O’Donnell, Coons spar in Rehoboth forum

by Michael Short on October 20, 2010

By Michael Short

It was clear who wielded the star power.

A candidate forum on Wednesday afternoon drew a variety of local and statewide candidates, but it was Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell that drew the most attention.  O’Donnell’s every move was followed by photographers as she worked her way to the stage.

The Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce forum at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center drew a large crowd. People were scrambling for seats a half hour before the first candidate took to the stage.

The forum drew a variety of supporters and candidates ranging from Libertarians to 9-12 Patriots to the Blue Enigma Party, in addition to the more standard Democrats and Republicans.

Signs, shirts and bumper stickers, some of them on shirts, were everywhere in the audience.

For the most part, it was a candidate forum without a lot of fireworks. Cape Gazette publisher Dennis Forney moderated the forum and began with the Senate candidates because O’Donnell had to leave early. She apologized and said there were six other forums on the same day.

Coons, a Democrat, told the audience that “Washington is broken.”

O’Donnell, the Republican who upset Mike Castle in a primary, said the nation can’t spend its way to recovery and tax its way to prosperity. “I’m running because I’m concerned about the direction of our country,” she said.

Coons said that a “great deal is at stake” and reminded the audience that there are some 35,000 Delaware residents out of work.

O’Donnell called Coons a “rubber stamp” for failed policies and said she wanted to stop tax increases and cap and trade while supporting veterans and balancing the budget. She said that eliminating the “death” tax would create an estimated 1.5 million jobs.

But Coons told the audience to consider his experience and background. “Look at my record.”

O’Donnell said that having to fight her own party means that she will be willing to fight for the people of Delaware.

Coons is the former New Castle County executive and he said that means he has had to be fiscally responsible and has worked to streamline regulations. He touted his real-world experience and said he has been willing to stand up to the Obama-Biden administration when he disagreed with those policies.

In an election that some see as a referendum on the Obama presidency, he distanced himself somewhat from the president. Specifically, he said he disagreed with the offshore drilling policy and the way the TARP program was handled.

Both candidates said they understand the challenges faced by small businesses.

O’Donnell said she has had a freelance business for 20 years. “I know how hard it is to earn and keep a buck.”

Coons said that he comes from a family of small business owners and that there have been some hard times in his family history. “I know the risks and rewards,” he said.

On the topic of education, Coons said that there is a federal role in education and that he supports the separation of church and state. He said that particularly in Sussex County, we need to work to strengthen higher education opportunities.

O’Donnell said she supports private vouchers and charter schools and called it “appalling” that teachers sometimes have to buy their own classroom supplies. “Our goal should be to improve every school.”

“I want to go to Washington and make jobs come back to Delaware,” O’Donnell said.

She drew boos from some in the audience when she said that a vote for Coons would cost Delawareans an extra $10,000 when increased taxes and policies like cap and trade are considered.

“I have worked hard not just for Democrats . . . but for everyone in the state of Delaware,” Coons said. He said he has been willing to stand up against labor unions and against the former New Castle County Executive when he thought he was wrong.

Among the other candidates, Auditor candidates Tom Wagner Jr., the incumbent Republican, and Democrat Richard Korn sparred over the issue of whether or not local school districts are audited. Korn said that the auditor’s office has not done those audits while Wagner insisted that they are done every year.

“This is your money,” Korn told the audience.

Wagner said Korn has no auditing background and that the school audit issue will be resolved when Korn visits his office on Friday and sees the audits. Korn countered that he may not have an auditing background, but that he has a legal background and that the race is about following the law.

Candidates for the 14th District, incumbent Democrat Pete Schwartzkopf and challenger Republican Chris Weeks, disagreed on any possible expansion of gambling in Sussex County.

Schwartzkopf said he supported the proposed Del Pointe project near Millsboro not because it’s a casino, but because it is a large project that will bring jobs to Sussex County. “I couldn’t care two cents about a casino,” he said.

He also said Delaware needs to look at renewable energy like wind power as a tool to boost the economy.

Schwartzkopf said that a casino would bring more people to the area and improve the local economy by attracting visitors during the off-season.

Weeks said he opposed any gambling expansion, saying that it would draw visitors and tourists away from Rehoboth Beach and the coast and direct them inland toward Millsboro or other areas.

He added that gambling revenues go to Delaware’s General Fund and most of that money “goes to New Castle County.”

Weeks said that to help boost the economy, we should support the idea raised some two years ago by the University of Delaware to expand and build a potential four year facility in Sussex County.

Several of those invited could not attend, including Attorney General Beau Biden. Biden’s Independent Party opponent Doug Campbell said that if elected, Delaware would join 20 other states in filing suits against the new health care reform bill.

When some in the audience booed that comment, he replied “Wait until you read the bill.”

Chip Flowers, Democratic candidate for Treasurer, called for Delaware to have an Economic Policy Office. His Republican opponent, Colin Bonini, was unable to attend.

Congressional candidate John Carney said that he would support a guest worker program to help deal with the problem of immigration.  His Republican opponent Glenn Urquhart could not attend.

Several of the lesser known candidates had some of the most memorable comments.  Senate Libertarian Candidate Jim Rash said he wanted to cut not just fat, but also muscle from the federal government. He said that George Washington had four cabinet posts and now there are 15 cabinet posts.

Blue Enigma Party Congressional candidate Jeffrey Brown said that the trade gap with China is the single biggest problem America is facing.

“I’m the other guy,” Rash said, after O’Donnell and Coons introduced themselves.

Congressional candidate Libertarian Brent Wangen said the fact that some of the lesser known candidates were participating meant voters “got the full menu and not just the kids menu.”

Wangen said some voters have told him the Constitution is a living document. “It is,” he said. “I ask you to please stop trying to kill it.”

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