WINCHESTER — Despite their different viewpoints on many issues, the two people aspiring to represent the Winchester area in Congress have one thing in common: They agree that political partisanship in Washington has gotten out of hand.

During a candidates’ forum Saturday morning, incumbent 6th District U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt County, told voters he often “crosses the aisle” to discuss issues with Democratic lawmakers.

When he does, “I get strange looks” from other Republicans, Cline admitted.

However, “once you become elected, you take the party hat off,” said his Democratic challenger in the Nov. 8 election, Jennifer Lewis of Waynesboro. “You become the congressional representative for everyone in the 6th District,” regardless of their party affiliations.

The forum, hosted by the Winchester branch of the American Association of University Women, was held at the Handley Regional Library downtown. It was the candidates’ first joint appearance locally.

Cline has a bachelor’s degree from Bates College in Maine and a law degree from the University of Richmond. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2002 to 2018 when he was elected to Congress, succeeding Bob Goodlatte, for whom he once worked. He was re-elected in 2020.

During those elections, the Winchester area was in the 10th District, and it technically remains so until the end of this year.

Redistricting after the 2020 Census resulted in the 6th District being redrawn to basically run along the Interstate 81 corridor from the Northern Shenandoah Valley to Roanoke. The redistricting will take effect in January, at which time Winchester, Frederick County and Clarke County will become part of the 6th.

Lewis is a mental health professional and community activist who’s been involved with many organizations. She’s a graduate of the State University of New York at Oneonta.

She lost the 6th District congressional race to Cline in 2018. The following year, her bid for the 20th District seat in the state House was unsuccessful.

No debating was allowed at the forum, and no questions from the audience were accepted. Instead, each candidate was allotted a total of about 30 minutes to introduce themselves and discuss their positions on issues of their choice. Voters were able to speak directly with them afterward.

Lewis presented herself as a champion for families and average Americans. She portrayed Cline as an ultraconservative seeking more government control over citizens’ lives and personal choices.

Cline, who addressed the crowd first after the candidates drew straws, didn’t directly attack any of Lewis’ stances.

Expressing her support for abortion rights, Lewis said Cline “doesn’t believe people have the right to control their own reproductive health.” She said he “has no problem inserting government into the most intimate decisions of our lives.”

Most people she has met who’ve had abortions did so because they realized they couldn’t afford to raise another child, Lewis said.

She pledged to work to make physical and mental health care more affordable, as well as to seek funding for improvements to home-health programs as well as residential health care facilities.

Because of economic constraints, “families are at wit’s end” caring for their aging members, Lewis said.

She added that she favors protecting Medicare and Medicaid, as well as providing more services to armed forces veterans. She doesn’t favor privatizing the Veterans Administration, she noted.

Also, “it’s high time we increase the minimum wage to a livable amount,” Lewis said. Average workers — including nurses who fought on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 — aren’t getting extra pay while CEOs of large corporations seeing record profits are receiving bonuses, she maintained.

Cline blamed inflation and other economic problems largely on a “very complicated” energy market. He criticized the Biden administration for cutting back on drilling permits for public lands. That’s caused energy price hikes which have hurt various sectors of the economy and contributed to increases in interest rates on mortgages and student loans, he said.

The best way to resolve economic problems, Cline said, is to promote “energy independence” — the United States being able to produce enough to meet its needs without having to import any fuel.

People can be encouraged to rely more on energy produced through environmentally friendly processes, he continued. But fully eliminating fossil fuels such as coal “would have a detrimental effect on our economy,” he said without elaborating.

Cline said he’s striving to ensure there remains “a robust system of commercial and family producers” in agriculture while looking out for the interests of the latter.

“The Shenandoah Valley is special,” he said. Primarily, “it’s not big agriculture. It’s smaller producers and specialty growers.”

A former prosecutor, Cline voiced support for providing law-enforcement agencies as much funding as possible. Reducing their allocations would hinder their ability to protect the public, which would ultimately increase crime, he said.

In addition, Cline said he favors placing more security officers along the U.S./Mexico border to deter drug smuggling. A shortage of officers there is causing “a fentanyl crisis,” he declared. Fentanyl is a potent painkiller that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans through overdoses.

More than 100 people attended the forum moderated by Middletown Mayor Charles Harbaugh IV. He presented Cline and Lewis commemorative Middletown license plates in gratitude for their participation.

(2) comments

Valleynative

Cline falsely asserts that Biden cutting back on drilling permits is the cause of high gas prices. There are presently 9,000 unused permits that oil companies could use to drill for more oil. They aren't because oil executives blame Wall Street. Nearly 60% cited "investor pressure to maintain capital discipline" as the primary reason oil companies weren't drilling more despite skyrocketing prices.

JPoplar

Nice to see a civil debate where the issues vice name calling and innuendo are the focus -- well done to both candidates !

Welcome to the discussion.

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