Rep. Steve Stivers and challenger Joel Newby, who are both vying for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District seat, debated on topics such as the coronavirus and health care during a virtual debate Friday hosted by the Columbus Metropolitan Club.
The event was livestreamed on the CMC’s Youtube channel from noon to 1 p.m. and was moderated by Mike Thompson, chief content director at WOSU Public Media.
Throughout the debate, Rep. Stivers, a Republican, touted his record in Congress, especially in regards to bipartisanship, while Newby, a Democrat, continually addressed the notion that Stivers did not put his words into action for his constituents.
The first topic introduced by Thompson was the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stivers said the best response to the pandemic includes encouraging everyone to wear a mask and social distance. He also wants to see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention come up with a more national framework, which would help interstate commerce.
“The other interesting and problematic thing … was we saw differences between the states,” Stivers said. “In Ohio, for example, construction was considered an essential service, and in Michigan, it was not.”
Newby agreed with Stivers that masks are important and people need to social distance. Newby also believes the government needs to take steps to make sure there is a vaccine and a treatment for the virus.
“My focus would be on conquering the virus, making sure that we instill trust back into the federal government,” Newby said.
Newby also said Stivers currently has a platform that he can use the sitting representative. With that platform, Newby feels there has been more talk than action, especially in regards to masks. Newby said Stivers has been photographed without a mask or maintaining social distance on multiple occasions.
“You’re supposed to be a leader, but you’re showing lack of leadership right there by not taking those steps,” Newby said. “I think as a leader, it’s something we have to promote.”
In response, Stivers said his record includes the support of three bipartisan aid packages that were pushed through and helped people.
Thompson moved on to ask how the candidates will protect pre-existing conditions if the Affordable Care Act gets overturned and their plans to fix the healthcare system.
Stivers said he is currently a co-sponsor of a bill that would protect people with pre-existing conditions.
Regarding more general reform for health care, Stivers wants to make medicine more affordable and increase price transparency through bipartisan efforts.
Newby stands for a single-payer system, as he believes there are too many holes in the current Medicare system. However, Newby knows that neither President Donald Trump nor former Vice President Joe Biden wants a single-payer system, so he knows his job will probably be to help fix the Affordable Care Act.
“A single-payer system will kick 180 million Americans off of their private insurance that they like,” Stivers said in response. “It will also raise costs, and it will increase the size and scope of the federal government.”
A single-payer health care plan would allow people to choose the doctors and hospitals that they can go to, instead of the insurance choosing for them, which increases people’s choices about their health care, Newby said.
The candidates then discussed taxes and spending, mostly focusing on Trump’s tax cuts before the pandemic and how that influenced the economy.
Newby said the tax cuts only made Ohio’s economy appear stronger and increased wage inequality in Ohio.
“By weakening the funds that our federal government was able to take advantage of by not taxing the wealthy and making them pay their fair share, it actually puts in a weaker spot to deal with large pandemics like this,” Newby said.
Newby believes the rich should pay their fair share in order to help fund roads, bridges and schools because if someone is ahead, they should be reaching back to help the next person up.
Stivers said those tax cuts did work, with unemployment now at 3.5%, wage growth at 3.2%, and economic growth at almost 4%. He believes the tax cuts would have decreased the deficit if the pandemic hadn’t hit.
Both candidates also affirmed their belief in climate change but had different thoughts on what energies the U.S. should primarily use.
“Climate change is the issue of our generation, and we have to deal with it,” Newby said.
Newby said he is focused on expanding solar energy farms in the district as well as wind farms. He wants to move away from fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, by 2050.
Stivers believes natural gas is helping the U.S.
He said natural gas helped the U.S. exceed output under the Kyoto Protocols, reducing emissions more than any other country. He believes natural gas is an important bridge for the U.S. to use as well as battery technology.
One of the last questions asked pertained to social justice, including how to eliminate systemic racism.
Stivers believes systemic racism exists. He thinks it can be combated through police reform, including banning chokeholds and de-escalation training. Economic reform, like improving minority homeownership, is also necessary. He does not believe in defunding the police but does sympathize with the frustrations people have and wants to make sure those people’s voices are heard.
“If everybody can’t achieve the American dream, the freedoms don’t mean as much,” Stivers said.
Newby said his platform from the start included bail reform and affordable housing. After George Floyd was killed, he talked to members of the Black community and expanded on his platform to meet those needs. He also said it is OK to have a police force for peacekeeping but that the U.S. should take care of drug and mental health problems in a more effective way.
“I think that protecting our citizens is paramount,” Newby said.