Three candidates vying for Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District seat debated education, job creation and women’s rights in Waterbury Tuesday night.
In front of a standing room only crowd of 200 people, the Democratic candidates - State Rep. Christopher Donovan of Meriden, Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire, and Dan Roberti of Kent, were generally cordial with each other but voiced slightly different views on how they would govern if elected.
The debate, which took place at Chase Collegiate School, was moderated by Scott Bates, a member of the Democratic State Central Committee, and hosted by the Northwest Connecticut Young Democrats. The candidates are contending for the seat being vacated by Congressman Chris Murphy, a Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate.
Education was a hot topic throughout the debate and was addressed in several different forms.
The candidates were first asked how they would plan to combat rising tuition costs. Esty referred to a college education as a “ticket to the middle class” and said prices are much too high. Roberti agreed, calling the increase in costs and the rising student loans “completely nuts.”
Donovan, as he did several times through the contest, stood on his record and highlighted the work he has done in education during his tenure in Hartford. He also mentioned creating a new G.I. Bill and working with AmeriCorps as ways to cut down the increasing costs.
When asked how to create employment opportunities for college graduates, Donovan and Roberti said creating jobs was the key, while Esty stressed loan forgiveness programs to help recent grads with high student loans.
Another popular issue among the group of young Democrats putting on the debate was how the candidates plan to create jobs. All three candidates called the topic the most important campaign concern and a matter of severe importance state and nationwide.
Donovan stressed the need to create jobs in alternative energy fields and investments in bioscience, as well as the elimination of tax breaks for overseas jobs.
“We need to work together to make America great,” he said. “We need to create more jobs and improve the lives of working families.”
Donovan also said he would support a higher tax on millionaires and would like to raise the rate of minimum wage in Connecticut.
Esty said this upcoming election is about the future of the middle class.
“I’m running for congress because Washington has to change,” Esty said. “We need to get things done.”
She recommended a manufacturing caucus and stressed the need for politicians to follow through and make sure change happens, instead of just issuing press releases.
Roberti alluded to his jobs plan, which he said focused on investments in high-speed rail, bioscience, energy and other cutting-edge jobs.
“We need to focus on job creation with a long-term eye on deficit reduction,” Roberti said.
Roberti also said he felt the country is facing an energy crisis and desperately needs more sources of energy.
Each candidate sided with President Barack Obama’s decision to reject the construction of the Keystone Pipeline.
Women’s rights and the use of contraceptives were also discussed during the debate, which lasted about an hour and 15 minutes. Each candidate expressed the opinion that more needs to be done to support women’s health.
Roberti said the country is going backwards when it comes to this topic. Donovan echoed his sentiments.
“Being a woman shouldn’t be a preexisting condition,” he said.
On other issues, Donovan and Roberti agreed with the legalization of medical marijuana, while Esty supports decriminalization of marijuana. All agreed with the deletion of super PACs and pulling troops out of the Middle East.
A fourth candidate, Randy Yale, was not present at the debate.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated Esty supports the legalization of marijuana; she supports the decriminalization of marijuana.