If policy positions were pared down to “yes or no” questions, candidates for the 8th Congressional District seat would not disagree on much.
Friday morning’s third and final debate at Delaware Valley University was evidence that Democrat Steve Santarsiero and Republican Brian Fitzpatrick hold similar ideological stances on most issues — both want laws for gun safety, renewable solutions for energy, campaign finance reform, secure borders and investment in infrastructure and education, to name a few.
But the main difference between the two is their backgrounds, and how that informs their views on government.
Santarsiero, a four-term representative in the state House, was previously chairman for the Lower Makefield Board of Supervisors and a history teacher at Bensalem High School. Before that, he was a lawyer.
When asked what it means to be a Democrat during the debate, Santarsiero talked about the role of the government to “do what we can to make our country a better place.”
“Not that government is the solution to every problem we have, and not that it should be omnipresent in people’s lives,” Santarsiero said. “But that we can use government’s legitimate power to make our society better.”
Fitzpatrick spent six years in the FBI before his campaign, working in counter-terrorism and anti-corruption. He’s eager to speak on national security, and brings that element of his experience to most issues. He is a licensed attorney and Certified Public Accountant in Pennsylvania.
When posed the same question as Santarsiero, but on the Republican side, Fitzpatrick talked about another issue he frequently addresses: bipartisanship.
“Isn’t it more important that we put our country ahead of our party?” Fitzpatrick responded, attributing the “brokenness” in government to partisanship. His response also captured his broader view of government.
“I’m a big believer in the individual over government,” he said.
The debate, just over an hour long, didn’t uncover much for those who have been observing closely, but it did touch on a few issues that haven’t been addressed in past debates.
When asked about term limits for members of Congress, Santarsiero said he believes in term limits, but thinks terms should be longer than two years.
“No sooner do you get in, than all the sudden you’re in a reelection campaign,” he said. “This is supposed to be about service … not a career.”
Fitzpatrick called term limits “the most important thing we can do in this country,” and spoke about it from his FBI experience.
“It was rare, if ever, that we would arrest, indict, convict a politician that was 2, 3, 4 years in office,” he said. “It is a corrupting system, it is a money-driven system.”
Fitzpatrick’s brother, Mike, is the current congressman in the 8th District. He’s giving up his seat because of a self-imposed four-term limit. Neither current candidate has committed to a term limit.
On Social Security, the candidates again took similar stances. Both agreed that Social Security needs to be protected and maintained by growing the economy.
The same went for voting rights.
Santarsiero used the word “deplorable” to describe Donald Trump’s refusal to say if he would accept the results of the presidential election. He also brought up gerrymandered districts, campaign spending and term limits as issues that affect voters.
“We should make it easier for people to vote,” he said, supporting early voting, voting by mail.
“We have to ensure that everybody has free access to the ballot box,” Fitzpatrick said, noting that there should be more polling stations. “The fundamental principles of our democracy only work if people vote.” ••