Congressional candidates debate policy in Young Democrats forum

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Congressional candidates Karen Mallard and Elaine Luria answered questions from students at a town hall hosted by the Young Democrats. GRACIE HARRIS / THE FLAT HAT

Wednesday, April 11, the College of William and Mary Young Democrats hosted a candidate forum for the two democratic primary nominees for Virginia’s second congressional district, Karen Mallard and Elaine Luria, in partnership with the Williamsburg James City County Democrats. Each candidate was allowed an opening statement of three minutes, after which the Young Democrats executives took turns asking questions, and both candidates were allowed two minutes to answer.

The candidates answered questions on issues such as higher education reform and healthcare as well as climate change and the political diversity of the district. Audience questions were not taken, and the questions did not pit the candidates against each other, but instead allowed the audience to listen to the differences between each candidate’s platform. 

Mallard began her opening statement by highlighting her three decades of teaching experience. She emphasized her focus on working and military families, and her support for increased minimum wage, unions and universal healthcare. 

“One of my main themes is to fight for working families,” Mallard said. “I’m a coal miner’s daughter from Cowan, Virginia, and I grew up in a working class family. I watched my dad struggle, he did everything to provide for us, so I understand the struggle of working class families. When dad got the union job, our lives improved so much … that union job meant so much to my family. I’m a union daughter, I’m a union member, and that’s why I’m so supportive of unions.”

Luria emphasized several points during her opening statement, touching on the current climate in Washington, D.C. and her experience as a small business owner and in the U.S. Navy. 

“I feel like my life’s work has been protecting our country and keeping our nation safe,” Luria said. “That’s work I’d like to continue as your next congresswoman.” 

“I feel like my life’s work has been protecting our country and keeping our nation safe,” Luria said. “That’s work I’d like to continue as your next congresswoman.” 

Questions from Young Democrats executives generally followed democratic party lines and included issues such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protections for students, reproductive rights for women, funding for the National Rifle Association and  gun control. 

Because of this, differences in the candidate’s responses were often subtle, and the closing statements allowed each candidate the freedom to express their priorities for the district. 

Luria’s closing statement emphasized that her experience enables her to hold U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration accountable. 

“The threats that we’re seeing today to American democracy will end here in the second district,” Luria said. “We really need people in Washington who will hold this administration accountable, and I’m the person that can do that. But first, we need to win this seat in November, and I’m the candidate who can do that. I spent my Navy career, I led my command, and I run my small business by a simple philosophy of ‘Be good and do good work.’ What I think is lacking in Washington and what Americans desperately need is people who are willing to be good and do good work. To find solutions that work for all American people.”

Mallard’s closing statement underscored her experience as an educator and made references to Luria’s platform and past votes for House Representative Scott Taylor (R-Va.).  

“I’m a dedicated democrat that’s knocked thousands of doors last year alone to help send a blue wave to Richmond,” Mallard said. “And we have an opportunity to get legislation passed that reflects our true democratic party values.”

“I’m a dedicated democrat that’s knocked thousands of doors last year alone to help send a blue wave to Richmond,” Mallard said. “And we have an opportunity to get legislation passed that reflects our true democratic party values. I’ve been a member of the Virginia Education Association and I’ve served on the political action committee for decades. When I went to vote in 2016, I made sure I knew where he stood on all of the issues and I made an informed vote. As your congresswoman, I will continue to do my homework and make informed votes and make sure that every single vote that I make as your representative in congress, I consider the impact on your life.” 

Several members of the audience, including community member Dalila Johnson and Billy Moncure ’17, expressed their concerns about Elaine Luria’s platform and her overall electability, as well as disappointment that she was not asked why she voted for Taylor. 

“[Luria]’s not for single payer [healthcare], and how can you not be?” Johnson said. “Single payer is one of the most important pieces of legislation of our time, and look, she’s a tricare member. What is tricare? Single payer, that’s all it is. … She doesn’t believe in $15 an hour, and to me that’s important. It’s just really sad, this is core dem. This is the progressive thing.” 

Moncure’s primary concern lies with Luria’s voting history.

“If you can’t win the general election, then what’s the point?” Moncure said. “I already supported [Karen Mallard], and I had seen her speak before, but as I said Elaine Luria’s vote for Scott Taylor is kind of a huge negative for me because I think it creates this credibility issue but also this massive electability issue and I’m definitely disappointed that that question wasn’t asked. … I wanted to hear how Elaine Luria would answer that question and find out how she thinks she’s going to avoid having that cripple her electability because I think it does.”