Candidates for the Delaware House of Representatives and Sussex County Council sparred Wednesday night over how best to promote economic development, improve public education and address public transportation needs during a candidate debates hosted by the Milford Beacon and GateHouse Media Delaware at Milford High School.
Milford Beacon Executive Editor Jesse Chadderdon served as moderator of the debates between candidates running for state representative in District 33, Sussex County Council District 2 and Sussex County Council District 3.
House District 33
Incumbent Republican state Rep. Harold "Jack" Peterman and Democratic challenger John "Kevin" Robbins offered differing approaches on how they would help encourage job growth in Delaware.
Peterman said he believes the state is too preoccupied with trying to lure big businesses to locate in Delaware.
"I believe we need to focus on job creation efforts and growing the small businesses that are already here, as well as attracting new start-up ventures that hold the promise of positive growth and new employment," he said.
Peterman also said more should be done to reduce electric rates in Delaware.
"Energy costs are a key factor in determining the viability of many businesses, including existing employers," he said. "We need to re-craft state policy … We need to reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses."
Robbins agreed that helping small businesses to thrive in Delaware is critical, but said should be done by offering more tax credits and helping to ensure that businesses are able to obtain lines of credit.
"Since the clamp down on the economy, the banks are still tough on giving these small businesses credit and we to give them credit so they can expand and hire more people," said the farmer and milk hauler from Harrington.
The candidates also disagreed about the impact of the four-year, $119 million federal Race To the Top grant awarded to Delaware's Department of Education in 2010.
"Our educational system has vastly improved in the last few years," Robbins said. "We won in the state the Race To The Top competition … We do not, do not, need to cut the funding for our educational system."
Peterman said he believes the Race To The Top funding has been used disproportionately on administrative costs rather than being directed toward classrooms.
"We keep talking about sending out kids to school to educate them so they can go out and get a good job and support themselves, but Race To The Top does not really do that well at all," he said. "If you do not help out children and grandchildren, then you know that they're going to go on welfare … and you know, it's not their fault. It's the schools' fault and the government's fault."
The candidates also disagreed about what the state should to protect the community from illegal drugs, such as a methamphetamine labs recently uncovered in Harrington and Houston.
Peterman said better enforcement is required and not more laws.
"We let people get away with so much," he said. "I can tell you, when I was a kid growing up, whatever my parents said is exactly what I did … We need to make sure what we say is what we mean and we do what we mean."
Robbins, however, said the state needs stronger laws against the manufacturing of illegal drugs, including better monitoring of the ingredients commonly used in meth labs, such as the over-the-counter cold medication pseudoephedrine.
"They could put that on the state's prescription monitoring program and get a clear picture of who is purchasing this thing and how they are purchasing of it," he said.
Sussex County Council District 2
The debate between Incumbent Republican Councilman Sam Wilson of Georgetown and Democratic challenger Gary Wolfe of Greenwood became contentious almost from the start.
Following Wolfe's opening statement in which the former Milford School Board member said he was moved to run, in part, by the large number of children in the area who are living in poverty or without adequate shelter, Wilson pounced.
"The county council does not run a welfare system," Wilson said in response. "Mr. Wolfe I think you're in the wrong job. You should be running for state (office), because that is where the welfare is usually handed out."
Later in the debate, the candidates differed on whether the county should work to add more public transportation options in Sussex County or help spearhead a more regional approach to planning.
Wolfe said he believes the county should work with the state to encourage public/private partnerships to address transportation issues for seniors.
"It's something we need to sit down together with the state and municipalities about to see how we can work that out," he said. "We have buses in Dover and buses in Wilmington … we need to look at how to make it affordable for those who have to use it and make sure those folks get on it."
Wilson said the lack of public transportation in Sussex County is a state problem. He said adding more bus routes also would be cost prohibitive because very few people would actually use public transportation.
"Who's going to pay for all this," he asked. "There's no Santa Claus. There's no free gifts, no free lunch. Somebody is going to pay for it."
When asked if the county should partner with municipalities to undertake a more regional planning approach, Wilson said the county and the municipalities each take care of their own planning.
"We [should] not interfere with [the cities]; they have their zoning laws, regulations," he said. "Up to the town limits, the county runs the county, and by the way, we work closely with the cities and help them with their police and fire departments … but we don't rule them."
Wolfe, meanwhile, said he believes the county should be looking for planning options that work best for both the county and the municipalities.
"How do we work with them, how do we use the resources of both the county and the municipalities to improve the economy, not only within the county but in those municipalities," he said. "How do we sell the municipalities and the county to the businesses we want to bring in here? We need to work together as a team."
County Council District 3
The debate between incumbent Democratic Councilwoman Joan Deaver of Rehoboth and Republican challenger Donald Ayotte of Georgetown also included plenty of sparks.
When each candidate was asked what the single biggest difference between them and their opponent is, Ayotte said he is a "super-property rights guy" who will vote on the side of the property owner "every single time." He also described himself as a Christian Conservative and a constitutionalist.
"My opponent is not as conservative as I am, without question," he said. "I don't quite know where she stands."
"Don't label me," Deaver shot back, before giving her own answer. "I know he used to mill about in the back of the county chambers … I don't understand how he thinks or anything, so I really can't help you."
Later in the debate, the candidates displayed differences in their opinions on whether Sussex County has an adequate police protection.
"I don't believe that we're adequately covered because it is a tourist area and the population is growing," Ayotte said. "The state police response time is awful. We just had four more state police hired at a (county) cost of $300,000 … I think they're charging us way too much money. We're the only county that has to pay extra for state police coverage."
Deaver, meanwhile, said the county's contract with the state police means that more troopers would be patrolling the county every year going forward.
"Please understand that we have an allotment from the state and then we pay for 40 more, and they pay for half of those 40 more," she said. "I've also talked to [Delaware State Police Superintendent] Col. [Robert] Coupe about bringing us more summer police, and I'm still working on that, but we have towns that have their own police forces … so it's not as if we're totally out of police protection."