Candidates for the District 20 House of Representatives seat squared off Oct. 10 as they explained their views on key local and state issues.
All three candidates – incumbent Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, Democrat John Bucchioni and Libertarian Harry Smouse – attended the League of Women Voters forum, sharing their platforms and answering questions.
Speaking to an audience of about 100, Smouse said he is a regular working guy who wants to see change.
“There are some things in Dover that I don't like, so that's why I'm running for office as a Libertarian,” he said.
In his bid for re-election, Smyk said he has represented the Milton and Lewes area well and plans to bring more money to Sussex County. “The majority of the population is in New Castle County, and it's going to be very difficult to wrestle it away from that,” he said. “I've worked very well with other legislators to bring attention here.”
As a Democrat, Bucchioni said a vote for him would put him in the majority caucus and give him more opportunity to lobby for Sussex County.
“The minority party does not have the voice. If you elect me, you send me to Dover, you now have a voice in the majority caucus. You have a voice to bring the money down,” he said.
Following a question about bringing affordable housing to the area, Smyk said no one wants to talk about about affordable housing because of socioeconomic reasons.
“No one wants someone who doesn't have an equal income as theirs living next to them,” he said. “That's sad and not right.”
He said affordable housing is a need and the state housing authority can serve as a source and should help the area.
Bucchioni said housing is too expensive in areas where the jobs are, but jobs and ancillary industries should be built that won't interrupt the area's agriculture. “That's really key,” he said.
Smouse, in the first of many candid responses of the evening, said developers should stop building homes that cost $500,000 and higher.
“Let's have them come in and build something people can afford. We see these houses that we can't afford, and we're wondering how others can afford them,” he said.
On gun control, opinions among the candidates varied.
“Let me be very clear. I'm for the assault weapon ban. I'm for reducing the clips. I'm for all the things along that line,” Bucchioni said, adding he would support legislation banning those weapons and ammunition.
Smouse said he opposes a ban on any weapon. “I would like to see full auto being legal. It's up to a responsible gun owner to take care of their weapon and not do anything stupid. It's not for government to legislate. It's just another case of government overreach,” he said.
Smyk said there are already weapon restrictions, and the focus should be on restricting guns from certain people who have mental illness or other issues. “I will continue to make sure there is a difference between responsible gun ownership and irresponsible gun ownership,” he said.
On the subject of chicken farming and regulating effluent from the poultry industry, Smyk said nitrates can be spread on area crops that absorb the nutrient. Companies that contaminate the water should be fined by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, he said.
Smyk said part of the nitrate problem has come from septic systems built below the ground absorption level or too close to drinking wells. Water treatment systems are needed to improve contamination from septic systems, he said.
“Those are things that need to be changed, and we are working on it,” he said.
Bucchioni said his approach to the area's high nitrate levels is the major difference between himself and Smyk. “This is 'Houston, we have a problem' in this county, and a lot of the people are not working on it,” he said. “The biggest problem in this county that has to get fixed by getting money down here is to clean up the water.”
The No. 1 thing the state Legislature should be focused on is fixing the water, he said.
“This is fixable if we stop putting our head in the sand, go up to Dover and make people fix this problem,” Bucchioni said.
Using Clean Water Act guidelines, Bucchioni said, the high nitrate levels could be fixed in two years.
Smouse got chuckles from the crowd with his response. “I'll be honest with you, I don't know the first thing about chicken farming, I just know they're tasty birds to eat,” he said.
He said he is not sure how to fix high nitrates in the water because he does not trust DNREC.
“I don't see dire straits … I believe in the individual to fix it themselves,” he said.
On the subject of legalizing marijuana, Bucchioni said he firmly supports it. He said he supports making it legal from a business perspective that would bring in jobs and boost the economy.
“By regulating it and bringing it into the mainstream, we would be far better off,” he said.
Bucchioni said there are statistics that show a drop in traffic deaths in states that have legalized marijuana, downplaying examples given by the Sussex legislative contingent when they voted in unison against marijuana legalization this past session.
“I really have no problem with the legalization of marijuana,” he said, adding he hates the terms tax and regulate but those are needed to make sure the substances stay out of children's hands.
Using Colorado as an example, Smyk, who voted against the bill to legalize marijuana, said driving under the influence incidents have increased and so have illegal marijuana crops.
“There's a whole lot of negatives, and we should not follow the trail of Colorado. If you want to institute this, you should do this with much more regulation, much more thought,” he said.