Despite differences, Bucks Democratic hopefuls agree on this: defeating Fitzpatrick

Democratic candidates for congress in Pennsylvania's 1st Congressional District, Skylar Hurwitz (left) and Christina Finello, debate at Bucks County Community College in Bristol. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Democratic candidates for congress in Pennsylvania's 1st Congressional District, Skylar Hurwitz (left) and Christina Finello, debate at Bucks County Community College in Bristol. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Christina Finello and Skylar Hurwitz disagree on health care, climate change, and the student loan crisis. But they do agree that a Democrat should be sitting in the congressional seat now held by Republican Brian Fitzpatrick.

Finello and Hurwitz are vying for the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District. The winner could go up against incumbent Fitzpatrick in November, but he faces a primary challenge of his own in the April 28 primary.

At a debate Tuesday, sponsored by Bucks County Community College at its Epstein Campus in Bristol, the pair sparred for more than hour, espousing some very different policies.

When it comes to health care, for example, Finello proposes to build on “what was good in the Affordable Care Act, and to create a public option.”

About 100 people came to Bucks County Community College in Bristol to watch the debate between the two remaining Democratic candidates for congress in the 1st Congressional District, Skylar Hurwitz (left) and Christina Finello (right). Faculty member William Pezza (center) moderated the debate. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“We’re not going to throw away the system, we’re going to make sure that we fix what works and we’re going to do away with what doesn’t,” she said. “What we’re not going to do is roll it completely back and start over from scratch, because that’s never how you get policy work done, to keep going back and starting over.”

Hurwitz, who believes health care is a human right, says there should be a Medicare for All approach.

“We’re overspending, in the amount of double compared to our neighbors around the world in major economies,” he said. “We have a chance to cut those costs over the next 10 years while bringing the 27 million uninsured Americans onto insurance.”

On the student loan crisis, Hurwitz called for the elimination of student debt and the implementation of tuition-free college through a tax on individuals with at least $32 million in wealth.

Finello called for refinancing the interest rates on student loans, going after predatory lending practices, and more ubiquitous loan-forgiveness programs.

They were in accord, though, about Democratic assertions that Congress is losing its oversight power over the executive branch because of resistance put up by the Trump administration, and that America is not more respected around the world, despite claims by the president.

Hurwitz, calling himself an independent Democrat, said that he was not only supporting presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, he was inspired to run by the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist. But he said he is looking beyond November.

“Right now, I’m concerned that we’re running a lot of ‘anti-Fitz’ campaigns or anti-Trump campaigns,” Hurwitz said. “And once they’re gone, we need something for people to still care about us in the next election, so they just don’t get the next Republican back into office.”

Finello, describing herself as a “proud moderate,” said she would support whoever wins the Democratic primary for this congressional race, and for president. She said she believes, however, that the fight has just begun when it comes to whose vision will win out.

“Clearly, the progressive arm of our party and those candidates have done better in the first few races,” she said.

The 1st Congressional District covers all of Bucks County, plus Hatfield, Lansdale, Montgomery Township, Souderton, Telford, and parts of Franconia and Horsham Townships in Montgomery County.

Finello, 43 of Ivyland, is former deputy director of the Bucks County Department of Housing and Human Services. She has the endorsement of the Democratic Central Committees in Bucks and Montgomery counties and that of several township supervisors.

Hurwitz, 27 of New Hope, is the owner of a technology firm. He has received endorsements from LEAP Forward, Our Revolution Pennsylvania, and the local Sunrise Movement.

When Tuesday’s debate was originally announced, there were three Democrats seeking the nomination. Last Thursday, Pennsbury School Board member Debbie Wachspress dropped out of the race, amid accusations — in one of two federal lawsuits filed against the district — that she used homophobic and racist language at a meeting. Wachspress has denied those claims.

Wachspress has thrown her support to Finello.

Fitzpatrick — one of the few local Republicans to survive the blue wave during the 2018 midterm congressional elections — faces a primary challenge from Northampton businessman Andy Meehan.

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