Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said the upcoming election pits a conservative Republican against a liberal Democrat.

“I support gun rights and have an A+ rating from the NRA; I’m pro-life, I support the use of coal, I support coal mining and I support coal miners,” Griffith said. “I want less government interference in our day-to-day lives.”

Democrat Anthony Flaccavento, a farmer and small business owner in Abingdon, said it’s time to replace a career politician with a working person.

“I’m running because I believe the people of Southwest Virginia are long overdue, long overdue for real representation,” Flaccavento said. “I’m running because I know the rich and the powerful already have plenty of friends in Congress.”

Griffith and Flaccavento met for their first debate Monday at Bluefield College, where topics included health care, the economy, guns and immigration. Flaccavento is challenging Griffith for the 9th Congressional seat, which includes the New River Valley, Southwest Virginia’s coalfields, and parts of Southside and the Alleghany Highlands. Griffith is seeking a fifth term.

The debate didn’t include too many jabs. When Flaccavento touted his nearly 100 town halls across the 9th District, Griffith pointed out that one listed on his website took place in Arlington. Griffith said he does meet with constituents and has found value in telephone town halls to talk to the people in the sprawling district.

Griffith said that President Donald Trump’s policies are moving the country forward. He said the tax cuts are bringing jobs to the area and pointed to Volvo Trucks having hired about 300 new employees at its Dublin plant since the beginning of September.

Flaccavento said the tax cuts disproportionately benefit corporations and the wealthiest, so he would like to see tax cuts expanded for the working and middle class who will, in turn, invest in local economies.

Griffith said President Barack Obama’s war on coal damaged the coalfields, and he’s been fighting to restore some of that industry by opposing Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

“We will continue to have the coal industry for some time in the future as long as the federal government doesn’t put it out of business by regulating it as the previous administration tried to do. And they were almost successful,” Griffith said. “And if they and their friends get control of Washington D.C., they will once again try to put a stranglehold on coal and end the industry that for so long has been the bread and butter of the 9th Congressional District.”

Flaccavento said that despite Trump getting rid of some regulations, there has only been a modest uptick in coal jobs in the coalfields. He said it’s important to invest in other industries if the region wants to have quality jobs.

Rarely did the two candidates agree on issues, but they did have similar views on the natural gas pipelines cutting through Virginia, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline that is coming through the 9th District. They both said they have various concerns with the pipelines and want reform to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the lead agency overseeing the project.

Flaccavento said the people who are having the pipelines go across their property will not be reaping the benefits from the projects.

Griffith pointed to his bipartisan efforts, like working with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., to call on regulators to halt the projects to reassess the potential harm to the environment and the local water supply for communities in the pipelines’ paths.

“Unfortunately in the past, Congress gave away its power to control the pipelines and to make sure that things were right,” Griffith said. “Dealing with this problem across party lines, Tim Kaine and I worked together to come up with some things that we think will make it better in the future and take that power back to the people you elect instead of having unelected bureaucrats making decisions at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

Flaccavento says all Americans should be able to buy Medicare coverage so everyone has access to affordable health care. Griffith said federal spending would increase by $32 trillion over 10 years under that idea, and the government can’t afford that. Griffith has favored repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Griffith said he supported building the wall along the southern border to curb people illegally entering the country. Flaccavento said the process for people to enter the country legally needs to be easier.

Flaccavento said he is a gun owner, but he said there are reasonable measures that can be taken to reduce gun violence, such as closing loopholes in background checks.

“As a gun owner who doesn’t want to see the Second Amendment abridged in any way, I still just simply can’t accept the level of violence in this country against children, against women, against so many of our fellow citizens; it’s just too much.”

Griffith said there are laws in place that, if properly executed, will curb incidents of gun violence.

Griffith and Flaccavento will debate two more times before the Nov. 6 election. They’ll meet again in Bristol on Thursday and in Salem on Monday.

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