- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 19, 2016

NEWARK, Del. (AP) - Democratic Congressman John Carney and Republican state Sen. Colin Bonini have staked out opposing views on the death penalty in their contest to become Delaware’s next governor.

In a debate Wednesday night, Bonini said he would sign legislation reinstating capital punishment in Delaware.

Carney, however, said he would let stand a state Supreme Court decision declaring Delaware’s death penalty law unconstitutional. Pressed further, Carney said he likely would veto any bill reinstating capital punishment, which he suggested is disproportionately applied to black offenders.

“This is an issue that I’ve had a lot of time to think about,” said Carney, who chaired the state Board of Pardons during his two terms as lieutenant governor.

In August, a majority of the state Supreme Court justices said Delaware’s death penalty law was unconstitutional because it allowed judges too much discretion and did not require that a jury find unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant deserves execution.

Carney and Bonini also disagreed on marijuana legalization, with Bonini favoring it and Carney taking a more cautious approach.

Bonini argued that the state already has decriminalized marijuana possession to a point of de facto legalization.

“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it all the way,” he said. “Let’s regulate it, let’s enforce it, so we can knock drug dealers out of business.”

Carney said the state should focus on getting its medical marijuana program up and running before considering legalization, and should wait to see what lessons can be learned from Colorado and other states that already have legalized recreational use of pot.

The two candidates also addressed a host of other issues Wednesday, including education, crime, economic development and climate change. They agreed that with declining revenue projection and escalating health care costs, Delaware faces significant economic challenges.

“I’m better prepared today than I was eight years ago to address the economic problems the state is facing,” said Carney, who lost the 2008 Democratic gubernatorial primary to then-treasurer Jack Markell, who is finishing his second term as governor.

Bonini questioned whether, with Democrats having enjoyed years of one-party rule in Delaware, Carney would be willing to take on state employee unions, teacher unions, trial lawyers and other interest groups to make the tough decisions the next governor will face.

“It means picking fights with people you don’t want to pick fights with,” said Bonini, who has served in the state Senate for more than 20 years.

After the gubernatorial debate, Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester and Republican Hans Reigle met in a congressional debate, with both making the point that they should succeed Carney as Delaware’s lone representative in the U.S. House.

Both candidates suggested that changes to Social Security may be needed to keep the program solvent, but Rochester emphasized that she is opposed to privatization. She also said she does not support the introduction of U.S. ground troops in Syria, while Reigle, a former Air Force pilot, said he would not want to tie the hands of military generals in making strategic decisions.

The two also differed on gun issues, with Rochester supporting further restrictions on gun ownership.

“I believe in a person’s right to have a gun, but not an arsenal,” she said.

Reigle, meanwhile, said better enforcement of existing gun laws is needed. He also suggested that lawmakers should consider allowing some teachers, such as those with law enforcement or military backgrounds, to carry guns in the classroom.

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