The two candidates who want to represent the 93rd District of Virginia’s House of Delegates squared off in a debate at the College of William and Mary on Wednesday, with the discussion revolving around job creation and education.
Incumbent Del. Mike Watson (R-93) and challenger Monty Mason (D) faced a packed lecture hall on the ground level of McGlothlin-Street Hall, with many William and Mary students and residents of the Historic Triangle filling out the rows of tables in the room.
The 93rd District encapsulates the city of Williamsburg and parts of James City County, York County and Newport News.
Watson is hoping to be re-elected on a platform that had him return to jobs and the economy on almost every question he faced Wednesday. Mason, the chairman of the Williamsburg Economic Development Authority, focused on education as well as social issues, voicing support for same-sex marriage benefits while blasting a proposed amendment to the Virginia constitution that would grant personhood status to unborn children.
The questions were taken from a website where both students and members of the public at large could submit what they want the delegates to tackle in the debate. Many of the questions had to do with education, looking at affordability of higher education, state funding levels and the Standards of Learning tests that act as a benchmark for Virginia’s primary schools.
Mason made his opening remarks first, playing up his work with Xerox, Visa and other companies, as well as his tenure on the EDA, where he said he has worked with small businesses to reduce burdensome regulations.
He said the House of Delegates has “swung wildly to the right” and that he has watched an “assault on women’s rights” as well as efforts to suppress voter turnout. He also mentioned early childhood development, saying “all children should have a foundational education.”
Watson talked about his experience in the private sector, discussing how he created jobs — he was president of a company he started, Control Automation Technologies Corporation, for 22 years — and how he wants to work to attract companies to the state. He said he received a 100 percent rating from the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Foundation for Research and Economic Education.
Mason said education is the single-greatest challenge faced by the state. He said the A to F grading system signed into law this year is a disservice to schools and that a greater emphasis needs to be placed on early childhood education statewide. He also said legislators need to find a way to help families afford higher education and that colleges and universities should work to gain a greater degree of autonomy from the state.
Watson said jobs is the state’s single-greatest challenge and that he has four areas of focus to help promote job creation and economic development: reducing taxes, making sure regulations aren’t hurting business, investing in infrastructure and working in education to make sure companies have the workforce they require.
“We have a long history of a good business climate, but teacher pay lacks,” Mason replied.
Watson said spending on education is not where it should be but that a series of budget shortfalls before his election coupled with a slower recovery has dampened efforts to restore funding. He referenced investing in workforce development several times, in particular looking at how community colleges and universities can work together.
When asked a question about a woman’s right to choose, Watson said he “never carried or patroned a social bill” and that “Roe v. Wade says you can’t stop abortion.”
Mason said “nobody should be telling women what to do with their bodies.” He said forcing clinics that provide abortions to conform to hospital standards and the personhood amendment are both problematic.
One of the panelists asked about transportation and how, if elected, each candidate would work to improve the infrastructure in the state. Mason said the transportation bill passed this year was “a good first step.” He said expanding Interstate 64 from Newport News to Williamsburg will be good for the area but that much work is left to be done. Watson touted the transportation bill and said he wants to focus on areas in critical need, such as I-64 from Newport News to Williamsburg.
On the subject of SOL testing, Mason said the test for third-graders should only test reading and math to ensure that the fundamentals are in place. He said the tests are here to stay due to federal regulations and that legislators need to work to make them more effective. Watson said a benchmark is necessary but that teachers are spending too much time teaching to the test.
Watson said he wants to see Medicaid reformed before it is expanded. He said Medicaid is important but the system isn’t prepared for an expansion, which could see up to 400,000 patients added to a system that lacks the healthcare staff to care for them. Mason countered that expansion of Medicaid is a must and that it could save money for the state in the long run.
In his closing remarks, Mason said he has worked with businesses of all levels and that “we have to stop the assault on women’s rights.” He said equality for all people is critical, saying that benefits should be extended to same-sex couples as is done in parts of the private sector.
Watson used his closing remarks to talk about jobs. He said every bill or amendment he creates or sponsors is about creating jobs. He went on to say the Historic Triangle area is his home and that he has kept his promise to voters throughout his first term. He was elected in 2011, when he topped Democrat Robin Abbott.
The debate was sponsored by the William and Mary chapter of Virginia21 and the William and Mary Student Assembly. Virginia 21 is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group that seeks to engage young people from colleges and universities throughout the state by informing them about issues related to higher education, economic development and good government. The group was founded in 2002 at William and Mary.
The two delegates will meet again at a Candidates Forum sponsored by the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance at 7:30 a.m. Oct. 18 at the Williamsburg Regional Library. To register for that event, call 229-6511 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The election will take place Nov. 5.
Correction: The story has been updated to reflect Watson’s belief that Medicaid should be reformed before it is expanded.