5th District Democrats hold debate before primary

Published 2:04 am Friday, June 14, 2024

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Gloria Witt says she’s seen it over and over in recent years. While working in the corporate and nonprofit sectors, she’s heard from business owners about how the education system simply does not work as currently set up. The President of the Amherst County NAACP, Witt was one of three candidates who spoke during a debate June 1 for Democratic candidates in the 5th Congressional District.

The winner of the current primary between Witt, Paul Reilly and Gary Terry will take on the winner of the Republican battle between incumbent Bob Good and Virginia State Sen. John McGuire this fall. 

And for Witt, she sees the critical focus being one of education. Namely, she believes the federal government needs to rethink how the education system is set up. 

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“We are dumping 60% of our young people on the streets with a diploma and no skills,” Witt said. “And I know there are no skills because the business owners are complaining they can’t find a skilled worker. We got our children locked down for 13 years. It’s creating a system of unskilled people who can’t make a living wage. We’ve got to make high school productive. If you don’t go to the Army or college, you at least walk out of there with a skill.”

Witt said companies need to see a ready workforce before they move into an area. That’s part of the problem she sees across the 5th district. 

To fix that, she feels there needs to be smaller class sizes, so that students and teachers can interact more one-on-one. Also, teachers need to be paid more. But beyond that, she wants to see real world programs connect with the schools. That includes apprenticeship and internship programs, co-ops and job shadowing opportunities. 

One of Witt’s two opponents in the primary, Paul Riley, agreed that schools need an overall. 

“Children are bored,” the retired Army officer, who currently works as a defense contractor, said. “The traditional eight-hour school day just doesn’t work anymore.” 

Riley said he believes the federal government’s role in this is to fix inadequate school funding and then let local and state officials plug that money in and develop a 21st century classroom. 

“If we don’t, we’re going to keep falling further and further behind,” Riley cautioned. 

The third candidate in the debate was Gary Terry. A West Point graduate, Terry currently serves as CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs in Danville. He also believes the government’s role is to provide better funding. 

“It’s all about funding,” Terry said. “We’ve got to give our local governments the funding to create a local education system. We also need to provide funding for teacher pay. Teacher pay is way way down. We need to provide teachers with more money.”  

Looking at 5th District gun safety 

The debate, which was organized by the Fluvanna Democratic Committee, also took a look at the idea of gun safety. All three candidates had their own take on what needed to change when it comes to weapons. 

For Riley, who works as a defense contractor, the problem isn’t that there aren’t good laws on the books. It’s that they’re not always being enforced, due to a lack of manpower or a lack of training or a lack of equipment. 

“We have to enforce the laws that are on the books,” Riley said. “We’re not always doing that. Let’s also close the loopholes.”
Riley said he’d like to see the typical five-day cooling off period for a gun purchase extended to 14 day, to give law enforcement more time to do the background checks rather than rush through them. 

Terry, meanwhile, believes that every gun owner should have to pass a test. The West Point graduate equated it to the work a teenager goes through before being able to drive a car. 

“Much like getting a driver’s license, I think we need a test, a written test,” Terry said, adding he would also like to see prospective gun owners be required to take a mental competency test before buying a weapon. 

“If we can do it for cars, we can do it for guns,” Terry said. 

What about healthcare? 

When it comes to medical care, what needs to change, the candidates were asked. 

Riley pointed out that he’s seen the benefits of a single-payer system, because as an Army veteran, that’s what he has. He wants to put the entire country on the same structure, a one-size fits all solution rather than forcing residents to figure out which doctors their insurance covers and which ones are not on the plan. 

“Right now, our system is broke,” Riley said. “It costs too much money.” 

Witt agreed that she’d like to see a single-payer system, but doesn’t believe we can get there anytime soon.

“I have very little faith that we’ll get it because it’s tied up in a lot of power and privilege,” Witt said. “I think the head of all of this is corporate greed.” 

And until we put safeguards in place to protect against corporate greed, Witt said, situations like our current healthcare system will continue to pop up. 

Why run in 5th District? 

The biggest question residents wanted to know is why are each of the candidates running? All three said they were just frustrated with what they see from everyone currently working in Washington. 

“I’m frankly fed up with what’s going on in Washington D.C.,” Riley said. “The dysfunction and despair you see coming out of there on a daily basis is atrocious. This Congress is the worst Congress since 1932.” 

He criticized incumbent 5th District Rep. Bob Good for not actually doing anything. 

“What do we do with poor performers when they don’t do the job? We fire them,” Riley said. “And that’s what we’re gonna do to Bob Good, we’re gonna fire him. Women’s healthcare is on the line. Taxes is on the line. (The) Affordable Care Act is on the line. Social security is on the line.” 

Witt pointed to other challenges as to why she decided to run. 

“With what happened with Roe v. Wade, that’s a symptom of what’s going to happen if the Maga Right takes control again,” Witt said. “I think I’m the person for the job because I’ve got 30 years of corporate experience. I know how to listen (and) how not to take no for an answer.” 

Finally, Terry said he sees problems and currently in Washington, nobody’s willing to fix them. 

“The things that I see, like food insecurity, housing insecurity, we need to solve those problems,” Terry said. “A lot of our rights are being trampled on.”