Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Jahana Hayes and Manny Santos (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

NEW BRITAIN, CT —  The audience at Central Connecticut State University was surprised Wednesday by the response to a question about the problem of student debt.

In their fourth debate, a CCSU student asked the two candidates running in the 5th Congressional District what they would do to help students reduce the amount of student debt they have when they graduate.

The average amount of student loan debt cited as part of the question was $35,000.

“The student debt issue is something that frankly a lot of students bring upon themselves,” Republican nominee Manny Santos said.

The room, which included a majority of students, booed.

“These loans have to be paid back so it’s important upon consultation with your parents that students make sure the career you’re choosing is one that you’ll be able to pay back these loans,” Santos added.

He said there does need to be incentives for students to enter certain fields and maybe loan forgiveness is part of that.

“It’s a serious issue, but it’s an issue that we have to take responsibility for,” Santos said. “This isn’t something someone else can bail you out of.”

Jahana Hayes, the Democratic nominee, said under that system “we would never break the system of generational poverty.”

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Manny Santos and Jahana Hayes (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

Hayes, a teen mom who was the first in her family to go to college, said she would look to make sure college is affordable to anyone who wanted to go.

The line received applause.

As far as student loans are concerned, Hayes would look to pass legislation to stop “predatory lenders” from targeting students, “especially first generation college students.”

Hayes, the national teacher of the year in 2016 and a political newcomer, said she graduated from college with $100,000 in student loan debt and got a job making $26,000.

“That should not be happening. That’s not how we get young people back to work,” Hayes said.

Hayes said she really didn’t really understand the implications of the debt.

She said they should also invest more in Pell Grant programs, that students are not required to pay back.

“We’re talking about a wall, building a wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for and giving $26 billion for that. The entire federal Pell Grant program is $25 billion,” Hayes said. “We could double the number of young people who have access to educational opportunities instead of investing that money in something like a wall.”

She suggested reducing the interest rate, or the amount that’s owed, for people who move back to the state.

The debate, which was televised by Fox 61, touched on a number of topics including student debt, gun control, transportation, climate change, and gay marriage.

As far as the environment is concerned, Santos said there are a lot of environmental regulations that are “hurting businesses and keep them from hiring.”

Hayes said she’s not willing to trade the environment for the economy.

“This idea that we have to ignore what manufacturers, businesses are doing to make money … is something I will never sign onto,” Hayes said.

She said Waterbury is littered with environmental hazards and it has more students admitted to the hospital with asthma.

“I have kids who are not learning because they can’t breathe,” Hayes said.

Santos said the Clean Water Act regulates almost every body of water including a “puddle,” and “farmers right here in the 5th District, in the northwest section, are having serious issues staying in business.”

On impeachment, the articles which would be drafted by the U.S. House, the candidates again differed.

“I am not beholden to a person,” Hayes said. “I’m beholden to the constitution.”

She said their job is to protect the constitution and make sure no one person compromises it.

Santos said what would constitute grounds for impeachment is a question for the Democratic Party.

“They have said should they regain control of the House of Representatives, one of the first things they will do is impeach President Trump,” Santos said.

Hayes said she’s not running to seek articles of impeachment.

“I’m seeking office to work for you,” Hayes said.

The candidates are vying for U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s seat in the 41-town district that is considered a “safe Democratic” seat by Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and is rated “likely Democratic,” by the Cook Political Report.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the district 50 percent to 46 percent.

The last time the seat was open was in 2012 when U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy ran for the U.S. Senate.

Hayes has raised $1.25 million since April and Santos has raised about $52,000 since February, according to Federal Election Commission records.