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September 8, 2014 at 8:16 PM

Suzan DelBene and Pedro Celis spar in 1st District debate

First term Democratic U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene and Republican challenger Pedro Celis sparred gently in their first radio debate aired Monday night — taking generic partisan stands on issues including immigration reform to money in politics.

The debate between the rivals for the First Congressional District was prerecorded last Friday, but broadcast Monday on KSER 90.7 FM, an Everett public radio station. It was sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

DelBene and Celis were critical of each other, but stayed polite. Questions tended toward the liberal side of political concerns, focusing on the environment and the influence of corporate money in politics, but nothing about the federal debt or business climate.

On money in politics, DelBene criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, calling for “serious campaign finance reform,” so that the voice of the regular people is not drown out by “special interests.” (The Celis campaign pointed out that half of DelBene’s political donations this cycle have come from PACs.)

Celis applauded the Supreme Court’s rulings giving corporations the free-speech rights afforded to humans. He said the government should not stifle political speech. “I think people should have that freedom and that corporations should have that freedom,” he said.

When asked about proposed coal-export terminals in Whatcom County, Celis came out clearly in support. If the coal isn’t shipped from Washington, he said, it will merely be shipped from Canada. “I’d rather have the jobs on this side instead of over there,” he said.

DelBene dodged a clear stand in support or against the coal exports. She said she backs ongoing studies of the impacts of the proposal. “That process of looking at impacts (is) being looked at right now,” she said.

On immigration, it was Celis’ turn to get vague.

Celis said immigration is good for America. He is a Mexican immigrant himself, having come to the U.S. to pursue his career as a computer engineer. But Celis said he does not support any comprehensive immigration reform plans in Congress. He criticized a proposal backed by Democrats as too complicated and said Americans do not trust President Obama to enforce the border.

Celis said he favors breaking up immigration reform into smaller portions. But he did not get specific.

DelBene pointed to an immigration reform bill she has sponsored (similar to the one proposed by Senate Democrats), which would allow citizenship for undocumented immigrants 13 years after they apply.

She said that plan has bipartisan support and criticized Celis for his vague immigration stance, saying the country is “long past the time” where candidates can give lip service to immigration reform, “but won’t give a position.”

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