VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The stimulus package took center stage during a House debate Thursday in a district that Republicans are targeting this fall.
Freshman Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), Republican challenger Scott Rigell and independent candidate Kenny Golden faced off in a high school auditorium filled with more than 500 people.
Rigell, a millionaire owner of a local car dealership, told the crowd of the turmoil his business suffered during the economic downturn, but said the stimulus was not the answer. "Either we believe in the free market or we don't," Rigell said.
Nye was often on the defensive throughout the debate; explaining his vote on the stimulus, Nye said, "When I first got into Congress, we were in the worst economic crisis we had ever seen." When the candidates were first introduced, there was a low grumbling at the mention of Nye's name, contrasted with applause for Rigell. Nye voted against healthcare reform, though Rigell pointed out that Nye waited until the day before the vote to announce his opposition.
He accused Nye of basing his vote on whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had enough Democratic votes to pass the legislation.
"Clarity comes to Congressman Nye when clarity comes to Speaker Pelosi on the vote count," Rigell said.
Nye responded that he was reading each section of the bill in detail before announcing his decision. He offered several explanations for voting against the legislation. "I went against my party and voted for what I thought was right," Nye said.
He later added, “I decided it wasn't the right plan for the people I represent."
Nye, who was a foreign-service officer before being elected in 2008, refrained from attacking Rigell or Golden during the debate. He delivered his most detailed answers on the issue of American foreign policy regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, citing his recent visit to Afghanistan and his experience overseas as a foreign-service officer.
During his closing remarks, Rigell held up a Nye flyer he said arrived at his home. "During the time we've been sitting here debating, the deficit has increased by 1 million," Rigell said. "It's because of waste like this taxpayer funded mailer as my opponent uses your tax money to campaign."