Courtney spars with three challengers in 2nd District debate

New London — Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney asserted himself here Tuesday night in an even-tempered debate with the three candidates seeking to dislodge him from the 2nd District seat he’s held for a decade.

In a wide-ranging discussion at Connecticut College’s Palmer Auditorium, the soft-spoken congressman sparred with Republican Daria Novak, Libertarian Dan Reale and Green Party candidate Jonathan Pelto, the four of them covering topics that included climate change, the Affordable Care Act, the defense industry and immigration.

More than 150 people — a good portion of them college students — attended the event, which was presented by The Day.

The candidates differed on ways to address student debt, with Reale, a paralegal who lives in Plainfield, suggesting that many college students face debts “created fraudulently” by institutions that misrepresent the value of the educations they offer.

"The system pushes everyone to go to college when many jobs don’t require degrees,” Reale said. “And colleges don’t control their costs." 

Courtney said Congress needs to enact a student loan bill that would reduce the “ridiculously high interest rates” now charged on federal student loans, and agreed that “we’ve got to give kids better understanding of their choices.”

While Novak, a Madison business consultant and former State Department employee, said college isn’t for everybody, Pelto, a former Democratic state representative, said solving the student debt problem is important to the survival of the middle class.

Pelto, a Mansfield resident, objected to Reale’s saying attending college is “a business decision,” arguing that every child who wants to go to college should be able to do so.

Courtney said climate-change “deniers” have hampered congressional efforts to address Russian incursions above the Arctic Circle, which he said requires a military response. Novak agreed.

Both major party candidates also agreed the country must be more aggressive in pursuing alternative forms of energy, with Novak saying free enterprise should be allowed to take the lead.

Pelto also called for investment in solar and hydroelectric power while Reale said thorium, a radioactive element, could supply U.S. energy needs “for 1,000 years.”

Novak called for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, popularly referred to as “Obamacare,” citing rising costs associated with it — a result, she said, of the lack of competition it fosters among insurance companies.

“The answer is Medicare for all,” Pelto said.

Courtney said the introduction of a “public option” would promote competitiveness. He said he supported making Medicare available to those 55 and older.

Novak cast herself as an “outsider” who’s “saying what everybody is feeling out there.”

Courtney, who won his first election in the district by 83 votes, has since won re-election four times by comfortable margins. He pledged to continue representing “every corner of the district.”

All of the candidates vowed to support funding for a new class of submarines to be built at Electric Boat in Groton.

“If you liked ‘Two Sub Joe,’” Reale said, referring to a nickname Courtney earned for helping secure funding for submarine construction, “you’re going to love ‘Five Sub Dan.’”

Pelto said his candidacy was an effort to help establish a third party. He was generally complimentary of Courtney's service.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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