Hopefuls participate in Democrats forum

WINCHESTER – The seven people seeking the Democratic Party nomination to run for Virginia’s 10th Congressional District showed unity Saturday against two people: President Donald Trump and U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock.

Potential nominees participating in the forum held at James Wood Middle School in Winchester were Julia Biggins, Alison Friedman, Daniel Helmer, Paul Pelletier, Deep Sran, Lindsey Davis Stover and Jennifer Wexton. All candidates are seeking the party’s nomination in the Democratic primary June 12

Jeff Coker, Shenandoah University dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, moderated the forum sponsored by the Winchester-Frederick County Democratic Committee, the Clarke County Democratic Caucus and Indivisible Winchester. He read questions prepared for the forum and then audience submissions as well as posed questions to a participant and then allowed others to make follow-up comments.

Participants voiced mutual disdain for Trump and Comstock, on occasion criticizing the congresswoman for her voting record of siding with the president most of the time. Participants also spoke against Trump’s recently adopted tax plan, though at least one candidate said the initiative does include some benefit for small businesses.

For the first question, Coker asked participants what they saw as the priority problems with infrastructure and how could they be supported without burdening commuters with taxes or tolls.

Biggins cited light rail and buses as ways to help deal with infrastructure problems. Pelletier called out Comstock for voting with other Republicans to approve a tax law that increases the national debt and leaves no money to fix the county’s infrastructure problems in the district. Wexton cited the Dulles Greenway, with its high tolls and lack of public oversight, as an example of what happens with privatized infrastructure, adding that money should have been invested in roads rather than given away in tax cuts. Sran called the presidential administration’s approach to infrastructure an attack on public goods and services. Helmer said politics dominated by special interests impedes on efforts to address challenges with the county’s infrastructure.

Coker asked the second question to Sran: What would you do to begin an intelligent conversation on gun control to ensure the safety of our citizens while realizing that we also have to balance the rights of responsible gun owners.

Sran said the fact that people have to ask this question is the problem. The need for gun control and to prevent gun violence comes down to politicians influenced by special interest groups such as the National Rifle Association, Sran said, adding that solving the problem of gun violence comes down to the people elected to office.

Stover said politicians in Washington, D.C., are failing families and children by not taking action on gun violence. She pointed out that Comstock ranked 10th among congressional members who received the most campaign money from the NRA. Stover called for a ban on assault weapons and noted that a person deemed too dangerous to board an airplane is too dangerous to buy a firearm in a gun store.

Friedman said her mother is a responsible gun owner who has the right to possess a firearm. That right is not in conflict with her ability to send her daughter to a public school and know she is safe, Friedman said. The NRA’s influence on Congress interferes with her right as a parent, Friedman said. Reforming campaign finance laws would help undermine that influence, she added.

Wexton said voters can’t change the minds of politicians opposed to gun control so they need to be unseated. She said she understands measures can’t prevent all school shootings but asked if people want to stop at least some of the incidents from happening. Wexton echoed that gun safety measures aren’t law because of the influence by the NRA and the Citizens Defense League.

Pelletier said the NRA of today is not the same organization he knew as a youth when he hunted with friends, noting that the group would come to his Boy Scout troop to talk about gun safety. He asked why it takes courage to do what’s right for children and said change won’t come until Republicans are voted out of office and then Democrats have to stand up to support universal background checks.

Biggins pointed out that federal law enacted more than 20 years ago prohibits the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying gun violence and gun-related deaths. She said she would, if elected, seek to repeal the law imposed on the CDC so the country can collect the data it needs to move forward to address gun violence, and she also called out Republicans and Democrats influenced by the NRA.