Let the 5th District debates begin

Jane Dittmar and Tom Garrett answered questions moderator Bob Gibson chose from the audience.
Photo Eze Amos Jane Dittmar and Tom Garrett answered questions moderator Bob Gibson chose from the audience. Photo Eze Amos

Congressional candidates Jane Dittmar and Tom Garrett met August 10 for the first of four forums, and the two agreed on several issues—and disagreed on many more. Around 200 people crammed into the Senior Center for the event sponsored by the Senior Statesmen of Virginia (no relation to the center).

Democrat Dittmar, a mediator, is the former chair of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, and Republican Garrett is a former prosecutor serving his second term in the state Senate. Both touted their credentials for working across the aisle.

Both opposed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the route of which runs through Nelson County, and both said they’d defy their party’s whips and vote for the interests of the district in Congress.

Dittmar said she was “appalled” at what GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said about the Khans, a Charlottesville Gold Star family whose son died in Iraq.

“I think Donald Trump is a smart man who sometimes picks dumb words,” said Garrett of his party’s standard bearer.

Garrett used the word “shameful” to describe the Affordable Care Act, the Veterans Administration and the rhetoric on gun safety. “You’re four times more likely to be killed by a knife,” he said. “The problem is not guns, it’s violence.”

Dittmar said that she supported the Second Amendment and universal background checks to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, those prone to violence and terrorists.

When asked what specific project they would take to Washington, Dittmar’s No. 1 issue is Internet service in rural areas. “I’m like a dog after a bone on that one,” she said.

Garrett said he’d work on economic development for the 5th District. And he used several opportunities to bring up Deschutes Brewery, which wanted to locate in Albemarle but the county, under Dittmar’s watch, refused to rezone as much land as the Oregon company needed.

He noted several times the lack of cell phone coverage on Route 20 south, which is in Dittmar’s Scottsville district. “It strikes me as brazen to say that we can have Internet service when we can’t get cell service on 20 south and in North Garden,” he said.

Garrett drew groans from the audience when he expressed doubt that climate change is caused by fossil fuels. “I believe climate change is real,” he said. “I believe as long as there has been a climate it’s been changing.” That response got applause, while protests came when he said, “There is debate about whether it’s man-caused.”

And on the national debt, he proposed that young people be given the opportunity to defer receiving Social Security benefits in return for forgiveness of student loan debt.

Dittmar said it was essential to send different people to Washington. “We sent these warriors to Washington and they don’t know how to govern.”

The candidates will meet three more times before November, and two of those—September 28 and October 10—will be in the Charlottesville area.

tom garrett- eze amos
Republican state Senator Tom Garrett at the Senior Statesmen debate August 10. Photo Eze Amos
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Jane Dittmar seeks the 5th District seat that hasn’t been held by a Democrat since Tom Perriello won it in 2008. Photo Eze Amos

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