Lehigh hosts Democratic congressional debate

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From top left: David Clark, Rick Daugherty, Greg Edwards, John Morganelli, Roger Ruggles, and Susan Wild all participate in the Democratic congressional debate on Thursday, April 19, 2018 in Neville Hall. The candidates disscused several issues including immigration, climate change, mass shootings, and labor. (Courtesy of lehighvalleylive.com)

Representative Charlie Dent announced he would retire from his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 7, 2017.

Dent has recently decided to not serve the remainder of his term and will leave Congress next month, according to Politico.

Dent represents Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District, encompassing Lehigh, Berks, Dauphin, Lebanon and Northampton counties. After the Jan. 22 redistricting, these areas will now be considered part of the 7th Congressional District.

On Thursday, the six Democratic candidates running for Dent’s seat gathered in Neville Hall to debate contemporary issues facing the nation.

The debate was hosted by Lehigh Valley for All, a local progressive group, the Lehigh Debate Society and Breena Holland, an associate professor in Lehigh’s political science department.

Candidates included Susan Wild, the first female solicitor of the city of Allentown; John Morganelli, the district attorney for Northampton County since 1992; David Clark, a veteran of the U.S. Special Forces in Panama; Greg Edwards, the founder and senior pastor of Resurrected Life Community Church and the president of Resurrected Community Development Corporation; Roger Ruggles, a member of the Easton city council since 2008 and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force; and Rick Daugherty, former chairman of the Lehigh County Democratic Committee and district administrator for Rep. Paul McHale.

Each of the candidates discussed four major issues our nation is facing right now.

Immigration policy

Wild said the U.S. should make life easier for asylum and refugee seekers and is heavily opposed to the travel ban implemented by the Trump Administration, as well as the concept of building a wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

“It’s very telling that no member of Congress from a border state supports the process of building a wall,” Wild said.

Daugherty said one of the biggest immigration issues can be traced to American foreign policy in Central and South American countries. He believes the U.S. should take in an increased number of immigrants because it is one of the underlying core values of our nation.

“Immigration has always been a foundation of this nation,” Daugherty said. “Children came here and this is the only country they know. They should be citizens of this nation.”

Like Daugherty, Edwards said he sees great value in fewer regulations on immigrants, as they are core contributors to the American economy. He said there is a lack of clarity about the immigration process and argues there should be a more straightforward path to citizenship.

Labor rights

All candidates showed strong support for labor unions and an increase in the minimum wage.

Ruggles and Clark agreed unions have played a sizable role in developing the economic strength of the nation.

“I believe that we have to do anything to protect the labor movement,” Morganelli said. “It’s the foundation of all things we need to get done to project our wages.”

Wild said there must be heavy investment in training and certification programs for those who don’t go to college. 

Daugherty said labor unions provide people with stable employment and disposable income.

“It’s the rock-solid foundation for us as a middle class,” he said. “Health care is way too expensive, child care is outrageous and we need to support quality childcare at extremely reasonable prices.”

The environment

Wild said climate change is the most serious issue facing today’s world, specifically calling for the preservation of national resources and national parks.

Clark, Edwards and Daugherty had similar concerns and said they prioritize the use of alternative energy solutions to combat rising temperatures.

“We have a responsibility to leave the Earth in a better condition than when we found it,” Edwards said. “We need to be incentivizing organizations and start-ups, while disincentivizing fossil fuels.”

Daugherty said there is an urgent need for research on bioplastics and renewable energy sources.

He also said there should be more support for the organic growth of food and support for eating and growing locally. He said he believes there should be a greater effort at the federal level to support organic growth, rather than just the mass crops of corn, wheat and soy.

Clark would like to see similar support for alternative energy solutions, like of that under the Obama administration. He said he is a proponent of balancing the national budget, which would allow more funds to be allocated to natural disasters.

Mass shootings

Each of the six candidates argued for some form of weapon restriction, whether it be tighter background checks or a ban on assault weapons.

Edwards and Clark said they are in strong support of a federal registry to ensure firearm accountability, with universal background checks for both online and personal sales.

“All gun transactions need to be recorded so a background check could be done,” Clark said.

Ruggles argued for a ban on assault weapons and large ammunition clips, supporting universal background checks.

Daugherty said there should be a longer waiting period when purchasing firearms. He said three days is not enough time to identify people convicted of domestic violence.

Wild agreed that domestic abusers should not be allowed near firearms, calling for a reinstatement of an assault weapons ban.

“The right to bear arms should be secondary to the right to go to school and be safe,” Wild said. “The right to bear arms should be secondary to your right to go a concert or movie and not be worried.”

She said parents who fail to secure weapons in their households should be held more accountable in both civil and criminal court.

Such was the case in the recent shooting in Nashville, where Jeffrey Reinking failed to secure firearms, which were used by his son Travis to kill four people on Sunday. The firearms were initially confiscated by law enforcement officials, but were returned to the household prior to the shooting. 

Police said Reinking had shown signs of mental instability.

Morganelli, a proponent of the second amendment, argued individuals should maintain their rights to bear arms and said he supports greater attention toward catching red flags, such as Reinking’s mental illness and extensive run-ins with the police.

“I don’t think registration is solving the problem,” Morganelli said. “We have to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and (those with mental illnesses.”

Registered Democrats will have the opportunity to vote for one of these candidates in the Pennsylvania primary on May 15.

This article is part of a series on the candidates running to replace Dent. 

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