BRISTOL — The differences between the two 9th District congressional candidates seeking to represent Southwest Virginia became clear on Thursday evening during a lively debate .
Incumbent Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, and Democrat Anthony Flaccavento, from Abingdon, battled it out in their second debate of the campaign season on topics ranging from health insurance to a proposed Bristol casino.
Griffith touted President Donald Trump’s agenda throughout the event. The congressman said Trump’s economic policies have created jobs in the 9th District and people will have more money in their pocket come tax season.
“We’re seeing jobs being created in Southwest Virginia as a result of tax cuts,” Griffith said.
The congressman also touted the recent economic agreement made between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Flaccavento, however, said not everyone is benefiting from the economic policies and he also mentioned Trump’s tariffs. He noted that Buchanan County’s unemployment rate remains double the national average. Flaccavento, who ran against Griffith in 2012, said tax breaks should affect people who need them.
One of the few things the candidates agreed on involved U.S. tax policy. The two candidates said tax policy should be easier to follow and documentation should be simplified.
The candidates differed significantly on health insurance policies. Flaccavento said he supports a sliding scale Medicare system for all. Griffith said government-run health care is not the answer and would be too costly. Both men gave examples of people they have met who were unable to receive medical treatment due to current policies.
As for the opioid epidemic, while they both supported recent bills to curb the problem, they differed on drug courts, which provide a sentencing alternative of treatment combined with supervision for people living with serious addictions.
Flaccavento said drugs courts work and could be used everywhere. Griffith said he supports drug courts, but their use comes too late in the process.
Flaccavento also said local and state lawsuits that governments have filed against pharmaceutical companies are “spot on.”
On the issue of gun control and gun violence in schools, both men said they support the Second Amendment. Griffith said to protect children, people should focus on every dangerous issue, including guns in schools and the dangers children face while traveling to school.
But Flaccavento said driving deaths have decreased while gun violence has increased. He added, “We’ve been largely ignoring [gun violence].”
The candidates also disagreed on immigration and border issues.
“We have to build the wall,” said Griffith, describing the border between the United States and Mexico as “porous.”
Flaccavento said the country’s border security is already strong and he said the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, is working.
News about a caravan of thousands of people traveling through Central America to reach the United States was also discussed during the debate.
Griffith said the caravan is coming to the country because of the “porous borders.” Flaccavento said the country should be assisting those Central American countries because of violence and economic problems there. That’s why people are coming to the U.S., he said.
One debate panelist asked the candidates whether they support the proposed plan to open a casino in Bristol at the vacant mall.
Flaccavento said he has mixed feelings about the casino and questioned whether the proposed jobs would be of good quality and if the casino industry is overdeveloped. Griffith declined to voice an opinion about the proposed casino because it is a state issue.
The debate also included a question on the Electoral College. In 2016, Trump won the presidency with an Electoral College victory but lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, a panelist said.
Flaccavento said the Electoral College should be scrapped to allow every vote to be counted while Griffith said he strongly supports the Electoral College because it gives smaller states, including Virginia, a voice rather than just the most populated states.
A number of other issues, including the FBI, fracking, North Korea and broadband internet, brought on divisive discussions during the debate.
The Bristol Herald Courier, Bristol Chamber of Commerce and WCYB News 5 sponsored Thursday’s debate. The candidates previously debated in Bluefield and will meet again on Oct. 22 in Salem.