DOVER — A Thursday night debate between some candidates for statewide offices grew heated briefly when Republican gubernatorial nominee Julianne Murray assigned some of the blame for a 2017 prison inmate uprising to Gov. John Carney.
Speaking during a virtual event hosted by the Delaware League of Women Voters and other organizations, Ms. Murray accused Gov. Carney of ordering law enforcement to “stand down” during the riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. The incident, which took place Feb. 1 and stretched into the next morning, ultimately claimed the life of correctional officer Steven Floyd. It was less than three weeks after Gov. Carney took office.
Clearly taking umbrage to Ms. Murray’s suggestion, Gov. Carney fired back, responding that then Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps made all the decisions during the standoff, including when to breach the building.
“Those are the facts,” the governor, a Democrat seeking a second term, said.
Ms. Murray briefly disputed his reply, saying she spoke to “too many witnesses” to believe it, before the moderator moved on to another question.
Ms. Murray, who won a six-way primary in September, sought on several occasions to portray Gov. Carney as out-of-touch, attacking his handling of the pandemic.
“Delaware needs a fresh start and needs political balance,” she said. “We need to get rid of career politicians like Gov. Carney who are beholden to special interests.”
For his part, Gov. Carney defended the continued COVID restrictions, noting he is listening to medical experts and following the science.
Urging Delawareans to back him when they go to the polls Tuesday, he cited prior time in different offices, some elected and some not, throughout county, state and federal government.
“I’ve got both the experience and the trust of the people who’ve elected me. … They know that I’m going to do what I tell them,” he said.
Ms. Murray called for reopening the state, saying officials should concentrate their efforts on nursing homes, which have seen a disproportionate share of COVID-related deaths.
The Republican also took aim at the governor over a lawsuit alleging discrimination in education funding, questioning why it was settled earlier this month, just weeks before the election. Gov. Carney replied that the settlement builds on expanded funding for needy students his administration proposed several years ago, disputing claims the litigation was taken care of to boost his reelection prospects.
The two differed on the mail-in voting process approved this year due to the pandemic, with Ms. Murray expressing concerns about fraud while Gov. Carney called it “common sense” and a way to expand civic participation in democracy.
Also participating over Zoom were Independent Party of Delaware gubernatorial candidate Kathy DeMatteis; Democratic Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long and Republican challenger Donyale Hall; and Democratic Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro and Republican hopeful Julia Pillsbury.
All candidates agreed racial discrimination is an issue in the state and pledged to fight it, endorsing policies like police body cameras and criminal justice reform.
On the subject of health care, Dr. Pillsbury said she will expand the state’s market, lowering costs in part by giving consumers more choices. Currently, Highmark is the only provider operating here through the Affordable Care Act’s Marketplace.
“In Delaware competition and choice has been essentially eliminated,” she told listeners.
Mr. Navarro touted his administration’s work in codifying protections offered by the ACA and expanding mental health and substance abuse coverage. The blame for the lack of competition belongs to congressional Republicans, who have devastated the ACA “by a thousand papercuts” and driven Aetna out of the state, he said.
The event was preceded by a debate the night before featuring House Republican nominee Lee Murphy and Catherine Purcell from the Independent Party of Delaware. Other candidates for Congress, including Sen. Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, were invited but did not attend.
Senate GOP nominee Lauren Witzke showed up but dropped out without warning just before the debate started when informed Sen. Coons would not be there. Because of federal laws regarding political neutrality for nonprofits, Independent Party of Delaware nominee Mark Turley, who was in attendance, was then unable to speak.