Republican Congressional Candidates Debate

Aug 15, 2014

Republicans Mark Donka, Don Russell and Donald Nolte are all vying for the chance to unseat Democrat Peter Welch in the US Congress in this fall’s elections. Vermont Edition heard from all three candidates in the first of VPR’s primary debates.

Don Russell and Donald Nolte are newcomers to Vermont politics; Mark Donka ran as the Republican nominee in 2012, losing to incumbent Peter Welch.

All three expressed similar views on a number of hot-button topics, and in response to a listener question, all three candidates rejected the need for stricter laws and enhanced background checks when it comes to gun purchases. 

“Many many laws right now on the books and we’re not enforcing them," Mark Donka said. "We don’t need more laws to try to stop that. As Don said, if I want to sell a shotgun to a neighbor who lives down the road who I’ve known for years, there’s no reason I can’t. You can't go into gun shows and buy guns--that's a fallacy too--without a background check, especially in Vermont. So no, I do not support it. I believe it's our Second Amendment right and we have to support it.”

On health care reform, the candidates shared a disapproval of The Affordable Care Act. Each candidate supports government-run Medicare and Medicaid, but would repeal the insurance mandate in President Obama’s health care plan. Mark Donka recommends federally-covered catastrophic insurance. Donald Nolte wants more local control of health care. And Don Russell thinks Obamacare should be completely repealed.

“What I would do for the 10 percent that cannot afford health insurance?" said Russell. "I’m going to have a government program for those people until they can afford to buy the insurance on their own. For the 80 percent that lack the insurance they used to have, we go back to the old insurance plans. For the 10 percent who could afford to buy health insurance but refused to do so because they didn’t want to put the money out, they could continue doing the same thing.”

All candidates agree that a flat tax would be the best solution for reforming the complicated federal tax code. Donka’s plan calls for an elimination of deductions but he says he hasn’t nailed down numbers. Russell would have a graduated flat tax of 5, 10, and 15 percent.

And Don Nolte has one number:

“Keep it simple. 10 percent is what I’d like to do," he says. "And if everybody doesn’t try to skip the country and pay taxes elsewhere or avoid paying taxes here, we would have plenty of tax money.”

They may agree on many of the issues, but the candidates had very different takes on where those ideas land them on the political spectrum. In response to a question from a listener about how they define themselves, Russell said he swings between moderate and conservative, and calls himself an “extreme right” on gun rights. Nolte says he’s not fixed on any label. And Donka says he’s a conservative Republican who leans libertarian.

Voters will be able to choose which of the candidates leans in their direction next Tuesday. 

Broadcast live on Monday, August 18 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.