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Saturday, December 3, 2022
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Congressional Candidates Clash at Debate

The argument came down to change versus experience at the first Primary Democratic Congressional Debate between Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen and challenger Stacey Plaskett on Tuesday night. The debate, held at the University of the Virgin Islands’ St. Croix campus, drew a large and often boisterous crowd.

Dr. Simon Jones-Hendrickson, the evening’s moderator, asked the two candidates questions on a wide range of issues, from global economics to the territory’s many potholes. As is the case with many primary debates, the candidates agreed on most issues, offering nearly identical platforms.Incumbant Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen.

Both candidates voiced their support for raising the territory’s poverty line, eliminating the Medicaid cap, tightening security at the ports to disrupt gun smuggling, connecting the territory to Puerto Rico’s energy grid, and converting the V.I. Water and Power Authority over to liquid natural gas.

The true debate surrounded Christensen’s record. At every turn, Plaskett attempted to portray Christensen as an ineffective leader, asking why Christensen hasn’t achieved more during her 16 years in office. She pointed to lingering issues such as the Medicaid cap and the slow growth of businesses in the territory as proof that it is time to change leadership.

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“We have mortgaged the Virgin Islands at this point,” Plaskett said. “We need to ask ourselves how we are going to get out of it.”

Challenger Stacey Plaskett.“Are we going to get out of it using the same people and the same ways?” Plaskett asked “Or are we going to come up with new and creative means to move ourselves in to the next level?”

Christensen defended herself, arguing that her record speaks for itself. She acknowledged that there were still challenges facing the territory, but she said that change comes slowly in Washington, D.C., and that during her administration she has made progress.

Using the Medicaid cap as an example, Christensen said that she will continue to pursue parity, but raising the cap from $4 million to $43 million was a major accomplishment for her administration.

Christensen went on to argue that her established connections with leaders in D.C. and her 16 years of seniority put her in a better position to affect change in Congress.

“The way to move forward is to use my seniority, to use knowledge, to use my relationships,” she said. “Use the respect I have gained from my colleagues to build a compact to move this community forward and through these difficult times.”

The candidates clashed on a handful of issues during the evening. Early in the debate, Plaskett was asked to address her switch from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party in late 2008.

Plaskett replied that she was drawn to the Democratic Party by the recent wave of younger voices coming to power in the organization. She said she had seen the party as an “old boys club” when she was younger, but now viewed the party as a place where new ideas could be heard.

Plaskett claimed that Christensen had been using the issue of her party affiliation to insinuate that Plaskett could not be trusted, but that was not the case.

“At least I’m up front about where I stand,” Plaskett said.

Christensen argued that it was a legitimate area of concern, claiming that Plaskett had referred to herself as a “Tea Party Democrat.”

This caused an outcry from Plaskett’s supporters, and Christensen quickly acknowledged that she had meant to say “Blue Dog Democrat,” referring to the moderate branch of the party.

Christensen argued this was little better, however, as the Blue Dogs frequently vote against President Obama’s agenda.

The candidates also argued extensively about a proposed measure that would allow the government to collect a rebate from the gasoline excise tax.

Christensen said she had explored the issue, but there was not sufficient congressional support for it to pass.

Plaskett attempted to portray this as a lack of fight on Christensen’s part, saying the congresswoman simply did not want to expend her “political capital” working on a tough issue. Plaskett said that if she was elected, she would introduce a bill regardless of its support and would possibly attempt to affect the change through an amendment to the Organic Act.

The debate ended with the candidates arguing over the proposed chief financial officer position, the issue on which they are the farthest apart.

Christensen has been a proponent of the position and pushed a bill to create the CFO through the House of Representatives this summer, despite opposition from the governor.

Plaskett is adamantly opposed to the creation of a territorial CFO, arguing that it is a step backwards for the Virgin Islands. She argued that it put too much power in the hands of the federal government, and that Christensen should have pursued a local solution first.

Christensen fired back, dismissing the concerns about federal intervention.

“I believe in greater self-governance,” she said. “The Virgin Islands can take care of itself.”

Christensen argued that the CFO bill was necessary because local politicians were not willing to pass the needed legislation to ensure financial accountability. She also said that ultimately the CFO position will instill greater faith in the stability of the V.I. government and allow for more federal funds to flow into the territory.

In closing, Plaskett renewed her call for change, telling those in the crowd to ask themselves “how long must we wait” for reform.

“Change needs to be at all levels of government,” she said. “Change is a part of life. It’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Christensen closed by asking the crowd to stay the course and send her back to Washington for another term.

“Change for change’s sake is not what we need today,” she said. “We need to have the foundation I have built through years of service.”

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