U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-10th) and Republican challenger Aliscia Andrews found plenty of common ground, during an Oct. 5 virtual debate, but laid out different philosophies regarding voting by mail and how best to help the economy recover post-COVID-19.
The debate, hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area, was moderated by journalist Michael Lee Pope.
Wexton, who defeated incumbent Republican Barbara Comstock in 2018, is a former prosecutor and Virginia state senator. Wexton cited the unprecedented challenges of her tenure, including the lengthy federal-government shutdown and ongoing pandemic, and said she had passed five bipartisan pieces of legislation, including the Retirement Protection Act that was part of the recent CARES Act.
Andrews, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and is the mother of three children, described herself as a strategy and policy subject-matter expert who solves complex problems for a living.
“I believe our district is worth fighting for,” she said. “It is time that we had someone who puts our families, our security and our equities at the forefront. Our small businesses and our schools need to be opened safely. Strangling regulations and higher taxes aren’t the way to go.”
Asked what strategies they would use to ensure both parties in Congress worked together for the common good, Wexton said she had passed 40 bipartisan bills as a state senator and participates in a monthly luncheon with other Virginia members of Congress.
“I think there are ample opportunities for working across the aisle,” she said, but added, “I’m not going to lie: Partisanship is real.”
Andrews said that in the Marines, people from all walks of life worked together to accomplish missions. Wexton ranks in the lowest quarter of Congress for bipartisanship, she added.
“Why can’t we just work together?” Andrews asked. “Why to we have to have Republicans and Democrats at each other’s throat all the time? We have people that are starving in our district and they are begging for people on the right and the left to fight for them.”
Regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” decision in 2010, which prohibited the government from limiting spending on election communications by corporations (including non-profits) and unions, both candidates agreed there was too much money in politics.
Andrews said the conversation should shift toward how to take care of the American people. Wexton said the decision did a “great disservice to American democracy” by leaving the door wide open for shadowy super-PACs (political-action committees) to “spend absolutely unlimited, undisclosed sums to influence whatever their agenda is.”
The candidates had differing takes on how to help the economy recover after the pandemic.
Wexton said Republicans wanted to reopen the economy without any workplace-safety precautions. Workers need adequate safety and payroll protections, but the key is to get the pandemic under control, she said.
Andrews said it was unfair that many small businesses had had to close while major entities such as Walmart remained open.
“We need to make sure that when we have someone going to [Capitol] Hill, they’re fighting to make sure these regulations aren’t stopping small businesses from being successful,” she said.
Both candidates supported early childhood education, affordable health care, protections for immigrants and that the federal government should not play a role in local public safety, but they disagreed on early voting by mail.
“Mail-in voting is absolutely safe, it’s secure and it’s fraud-proof,” Wexton said.
Andrews said difficulties experienced across the nation show it is a “downright lie” to say there is no fraud with voting by mail.
“What we need to do is ensure that we’re not making people feel that their vote does not matter,” she said.
The contenders had different takes on climate change. Andrews favored individual environmental consciousness amongst the public, but said all sides needed to come together when crafting environmental legislation.
Wexton favored ending subsidies for the oil and gas industries and “incentivize the use of clean, green energy.”
Asked if the federal government spends too much money on weapons, Andrews answered with a flat “No.”
“I think it’s our fundamental duty that when we send our men and women to fight all over the world that we can give them the most capable assets that we have,” she said. “Anything less is criminal.”
Lapses in military spending lead to obsolete equipment being sent into battle zones and higher equipment-replacement costs later, she added.
Wexton favored having strong national security, but said there had not been a clean audit of the Pentagon’s accounts in a long while. She supported cracking down on waste, fraud and abuse, but also investing in diplomacy and foreign aid.
Andrews and Wexton will square off again Oct. 15 at another virtual debate, this one hosted by the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce. The district includes all of Clarke, Frederick, and Loudoun counties, parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties, and the cities of Manassas, Manassas Park and Winchester.
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