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Candidates for the 93rd House of Delegates District squared off in a raucous debate Wednesday night at the League of Women Voters of the Williamsburg Area’s Forum.
The two candidates often rebutted one another’s opinions over education, government transparency issues, Virginia’s projected budget shortfall, and gun control.
The forum, moderated by local attorney Stuart Spirn, gave the Williamsburg audience an opportunity to hear the candidates’ visions for Virginia’s future and the future of the Historic Triangle in the coming years.
Candidates Heather Cordasco (R) and Mike Mullin (D) offered differing positions to the first question posed about how they would fund various infrastructure projects in the Commonwealth.
“The very first thing that has to happen is there has to be identification of what the issues are and a prioritization,” Cordasco said.
While Mullin said, “I think we’re already in a good position in terms of prioritization of those. The Commonwealth Transportation Board, which has been set up to be able to prioritize the best places to put our transportation dollars has already led with the expansion of [Interstate] 64. Unfortunately, that’s only going here to Williamsburg, and it’s not going all the way to Richmond. That, is very shortsighted.”
Gun control issues roused the audience into jeers and cheers for both candidates — to the moderator’s disapproval. The passion for the issue extended to the candidates as well.
“I understand the necessity of personal protection with a firearm,” Mullin said. “A few years ago I ended up having somebody who I prosecuted show up at my front door not long after I convicted them. I understand that. I think there’s some opportunities for some things for example closing the so-called gun-show loophole, but I think that there are a lot of things that have been put forth recently in front of the General Assembly that I’m not sure would pass constitutional muster even if you were an advocate for it.”
Cordasco also stressed the personal safety issue, but doubted the use for specific reform.
“Certainly we want to make sure that people are safe,” Cordasco said. “We want to make sure they have the opportunity to bear arms, and so I’m not sure that I think there’s specific reform that can happen.”
When the candidates were asked how they feel about assault weapons, Cordasco responded, “It’s really a cosmetic change to a gun. It’s basically a term.” Mullin rebutted, “I have seen too many people come through my courtroom shot by an AR-15 to think that it’s a cosmetic difference.”
Candidates were asked how they would fix the projected budget shortfall of $1.5 billion in the governor’s two-year $10.5 billion budget. Cordasco said, “One of the answers is that we must have a comprehensive review of how we collect our revenue. We have to figure out how we can make it clear, how we can make it simple, how we can close loopholes.”
While Mullin said, “I think we need to pull as the governor recommended about 300 million dollars from the rainy day fund. I think that the projections that are already coming back for revenue coming back for the remainder of the year are already improving, and so that total budget gap is already decreasing. I think that also medicaid expansion is a key aspect of that.” Cordasco rebutted that expanding medicaid could take money out of other important government services such as public safety, education, or transportation.
Candidates offered differing stances on redistricting efforts by the two major parties. Mullin suggested that there were very few competitive seats in the House of Delegates and said he supported non-partisan redistricting.
“That is a deep and abiding flaw in our system,” he said. “Where at this point, politicians are picking their voters. Voters are not picking their politicians.”
Cordasco offered an opposing view.
“It is not easy to redistrict,” she said. “It is not easy to always find a place where people can vote for instance, we have one in the 93rd that is a very difficult situation for people who have disabilities to get in and out of, but it’s the only option that we have.”
“Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it,” Mullin rebutted. “This is a systemic threat to our democracy.”
Both candidates were relentlessly questioned about education issues. Questions ranging on early childhood education initiatives to college affordability were posed, but the candidates differed the most on their thoughts on the “school to prison” pipeline, a metaphor used to describe the increased interaction between juveniles and the criminal justice system.
“The school to prison pipeline is just the fastest way to be able to move them out of the school system, where they’re being educated and move them into the criminal justice system, where I see them at 13, 14, 15 years old,” Mullin said. “I would say as well that I’ve never had one of my defendants enter into the department of juvenile justice who had an after-school activity. Whether that’s choir, whether that’s the boys and girls club, whether that’s basketball none of those students had an active adult who was interested in their lives and who was making that investment. So, we need to be focusing on our after-school activities.”
“The problem is not in fourth grade, the problem is in third grade,” Cordasco responded. “Because we have a mandatory retention in third grade, and what we often do is we retain somebody in third grade, and then proceed to do the exact same thing we did the previous year, and not necessarily address why they didn’t learn to read.”