U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-10th) and Republican challenger Aliscia Andrews took starkly different views on affordable housing, healthcare, collective bargaining and the government’s COVID-19 response during an Oct. 15 Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce debate.
Wexton, a former state senator and prosecutor who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 after defeating incumbent Republican Barbara Comstock, opened by listing some of her legislative accomplishments and saying she favored gun-safety laws and affordable healthcare.
Andrews, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and now works in the cyber-security field, came out of the gate swinging, saying Democrats were trying to undermine constitutional government by packing the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Senate with more members.
“If you support economic growth, you support me,” Andrews added.
The 10th Congressional District includes Loudoun County and parts of Prince William and Fairfax counties.
The candidates disagreed sharply on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Andrews said the legislation disproportionately harmed small businesses, had not been read fully by lawmakers before its passage and did not let people keep their doctors as had been promised.
Wexton said she had been proud as a Virginia State Senate member to support efforts to expand Medicaid to 400,000 more Virginians. Republicans have been trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, she said.
“We need to strengthen and protect the ACA, not tear it down,” Wexton said.
Andrews and Wexton also differed on the federal government’s role in local housing. While a broad spectrum of housing always will be needed, decisions on where to put those dwellings should be left to local governing bodies, Andrews said.
Wexton said the pandemic had weakened the public’s housing security by forcing evictions and foreclosures. Affordable-housing needs should be tackled via a “whole-government” approach, with localities ensuring that zoning will allow dwelling units in areas that currently are not accessible, she said.
Collective-bargaining rights also proved a point of contention. Wexton favored collective bargaining, citing benefits for American workers that unions had obtained in the past, and said in their absence many companies had been outsourcing work and hiring contract employees instead.
The second phase of Metrorail’s Silver Line extension had a project-labor agreement, which superseded existing collective-bargaining pacts, and the project has been rife with delays and shoddy construction, she said.
“Competition breeds excellence,” countered Andrews, who supports right-to-work laws as a means of encouraging businesses and ensuring Virginia remains competitive. Unions in some instances, such as grievances filed against law-enforcement personnel, shield offenders from accountability, she said.
Wexton favored an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, with special emphasis on more solar power, while Andrews said she did not want to see Virginia’s wineries covered with solar panels.
Queried about the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrews gave the government “C” grade, but said many of the complaints leveled at it amounted to Monday-morning quarterbacking. She said schools need to be reopened as quickly as possible because many children are being left behind educationally.
Wexton said President Donald Trump had downplayed the pandemic’s seriousness. She favored passage of another round of stimulus funds to help the public weather the crisis and said she had fought to ensure that initial Payroll Protection Program (PPP) funds could be allocated more flexibly.
The candidates did not wear masks during the debate and there were some audience members present. Most people, however, watched the forum on Facebook Live, where poor audio quality and occasional stutter-stops made hearing the questions and candidates’ responses difficult.
Both candidates lamented partisan stalling in Congress that they said has delayed needed action during the crisis.
“The American people are being harmed by this incredible crisis on Capitol Hill,” Andrews said.
The candidates agreed on the need for better workforce education, especially in blossoming fields such as cyber-security. They also concurred on the need for shoring up the country’s infrastructure and bridging the “digital divide” that leaves behind people who do not have access to broadband.
Additional points of agreement included the need to implement 5G wireless technology safety and without undue Chinese interference, and the urgency of obtaining Maryland’s cooperation for an additional Potomac River crossing north of the American Legion Bridge.
Wexton and Andrews also agreed the airline industry is crucial and needs governmental support to survive the pandemic. Andrews recommended less governmental intervention, while Wexton favored better safety measures on planes, such as mask wearing.
The candidates also concurred on the need for a more comprehensible immigration system and the need to issue more H-1B visas to foreign technology workers.
“Immigration makes us stronger and diversity make this a better place to live,” Wexton said.
“I love immigration,” agreed Andrews. “I think it’s the best thing our country has ever done.”