NEW LONDON – A largely predictable back and forth between Rep. Joe Courtney and his Republican challenger Mike France during the second debate for the 2nd Congressional District, also highlighted the challenges for third parties to break through political and media rules designed to serve the two major parties.
At the Wednesday night debate at the Garde Arts Center, hosted by The Day of New London and WFSB, the two major party candidates, Courtney and France, were content to needle each other in a format limited to soundbites and ignore the presence of the third party challenger, Green Party candidate Kevin Blacker
Blacker had not been included in the first debate for the 2nd Congressional District, hosted by Connecticut Public Broadcasting and the League of Women Voters earlier this month.
He stood out on stage Wednesday night, a long beard and short-sleeve shirt contrasting with the suits and clean shaves of Courtney and France.
While the Republican and Democratic candidates largely followed their party lines on abortion, gun control and clean energy, Blacker, no stranger to conflict, appeared disappointed that neither of his opponents would take a jab at him.
That put Blacker at a disadvantage in the debate format – where the three candidates were given time to answer each question, then one was allowed to give a shorter rebuttal for each question. Not acknowledged by the other candidates, Blacker was left with little to rebut.
“I mean, I said what I have to say,” Blacker said during one of his rebuttals, after The Day legislative reporter Sten Spinella asked whether he supported replacing the electoral college with a popular vote for presidential elections.
“I’ll just add, I’m a little bit left out over here, a little out in the cold as these guys argue like an old, married couple,” Blacker said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “They’re giving stereotypical party views, and they’re just ignoring me, going back and forth with each other, which is just a politician’s move.”
In the back and forth between Courtney and France, the strongest reaction from the crowd came when they sparred over abortion. CT Mirror Capitol Bureau Chief Mark Pazniokas asked whether there should be a federal right to same-sex marriage, contraception, and sex between consenting adults – referring to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinion that the court could use the same rationale that overturned Roe v. Wade to overturn decisions establishing those rights.
Blacker, given the first opportunity to answer, briefly affirmed that same-sex marriage, contraception, and sex between consenting adults should be federal rights.
France and Courtney instead took aim at each other.
France, answering second, branded Courtney as “extreme” on abortion – likening his vote to allow abortion until the “viability” of the fetus to China and North Korea. France said that in Europe the “norm” is restricting abortion after 12 weeks, and that 15 weeks is the “extreme.”
“I made it very clear that, whatever limits are put on by the states, I would support exceptions for the life of the mother, rape and incest,” France said.
Courtney in turn took the opportunity to challenge France’s position on abortion, referring again to an interview by France with WFSB’s Eric Parker, where he said he would vote for the federal ban on abortion after 15 weeks proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.
Courtney said that the bill France called extreme included the same viability standard as Connecticut law. If Graham’s proposal was passed, it would overturn Connecticut’s law, Courtney said.
“Spare me your crocodile tears for states’ rights,” Courtney said. “The position that you have taken will capsize Connecticut’s law, and that’s not my opinion. And I’ve been around a few times in this part of Connecticut, that’s not what people are looking for.”
Outside of the fray, Blacker used his 30-second rebuttal instead to speak to the issue that pushed him into political prominence – the redevelopment of the New London State Pier into a hub for assembling turbines for offshore wind projects in the Atlantic Ocean.
“I’ll talk about State Pier any chance I’m given,” Blacker said. “Two ongoing FBI investigations, an Attorney General investigation, the State Contracting Standards Board stated that the deal was illegal. It is massively over budget. It is the poster child of everything that is wrong with government in Connecticut.”
When WFSB Chief Capitol Reporter Susan Raff asked the candidates their plans to create clean, sustainable energy, Courtney touted the State Pier project for playing a part in offshore wind development he said is going to play a “big part” in reducing carbon emissions.
He also touted the Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Waterford, saying the federal infrastructure bill would allow for it to operate longer – which he said was another critical piece to reducing carbon emissions.
Blacker said there need to be clean, renewable sources of energy to combat climate change, but the solutions have to be affordable given that electric rates in Connecticut are already “cripplingly high.” He said there needs to be an emphasis on energy efficiency, and “radical innovation” to find new sources of renewable energy.
“It’s going to take outside the box, radical thought,” Blacker said.
France said it was crucial to make sure that there is a “robust portfolio” of energy sources, “not just limited to what the government decides is green.” He said the federal government is restricting innovation by limiting what it considers “green” to solar and wind, and pointed to the European Union’s decision to consider some uses of natural gas and nuclear energy as “sustainable sources.”
“The decision that green energy is only wind and solar was purely political,” France said. “There’s other sources: Nuclear, which is the cleanest energy, and natural gas, which provides energy with a lower exhaust fumes.”
Courtney again aimed his rebuttal at France, saying his Republican opponent needs to take a closer look at the Department of Energy budget to see a “huge investment” in looking for ways to reprocess nuclear waste.
A recording of the full debate is available here.