Goodlatte, Degner spar over taxes, Trump

Bob Goodlatte
Kai Degner

LYNCHBURG – U.S. Rep Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, and his Democratic challenger, Kai Degner, clashed Monday in what is likely to be the only debate between the two candidates in the 6th District.

The majority of the eight topics in the hour-long debate were chosen by students in an advanced placement social studies class in the high school that hosted the event.

The candidates laid out their differences over issues that included taxes, government regulation and spending, legalization of marijuana, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and accusations by Degner that Goodlatte has a conflict of interest over the building of a natural gas pipeline in Virginia.

A question about what to do about the $19 trillion national debt evolved into a heated exchange about the Iraq war. Degner attributed much of the debt to the cost of the war, which Goodlatte supported.

Goodlatte defended his vote and other costs related to fighting terrorism as necessary for the protection of the American people.

“When terrorists fly planes into skyscrapers and the Pentagon, we have to find them,” Goodlatte said, alluding to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

An incredulous Degner said he was surprised that Goodlatte was continuing to defend the war with discredited arguments about a link between Iraq and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11,” Degner retorted, adding that for Goodlatte to insist otherwise was “unfair and disrespectful to veterans.”

Goodlatte, who supports a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, attacked Degner’s record on taxes and spending during the Democrat’s eight years on the Harrisonburg City Council and two years as mayor. Goodlatte said Harrisonburg’s council had raised taxes nine times during Degner’s time on it, a record that indicates he would vote much the same way if elected to Congress.

“It is simply not responsible to allow him and his party back in the majority in Congress,” Goodlatte said of Degner.

Degner said his city still has the third lowest property taxes in the state. He blamed the tax increases on the collapse of housing prices that were triggered by the Great Recession and the city’s growth rate, the second fastest in the state, which requires more spending on schools to meet the demands imposed by higher student enrollments.

The two candidates also criticized each other’s resumes. Degner has repeatedly criticized Goodlatte as someone who has lost touch with the district after 23 years in Congress, and for promising during his first campaign in 1992 that he would serve no more than six terms.

“We really feel we aren’t being represented in our Congress by our congressman,” Degner said. “He’s just been there too long to stay in touch with the day-to-day realities of small business owners and those raising a family.”

Goodlatte said later in the debate that Degner had spent most of his adult life in politics, unlike himself who did not run for office until he was in his early 40s.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think you know what you’re talking about when you say you stand with the outsiders,” Goodlatte told Degner.

Goodlatte called accusations by Degner that he had a conflict of interest involving the proposed pipeline “a smear on my wife” and “absolutely false.”

In the past few weeks, Degner has revealed that Goodlatte’s wife owns stock in a company hoping to build a natural gas pipeline in Virginia. The pipeline would not be in the 6th District, but plans call for it to run nearby. Critics fear its effect on water quality if it is built. The project requires the government to seize private property under the power of eminent domain.

“I’m not willing to take that risk with people’s lives, certainly not with the benefit of eminent domain,” Degner said.

The candidates also denounced the presidential candidates of each other’s parties. Goodlatte said he was sticking with Republican Donald Trump, despite the emergence of up to nine women last week who said he had groped them and made other unwanted sexual advances.

“I don’t condone some of the things he has said,” Goodlatte said of Trump, “but I don’t feel we can afford to have Hillary Clinton elected president of the United States.”

At one point, Goodlatte praised Trump for choosing Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, calling it the “first thing he did.”

“The first thing he did was call Mexicans rapists,” Degner said, referring to remarks Trump made when he announced his candidacy.

Degner said he didn’t know how Goodlatte could continue to support Trump while representing women, minorities and people with disabilities “and keep a straight face and say he’s there to meet their needs.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or

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