Candidates for Kent County Levy Court, state house and senate districts for the Smyrna-Clayton area converged Monday night in the auditorium at Smyrna High School for a debate hosted by the Sun-Times and GateHouse Media Delaware.

The topics of discussion ranged from farmland preservation to government spending to what candidates would specifically do for local citizens.

There wasn't a large crowd in attendance but the candidates did what they could to prove why they were the better choice in the Nov. 6 election. There was no debate for Senate District 14 as both candidates — Sen. Bruce Ennis (D-Smyrna) and Scott Unruh — had a prior commitment at the New Castle County Farm Bureau banquet.

GateHouse Media Delaware Executive Editor Jesse Chadderdon moderated the debate.

Levy Court District 1

Kent County Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta is running unopposed in District 1, but he took the opportunity to talk with those in attendance about county issues.

Banta is seeking his fifth term and noted six years ago the Levy Court administration cut the county budget from $28 to $30 million to $21 million by cross-training employees, giving some early retirements, cutting expenses and more.

"Kent County is one of the greatest places in the world to live because it's cheap living but there's a lot of fun here," Banta said.

Senate District 15

The debate for Senate District 15 featured all three candidates: Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Marydel), Katie Cooke (D), and Catherine Samardza (I).

The candidates agreed on some topics such as cutting tax taxes and creating incentives to foster small business growth but differed in other areas.

When candidates were asked about the importance of the passing of a bill referencing home invasions, Cooke agreed with the bill but questioned Sen. Lawson's compromise in terms of the punishment, which was reduced from a 15-year sentence to four-year sentence when it was finalized and approved.

Lawson said the bill he proposed suggested a 15-year sentence because he felt the punishment should match the crime of home invasion because the trauma lasts a lifetime. "I will seek the harsher penalties in an amendment this year," Lawson said.

House District 11

The District 11 Representative candidates did not have a debate as Lynne Newlin (D) and Margaret McKeown (L) had prior commitments, so Jeff Spiegelman (R) addressed the audience.

He was asked by one attendee what he would do about the town of Hartly needing help while "being strangled by their own legislation."

Spiegelman said the town needs help from the state but there are issues with money, bureaucracy issues, and more.

"We need to get government out of the way," he said. "It's [government] supposed to be helping small towns. It's supposed to be creating an atmosphere where small businesses can grow."

House District 28

Rep. Bill Carson (D-Smyrna) is running against Chris Sylvester (R) for the 28th House District.

The first question for the candidates was what their number one priority would be for their district. Sylvester said he'd be cautious in the bills he sponsors as he thinks it's important for local towns to handle their own issues. Carson said he listens to the residents and talks with both parties because "By listening to the people, the ones that put us there, you'll never go wrong that way."

The two were also asked what would be the one project they'd work on for the Smyrna-Clayton communities.

Carson said two things come to mind: jobs and quality of life for the community. The best way to accomplish this, Carson said, is to lower taxes such as gross receipts taxes because that would promote business growth.

Sylvester said he's been pleased to call Smyrna home and would like to see downtown prosper, which brings him back to small business growth and the need to break the burden of businesses being overregulated and overtaxed.

House District 29

The candidates for the 29th Representative District — Rep. Lincoln Willis (R-Clayton) and Charles Paradee (D) — didn't agree on much of anything during their debate. The two especially bumped heads when Paradee accused Rep. Willis of "walking out" on a vote regarding campaign finance reform even though Rep. Willis explained he left for his son's doctor's appointment.

Eventually the moderator stepped in to stop the discussion and moved on to a different question.

Like the other candidates, Willis and Paradee were asked what their one project would be for the area.

Paradee said he would find ways to offer more vocational schooling opportunities for students, as Polytech is a distance away in Woodside: "I'd love to see more vocational opportunities, maybe another vocational school in the Smyrna-Clayton area or expanding vocational programs in the comprehensive high schools."

For Willis, he's helped bring the Bayhealth 24-hour emergency department in Smyrna to fruition and is helping with the Kent County Sports Complex. But he also touched on tax increases causing a loss in jobs.

"These tax increases that are set to expire, we have to make sure that they don't get extended," Willis said.

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