VIDEO | Delaware's candidates for governor talk COVID, opioids, race and law enforcement in WDEL debate

Daily Freeman-2 months before

WDEL's Chris Carl hosted Democrat incumbent John Carney and Republican challenger Julianne Murray for a discussion of what's next for the First State with whomever should be at the helm next year. 

Each candidate had two minutes to respond to an initial question, followed by untimed back-and-forth rebuttals. a breakdown of the discussion is as follows. 

Both candidates were asked at the top of the debate for their pitch to voters. What separates them from each other, and what do they bring to the table they believe to be strengths that elevate them above the competition.¬...

Julianne Murray, facing a significant disadvantage based on party affiliation and voter registration rolls, said she'd like potential Democrats who feel a potential for swinging her direction to survey the landscape for themselves. She included the cost invested into the education system versus the returns being seen on Delaware's tests scores. 

"We don't want one party to be in control of all of the branches, basically. And so my appeal to Democrats has been, 'Look, we have a very decimated economy. We have to do something about the economy.' Every single person in this state has been impacted by the COVID-19 economy, but the reality is that even before COVID-19, we were predicted to have a recession in the state," said Murray. "So I feel like the direction that we were going with business, with taxes, with energy costs, with regulations has decimated our economy."

A "steady hand" is what the state needs now, and Carney said his leadership and forward thinking prior to the pandemic allowed the state to escape some of the long-term economic affects. 

"It's time now to, for all of us as Delawareans--and we're all Delawareans--is to turn our attention to the business of the state, and the business of the state...is to get control of COVID-19, to fight COVID-19. We're doing what works," Carney said. "I think Delawareans want somebody with a steady hand, somebody who's been there. We've set aside a large reserve and, as it turned out, now we don't have to raise taxes or cut important programs to move forward in our state. So if Delawareans want somebody with that kind of steady hand as governor, then they should support me again."

Moving forward, new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have remained elevated and Delaware continues to see deaths related to the virus, while the economy continues to suffer with diminished capacity for much of Delaware's businesses. 

It's obvious the topic would dominate conversation for anyone in a political position facing reelection, and Carney is no exception. Carney said he's had to make incredibly difficult decisions, but those decisions were still necessary--and there are still tough decisions which need to be made, as the virus is still here. He said there are already states which can be pointed to as examples of how detrimental to recovery it can be to reopen too soon. 

"It's really, really difficult decisions that have to be made, but it's fundamentally about trying to control and manage COVID-19, which isn't going away," Carney said. "We can't go back to business as usual, because the COVID-19 virus still is existing within our state. And so we need to gradually bring businesses back online and we've been doing that, particularly our hospitality businesses...The challenge going forward is to gradually bring our economy back online. About 80,000 Delawareans were out of work, half of those are back to work. We need to get the rest back to work and the only way to do that is to control the virus. Do what works, what's working in other states, what's recommended by the CDC, and get people back to work and back to school."

Much of Murray's campaign has been built around reopening Delaware following lengthy COVID-19 shutdowns. Her argument is things are better now, it's not as impactful to those exposed these days, and Delaware's small businesses are suffering, particularly after much of what was left of the state's economy was funneled toward big box stores during the pandemic. Murray held fast to the idea that reopening is the best path forward for all. 

"Delawarean's are suffering here. The private sector in this state has just been decimated. The restaurant industry has lost $775 million through August. Sussex County lost $300 million over the summer. Control and manage COVID has to do with what the benchmarks are going to be," she said. "We have had fatalities due to COVID-19. There is no doubt about that. But it is largely not fatal, and the fear of COVID cannot be overtaking all of the other aspects of our lives."

Talking to parents who have lost children and witnessing the grief they express has driven Carny to establish a consortium focused on address the thing that was the biggest crisis before the pandemic got underway.

"The assessment of our efforts to reduce the opioid crisis is to contain it, and for opioid overdoses to go down. We would argue that what we've been doing has contained them, but they haven't gone down. The lieutenant governor has taken up this responsibility as chair of the Behavioral Health Consortium," Carney sad. "We, as a society and as healthcare providers and as law enforcement, have to be prepared, have to be ready to help an addict, when they're ready to accept that help."

Agreeing on the idea that addicts only get help when they are are ready to accept it, Murray said resources are important, but so are improvements on how the Department of Correction can impact offenders facing penalties for drug-related crimes. 

"I think most people have experienced somebody in their life who is an addict or suffers from an opioid addiction. And so you have to, to some degree, go to some of the root causes of what happens here," she said. "We could make some improvements on how we're dealing with the opioid crisis within the correctional facilities, and then through the probation programs, but I think that the other thing that has to happen is kind of how did they end up in addict in the first place...There has to be a multi-pronged attack to this part of it, dealing with the actual addict and then part of it is more what I call societal in terms of how are they getting there and what can we be doing to improve the lives of the people that makes them turn to drugs."

Questions on race relations in Delaware and how the community and law enforcement interact were both asked, but their relevancy to each other, at a national level, means both sets of answers will be provided under the same banner. 

Wilmington has seen more than 155 shootings and 26 homicides in 2020, with Murray citing it as the worst year since 2017, and the second worst year since 2011. 

"Number one is that the police have to feel like they have backing from the governor, and from the Attorney General, and the other side of that is that the community has to believe that if there is a bad cop, that it's not just going to get glossed over and the person gets moved, and there's a perception that law enforcement closes ranks and doesn't really deal with the problem...I absolutely believe--and have stated very publicly--that when you are a law enforcement officer, you are in a position of public trust, if you breach that trust, if you abuse your power, you do not deserve to be law enforcement and you need to be fired."

She added later that you can have two conversations at once, one about equality and one about criminal justice reform. 

"I think that there are some inequities--and I know that you're talking about race relations--but it plays into the criminal justice side of things. There has been an unequal impact on the African American population with minimum mandatory sentences. About 25% to 26% of the population of Delaware is African American, but it is 60% of the prison population."

A 30-year resident of Wilmington, Carney said the city is, by-and-large, a safe city, with a crime situation fueled by young males involved in gang activity, impacting predominantly poorer neighborhoods. 

"I always say that Delaware can't be successful if Wilmington is not successful, and Wilmington can't be successful if the business district and every neighborhood in the city and every family individually in the city is successful," he said. "There's a lot of violence that happens in certain neighborhoods. We know that, the Wilmington PD knows that, and we've taken up an evidence-based approach to try to break up these gangs and get them to stop shooting one another. Obviously, at the moment, it's not working. But we are making progress and trying to pry away the individuals who want out, and there are plenty of them who do."

Carney said the pandemic stifled much of the efforts into which they were pouring resources prior, but targeting gang activity was having positive effects on addressing the root causes of violence in the city. He also pointed to the state's investments into HBCU Delaware State and his nomination of six Black judges to the court 

"Probably the most important priority of my administration is to make sure that we do better by our black and brown children and children from disadvantaged backgrounds," he said. "We've made incredible progress over the years...But ultimately, it comes back to giving every Delaware child the opportunity...to be successful, and so our investments in opportunity funding are leaning into improving the schools."

One of Carney's final points about race relations in the state was indicative of what needs to be done to improve educational opportunities here. Equality is achieved by opportunity, and Carney said Delaware needs to continue to strive to do better for its students. 

"We need to do better by children from disadvantaged backgrounds and English learners across their state. Increasingly, they're almost the majority of the population in our public schools, from Brandywine Hundred to lower Sussex County. And that's why I created opportunity funding--notwithstanding the significant budget deficit that I inherited in my first year--and have built on that," he said. "That's why we just settled a case with the NAACP and the ACLU to continue to make these investments to give these children a better opportunity. Look we can't be successful as a state; we can't fix this gun violence problem in the city of Wilmington; we can't fix opioid addiction across communities across our state, unless we can get our children reading proficiently at grade three, doing math at an eighth grade level, and middle school prepared to go on to high school, and graduate ready to go productively into the workforce."

The state is burning money on education for some reason, and seeing failing results in return, Murray said. 

"I have been very hard on this administration on the campaign trail, about education and how bad it is that we're dedicating 40% of our over $4 billion budget, and only about a third of eighth graders are proficient in English and math," she said. "The reality is that Wilmington is suffering and I agree with the governor that education is key to lots of things. It opens up opportunities for people, and businesses come here if they feel like they're getting good students...This has been an ongoing problem that we have known about. You've had four years to improve education and now, this is where we are. So I think there's a lot of room for improvement and it's got to be a top priority."

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