Republican Paul Milde and Democrat Josh Cole met face–to–face in a debate on Wednesday night at the University of Mary Washington’s Lee Hall.

Supporters from both sides filled the room to standing–room–only capacity to observe the 60–minute debate between the candidates for the 28th District House seat in November’s election. The district covers parts of Stafford County and Fredericksburg.

Each candidate addressed questions about issues including health care, the minimum wage, gun control, equal rights, transportation, education and immigration.

On health care, Cole, who favors a cap on prescription drug charges, applauded Del. Bob Thomas for being one of 20 House Republicans who joined 49 Democrats to pass a budget that expands Medicaid with fiscally conservative concessions such as work requirements and cost–sharing provisions for recipients.

Milde, who defeated Thomas for the GOP nomination this year, also believes in capping prescription drug costs and agrees health care is a basic right. But he said he “believes any government takeover of health care will result in an increase in costs.”

Both candidates agree that some form of personal identification should be required at the voter booth, but Milde said Cole’s proposal to close schools and treat Election Day as a holiday to allow everyone an opportunity to vote would be fiscally problematic in the long run for area government and schools.

Candidates traded jabs on whether Virginia needs a $15 minimum wage.

Milde said it would cost jobs and said, “Higher minimum wages accelerate automation,” citing kiosks at fast food restaurants that have taken away jobs.

“The one size fits all notions sound good, but they don’t work,” said Milde.

Cole, who said Virginia lags behind surrounding states who have a higher minimum wage, supports the increase, and countered Milde by saying, “Localities can set their own wage.”

On guns, Cole supports universal background checks, as well as red-flag laws that permit police or family members to petition a state court for the temporary removal of firearms from individuals who may present a danger to themselves or others.

Milde said recent shootings show mental health is an issue that needs to be addressed to prevent violence and said Cole’s proposals are simply “taking away guns without due process.”

“This isn’t a new problem,” said Milde. “We can figure out the answers.”

Cole said, “The GOP refuses to take action ... we will vote them out and replace them.”

Both candidates had different opinions on student debt.

While Cole thinks Virginia should consider following other states that provide free access to community colleges, Milde proposes freezing tuition rates once a student is enrolled in a state university to prevent additional burdens while repaying their loans.

Cole said Virginia is “dead last for workers’ rights” and will repeal right to work laws, while Milde supports those laws. Milde said right to work laws are, “one of the things that makes Virginia great.”

Cole is currently the executive assistant to the CEO of GCubed Enterprises in Stafford. He also serves on the Stafford County Public Schools Superintendent’s Equity, Diversity and Opportunity Committee, the Greater Fredericksburg Area Interfaith Council, and as president of the Stafford County NAACP. He is also an assistant pastor at Stafford’s Union Bell Baptist Church.

Milde, a local businessman and owner of CIP Finishes, served 12 years on the Stafford County Board of Supervisors, representing the Aquia District. He also chaired the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and served on the board of the Virginia Railway Express.

As for the outcome of November’s election, both candidates see victory in their respective corners.

“I am certainly motivated,” said Milde. “We are going to work as hard as anyone ever has in the 28th to win that seat.”

Cole said, “We believe we are going to win. We feel real strongly that we have an opportunity to do that.”

Milde said he is campaigning on his “ability to get results, to improve people’s daily lives” and his “vast experience” with transportation issues. He also favors increased funding for education and improving the quality of life in the region.

Some of Cole’s top issues include improving transportation in the region, education, criminal justice reform, housing, and health care. Cole also said he wants to “ensure constituents succeed, regardless of their religious background, where they come from, or their sexual orientation.”

Wednesday night’s debate was moderated by Stephen Farnsworth, director of the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies.

The event was held in a large classroom in Lee Hall, which required additional chairs to be brought in to accommodate the overflow of guests. But even with additional chairs, many in attendance stood during the entire debate.

The debate was the second of four legislative race debates sponsored by UMW’s Democratic and Republican student organizations, the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, The Free Lance-Star and the League of Women Voters. Candidates for the 88th District House seat will debate at 7 p.m. Friday in UMW’s Lee Hall.

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James Scott Baron: 540/374-5438

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