Democratic candidates for Alabama’s First Congressional District discussed impeachment, guns, abortion, the I-10 Mobile River Bridge project and other issues during a 90-minute debate Thursday night at the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico.
The debate sponsored by WKRG and FM Talk 1065 featured Kiani Gardner, Rick Collins and James Averhart. The winner of the March 3 primary will face the GOP winner in November.
When asked if the Senate made the appropriate choice in acquitting President Donald J. Trump this week on impeachment charges, Collins said he believes the body “abdicated its responsibility.”
Gardner said she favored a more thorough investigation by the Senate; one that included documents and witnesses in the trial.
Averhart called the process “done” and said he wanted to focus on other issues during the campaign.
None of the three candidates said they favored a plan for a new I-10 bridge that included tolls paid by users.
Collins said he believed the state should invest in better signage along Interstate 65 that would help beach travelers headed to Florida bypass the current Bayway and tunnels. He said taking the interstate and then other roadways into Florida would only add about 21 miles to a trip and could save the area from congestion.
Averhart said if elected he would work to be on the House infrastructure committee and use those connections to find additional funding for the project. He mentioned possibly paying for it through a state lottery as well.
“There are ways to build it without a toll,” he said.
Gardner admitted it would be hard for a freshman in congress to come in and demand billions of dollars for a project, but she has what she calls “novel ideas” to get around that issue. She said she would link the bridge project to “progressive” issues like climate change and look for funding that way.
The candidates agreed on tariffs, with each lamenting President Donald J. Trump’s trade wars and the impacts they are having and could continue to have on area manufacturing and farming. More specifically, each candidate discussed the impacts of possible tariffs on aircraft parts coming to Mobile’s Airbus final assembly line from Europe.
Gardner called trade wars “dangerous” and said there are no winners.
“Airbus is a major manufacturer in this area,” Gardner said. “Tariffs could cripple growth.”
As for farmers, Gardner said the trade wars have hurt them as well. She said family farm bankruptcies jumped 20 percent last year.
Averhart agreed that manufacturing and farmer are the two industries hurt the most from Trump’s tariffs.
Collins argued that Congress, not the president, should have the authority to levy tariffs. As for Airbus, he mentioned that the tariffs impacting the aircraft manufacturer had been lifted. While this is true of previous tariffs, there are new proposed tariffs and those could have an impact.
On the national debt, Collins said he would work to cut the nearly $1 trillion added to the deficit each year. He would start by advocating to add no money to the deficit in 2021.
“Adding $1 trillion to the deficit in a good (economic) year is unacceptable,” he said.
Averhart said he would have to see how the budget process works on a case-by-case basis before making a determination.
Gardner said ending the country’s system of “corporate socialism” of large industry bailouts and tax breaks would go a long way in curbing the budget deficit.
The candidates all supported universal background checks for gun sales, but all three pushed back against the narrative that Democrats want to take guns away from law-abiding citizens.
While background checks are required in more than 70 percent of all gun sales already, Collins said a person with bad intentions is going to try to avoid them. To prevent this issue, Collins said background checks should be added to all private sales.
Averhart called for more oversight on gun sales as well as stricter laws to help get the guns out of the hands of criminals.
“Nobody’s going to take their guns,” he said. “It’s part of our constitution. So, let’s stop worrying about it.”
Gardner, who owns guns with her husband and shoots clays for recreation, said there needs to be more regulation when it comes to firearms.
On abortion, Averhart said he doesn’t believe that Roe V. Wade — a Supreme Court decision guaranteeing access to abortion services — will be overturned, even as more consverative judges are appointed. Averhart also said he was pro-choice.
“As a man, who am I to tell a woman what to do with her body,” he said.
Gardner said she is pro-woman when it comes to abortion rights.
“Every pregnancy is life threatening,” she said. “That’s why there’s an entire field of medicine devoted to the health of women before and after delivery. I will always oppose legislation that purports to know more about a woman’s body than her and her doctor.”
Collins, a longtime Catholic, said he’s pro-life and called abortion a “divisive issue.”
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