BY STEPHANIE TIPPLE
The University of Mary Washington hosted the first debate for the 88th District of the Virginia House of Delegates race on Sept. 18.
Delegate Mark Cole, Republican incumbent candidate, and Kathleen O’Halloran, the Democratic candidate, fielded questions submitted by the audience. UMW students and Fredericksburg community members presented questions regarding healthcare, higher education, women’s rights and transportation.
For students attending the debate, the most prevalent issues were the cost of higher education, education funding and dealing with student debt.
“We need to do what we can to try and make public universities more affordable for everyone in this economy. The Governor [McDonnell] started a new iniatiative a few years ago in order to provide more funding for the universities and financial aid,” said Cole. “As far as the debt goes, again, we need to do what we can to keep interest rates low so if you do have to take out a loan, you won’t have to pay a high interest rate.”
He cited the condition of the current economy recovery as a factor in how much Virginia will spend to aid students in paying for their education.
O’Halloran showed support for Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) plan and legislation the Bank on Student Loans Fairness Act. The Act was a short-term plan that would allow students to borrow loans from the federal government with the same interest rate that the Federal Reserve receives (3/4 of one percent), while Congress mapped out a long-term solution.
For commuters, working students and travelling professors there was a discussion over transportation and methods to lower the burden of traffic and congestion on Virginia residents. McDonnell passed a transportation plan meant to address some of these concerns, which Cole voted against in his most recent term in Richmond.
“While there is never a good time to raise taxes, an economic recession is probably the worst time,” said Cole. “While certainly I support more funding for transportation, we’ve got a lot of transportation needs. I did try to support more legislation for transportation funding that didn’t increase taxes.”
O’Halloran countered Cole’s position on transportation funding, stating, “Gov. McDonnell said the transportation plan was tax neutral, and it would not increase taxes. I saw a statistic today that said in Northern Virginia, a married couple spends an extra 134 hours a year, sitting in their car and an extra $3,000.”
O’Halloran commented on the importance of women’s rights, specifically legislating reproductive health choices.
“I definitely don’t think the government should come between a doctor and his patient. I think that doctors are frustrated, and women are frustrated. I would work to appeal the [mandated] ultrasounds. I would repeal anything that would interfere with a woman’s reproductive choices,” said O’Halloran.
Cole also stated his opinion on abortion and reproductive rights in Virginia legislation.
“I am pro-life, and I’ve made that fact known since the first time I ran for public office. I feel that the government has a fundamental duty to protect innocent life,” said Cole. “Our hands are kind of tied at the state level on the abortion issue. Roe vs. Wade, settled that issue 40 years ago, but I do think the state has a role in setting health and safety standards for abortion clinics and also the procedures themselves.”
In addition to these key platforms, the candidates fielded questions about the expansion of Medicaid and the possibility of increasing a governor’s term, which is limited to one term in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Audience members had conflicting views about the debate.
“On the one hand you saw a candidate who blamed the federal government for everything,” said Ben Hermerding, junior political science major and president of Young Democrats. “On the other hand, with Kathleen O’Halloran, you saw someone who was really people focused and who really wants to fight for people in Richmond.”
Max Reinhardt, junior history major and chairman of College Republicans, did not have the same opinion.
“Delegate Cole obviously has firm command of the issues, he knows what he believes in and he knows how he’s going to vote if he goes back to Richmond,” said Reinhardt. “Kathleen O’Halloran seemed to copy and paste all of her views from the editorial section from the New York Times. It doesn’t really seem she thought about the issues or formed her own opinions about it.”