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Democratic candidates for Vermont U.S. Senate seat debate

VPR Democratic debate screenshot: top row host Connor Cyrus (left) and Isaac Evans-Frantz. Bottom row: Congressman peter Welch (left) and Dr. Niki Thran
Vermont Public Radio/Vermont PBS
Vermont Public Radio/Vermont PBS
VPR Democratic debate screenshot: top row host Connor Cyrus (left) and Isaac Evans-Frantz. Bottom row: Congressman Peter Welch (left) and Dr. Niki Thran

All of Vermont’s constitutional offices, its at-large House and one U.S. Senate seat are up for election this year. The announced retirement of Democratic U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy at the end of the year has set off dominoes as seats long held are now competitive. Democrats running for the U.S. Senate seat debated on Wednesday.

There are three Democrats running for the U.S. Senate – Isaac Evans-Frantz, an activist from Brattleboro; emergency physician Dr. Niki Thran from Warren and current eight-term Congressman Peter Welch from Norwich.

In the Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS debate, the first question posed by host and moderator Connor Cyrus focused on guns.

“How would you implement gun control measures while maintaining access to firearms for hunting. Isaac Evans-Frantz we’ll start with you.”

“We need universal background checks,” says Evans-Frantz. “We need red flag laws. And we need to make sure that we’re standing up to the gun lobby in this country. You know I think Vermont has a really good policy where we make sure that if you’re 18 years old, you know if you’re 17 years old, sure you could get a gun for hunting. But you don’t need an AR-15 to go out and kill a deer. So I think that we need to expand that kind of law to across the country so that we have rational gun policy.”

Cyrus turns to the next candidate. “ Dr. Niki Thran.”

“I’ve had the unfortunate experience of having to tell a mother that her 15-year-old son had died from a gunshot wound,” Thran recalls. “We have to expand background checks, have waiting periods. We need to ban assault rifles. We need safe storage. And it’s a fallacy to say that gun violence is a result of mental health. It’s a multi-faceted problem. It needs a multi-faceted solution and part of that is addressing the gun manufacturers.”

Moderator Connor Cyrus: “Representative Peter Welch your turn.”

“I’ve supported and we’ve passed in the House gun safety legislation,” responds Welch. “Many of the provisions that Isaac and Niki have advocated for were thwarted in the Senate. So what we need to get common sense, legitimate gun safety legislation passed is a Senate that is going to act and pass that legislation we approved in the House.”

Another topic of keen interest is inflation and rising gas prices. The candidates were asked if they support more domestic oil production and what ideas they have to reduce gas prices. Evans-Frantz does not support additional U.S. oil production at this time.

“I support getting off of oil. I support our moving to energy independence to safe renewable energy. We should not be kissing up to the Saudi dictator right now. We’ve successfully blocked the import of Russian oil. Why are we talking about going to Saudi Arabia for oil and cheaper gas prices? To address the prices at the pump one thing that we can do is stockpile oil. So instead of having Saudi Arabia control our oil prices that’s something that America can do.”

Dr. Thran supports increased domestic production as a temporary solution.

“The gas prices are part of the overall problem of inflation. I think one of the ways that we can increase production is by increasing work visas for people who want to work in this country, for immigrants, and that would help increase supply. The other thing we have to do is stop the oil companies and the refineries from gouging us and taking advantage of the situation.”

Congressman Welch said Thran makes a good point about oil companies “ripping off” Americans.

“Nothing’s changed in terms of the cost of production for these companies but they’re charging us five bucks, or six bucks for diesel. And the rip off here is that the oil companies are exploiting the situation.”

Moderator Connor Cyrus asks Welch, “So should we be taxing oil companies? Is that what you’re proposing?”

“Yes,” says Welch. “This is a windfall profit. It’s not like they have higher expenses. They’re just exploiting the situation and they’re doing it because they can.”

The candidates were also quizzed about police reform; the impact of social media and whether companies such as Facebook and Twitter should be regulated; and other topics.

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