winner of the Aug. 14 Republican primary will go on to face Sanders in the general election in November.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Channel 17/Town Meeting TV

One thought on “Republican primary challengers to Sen. Bernie Sanders meet in forum

  1. Judge for Yourself !

    While I thought Lawrence and I came out about even, clearly Jasdeep was the loser of the evening. How arrogant, “you can call me Mr. Pannu” give it a rest – the fellow is so full of himself !

    BTW – Jasdeep was too busy to join Lawrence and me for dinner at Leunig’s Bistro after the debate, even though I was treating. We had a great evening sharing our thoughts on the campaign and learning a little more about each other. Lawrence’s son Zachary and Democrat Senate candidate Folasade Adeluola came along, the evening was a hoot – we ran into Peter Welch, Vince Illuzzi and Bruce Lisman while we were dining, it was a very interesting and informative evening !

    (Thank heaven Jasdeep declined my invitation !)

    More Vermont Congressional “action” next week in Rutland, hope to see some of you there !

    Best Wishes, Brooke.

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