WILLIMANTIC – The candidates running for the 2nd Congressional District sounded off on college affordability, defense spending and gun control at their debate Thursday at Eastern Connecticut State University.
Republican Daria Novak and Libertarian Dan Reale joined Green Party candidate Jonathan Pelto and incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, on the stage of the Fine Arts Center at Eastern. The debate was sponsored by The Bulletin and moderated by Bulletin Opinion Page Editor Brendan Cox.
All had differing views on how they’d address hot-button issues such as gun control.
Courtney said he supports “common sense measures that are long overdue,” such as a background check bill that would close loopholes, and the “no fly, no buy” law that would prohibit people on the no-fly watch list from buying a gun.
“Those are common-sense measures with bipartisan support,” he said.
Novak said such measures as “safe zones” and “no fly, no buy” don’t work, and Reale has said it’s an issue best left to the states.
“This no fly, no buy nonsense, come on,” he said, “There’s no due process there. You don’t know if you’re on the list or not.”
Novak said solving “the core reasons of the violence, not taking away guns,” is what’s needed.
While they acknowledged climate change, the candidates had different views on its severity and how Congress should address it.
Pelto more aggressive action is needed on climate change.
“It’s the most significant and long-term threat to our world,” he said. “We need to engage every possible tool to reverse the effects,” including reversing subsidies for oil and natural gas and subsidizing alternatives like wind and solar.
Novak supports development of alternate forms of energy, but within the free enterprise system.
“I don’t think the government should be picking the winners and losers,” she said.
Courtney said increased fuel efficiency standards have worked.
“Automakers have embraced it and it’s been a success,” he said.
With the 2nd District home to submarine manufacturing giant Electric Boat, defense spending was a big issue for all candidates.
Courtney said the country needs to pivot more toward air and naval forces, and said EB has more work now with five submarines under construction than since the mid-1980s. Those contracts equate to about 12,000 jobs in the area, he said.
Pelto lauded that achievement but said defense industry needs to be converted to produce “products that add to our society rather than just weapons.”
Novak said the country needs to increase military spending for a “second Cold War period.”
“Our enemies have grown in strength, their militaries are modernizing,” she said.
Novak also said she wants across-the-board tax cuts “for everybody,” but didn’t fully explain how that would help fund increased defense spending.
“We’ll see a growth in the economy,” with the cuts that will cause people to spend more, she said. “It’s snowball in a positive manner.”
Education topics started off the debate at the college.
ECSU students submitted some of their own questions as part of the debate, including those focusing on college affordability and allowing undocumented immigrants to attend institutions of higher education.
Novak said the taxpayer shouldn’t be “on the hook for these student loans.”
She advocated a competitive, free-enterprise system to drive down costs.
Pelto called student debt one of the biggest barriers to middle-class prosperity.
“We have to do something, and there are a couple of things that can be done,” he said, including re-negotiating the terms of the debt.
“I can refinance my house or car, but I can’t re-finance my daughter’s debt. That’s absurd,” he said.
Courtney bemoaned the failure to update higher education laws.
“My refinancing bill is basically about refinancing debt,” he said. “We’ve got to get to the root of college affordability.”
Reale said “refinancing fraud” was at the root of college affordability issues.
“The first thing we have to do as a Congress is attack fraud,” he said. “Then we can start chipping away at the educational problem.”