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More agreement than definition at GOP CD8 debate
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Republican primary

More agreement than definition at GOP CD8 debate

None of 4 special election candidates dominate Q&A session

  • CD8 candidates Dave Sitton, Frank Antenori, Jesse Kelly and Martha McSally debated at Sabino High School on Thursday night.
    Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.comCD8 candidates Dave Sitton, Frank Antenori, Jesse Kelly and Martha McSally debated at Sabino High School on Thursday night.
  • McSally and Kelly
    Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.comMcSally and Kelly
  • Sitton
    Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.comSitton
  • Kelly speaks.
    Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.comKelly speaks.
  • Antenori speaks.
    Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.comAntenori speaks.
  • Antenori
    Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.comAntenori
  • Sitton
    Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.comSitton
  • Will Seberger/TucsonSentinel.com

Tucson radio personality Jon Justice was joking when he referred to Arizona's CD8 Republican candidates as "SittenoriMcJesse," but Thursday night's debate at Sabino High School was more of a tacit agreement session with a side of lowbrow humor than a debate.

The GOP contenders face a four-way race to take on Ron Barber for the congressional seat left open after Gabrielle Giffords' resignation in January, but neither the questions nor answers at the debate served to clearly define the candidates or their platforms.

GOP nominee in the last CD 8 go-around Jesse Kelly, state Sen. Frank Antenori, sportscaster Dave Sitton and retired Air Force colonel Martha McSally made their cases to about 125 people at the debate, which was sponsored by the high school's Teenage Republicans club and moderated by Justice and radio commentators Emil Franzi and Joe Higgins.

An evening at the zoo

A student-drafted question to the tune of "If you were an animal what would you be?" elicited what might have been some of the most decisive answers of the evening.

Dave Sitton, best known as a sportscaster, said he would be a wildcat. He cited his 33 (and, alternately, 38) years in Tucson calling Wildcats games as his reason.

State Sen. Frank Antenori, a former Green Beret, said he would be an eagle; equating the bird to patriotism, service and conservative Americanism.

Former Giffords challenger, Marine vet, construction scion and six-and-a-half-foot-tall behemoth Jesse Kelly said "I'd be a giraffe" with a chortle.

Martha McSally, the first woman to lead a combat squadron in the Air Force, cited her leadership experience, her disappoinment in Antenori choosing an eagle and volunteered her identification with a lion; a fierce leader.

Swamp gas

The first round of questions, with each candidate allowed two minutes to respond, dealt with hypothetical solutions to rising gas prices, and what each candidate would do to curb the escalation.

Answers were variations on a theme of the now-famous "Drill, baby, drill."

Said Sitton, "We need to start educating people about the joys of our free-enterprise system. We need to educate students that oil is a good thing, and we need to pump our resources."

Sitton also called for the deregulation of energy supply.

Kelly admitted to invoking foul language while fueling his truck earlier in the day as a result of Brent crude topping $125/bbl.

Kelly blamed President Obama directly, saying only, "Barack Obama."

"We have all the energy we need," Kelly said, calling for the immediate exploitation of all domestic oil reserves.

McSally would also like to do her part to cut oil prices; suggesting a resurrection of the Keystone XL pipeline, and calling for initiatives to stabilize the Middle East, specifically Iran, as a means of reducing prices at the pump.

Antenori summed the problem up as one of supply and demand. He claims pump prices are climbing because oil futures traders are driving up prices based on demand expectations.

If elected, Antenori said he would do what he could to drive down demand by uncapping wells and issuing exploratory licenses in the hopes that increased supplies will relieve traders of any speculative greed.

F-35s, NIMBYs and you

Asked about the probable loss of the F-35 training program and Air National Guard cuts that may amount to 1,000 fewer jobs in the district, candidates generally agreed that job losses are bad, and that the F-35 program might be one way of retaining employment.

Sitton, a member of the DM 50 boost group who has sat on Base Realignment and Closure committees, expressed disappointment that mayor Jonathan Rothschild is, in his eyes, happy to let the 162nd Air National Guard wing fold and stop paying rent at Tucson International Airport.

Sitton also said the F-22 program is the next generation of fighter, and will keep us ahead of the "people who would do us harm."

Antenori suggested that NIMBYs opposed to the noise produced by fighter jets, as well as the military in general, are responsible for the potential job losses. He said he would fight to keep and expand defense programs in the district.

McSally said her experience training in Tucson as a pilot would allow her to give expert testimony in Washington on the value of training programs at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. She called on would-be naysayers to "...play our part and think about the sound of freedom," a reference to the sound of military jets overhead.

Kelly acknowledged the need for a strong military, and their continued presence in Tucson.

"We need [these programs] to keep up the fight," he said.

Why, oh, why

Candidates were questioned about their reasons for running in the special election. In brief, they all want to serve their county.

Sitton said that he strives to be a "regular citizen" in Congress.

Antenori, citing legislative successes in balancing the state budget and following through on promises, said he wants to take that to Washington, D.C.

McSally said she is "very personally convicted." Earlier in the campaign, she said she had "a calling to run."

Kelly said he is running "for my two sons."

"They deserve to grow up in a free country," he said.

Kelly also cited his electability, having lost by just 4,000 votes to Giffords in 2010.

Laws, guns and money

Asked their thoughts on closing the "private sale" loophole that allows the sale of firearms among private parties without compulsory background checks, all candidates said any action to close the loophole is an affront to the Second Amendment.

Sitton pointed out that "The freest country has been the most armed."

Antenori said "The government has no right to step between people and guns."

Jesse gave an outright "No."

McSally, after noting the cannon on the A-10 is her favorite gun, echoed the others that the Second amendment guarantees the right of citizens to bear arms, and that the government can't interfere with private gun sales any more than they can in private car sales.

Afghanistan, Iraq... Iran

Candidates were asked how they would deal with an Israeli strike on Iran in retaliation over Iran's refusal to disband its nuclear weapons program.

Antenori called for a firm-handed response to any Iranian aggression, and said that since Israel is an American ally and the only democracy in the Middle East, we have a duty to follow them to the mat.

Kelly said he would favor American military intervention, on the condition that rules of engagement be relaxed so a conflict could be treated as more than a police action. Kelly added in a rebuttal that "we can win these wars."

McSally said she would "ratchet it up" on Iran, calling for planning and visible wargames with allies to send a message of military preparedness as a deterrent. She said that diplomatic, economic and military options should all be on the table.

Sitton called for immediate plans for preparedness should Israel engage.

"When General George Washington deigned that the military be controlled by civilians, he never imagined Barack Obama," he said.

Slightly more than a 401k and a brass watch

Moderators insinuated that Obama is killing the notion of career military service by chipping away at retirement benefits.

In 2011, as part of a deficit reduction program, Obama proposed a $200 per year, per family fee for coverage by the military's Tricare health insurance, an increase in pharmaceutical co-pays to bring fees paid by veterans in line with what other career government employees pay, and a review of benefits that do not apply evenly to all veterans.

All candidates are in favor of protecting post-separation benefits for veterans.

Kelly would fund retirement benefits by repealing Obamacare and reducing taxes on medicine - which he cited as part of the reason American healthcare is so expensive.

Kelly also compared individual healthcare to paper towels at the market. "Healthcare is just like paper towels at Costco: buying one is more expensive than buying the whole roll."

Obama has said that his program to require citizen participation in privately managed healthcare plans would reduce the price on the individual through volume scaling.

McSally called for Washington to "stop solving budget problems on the backs of veterans." She also cited her status as a retired, benefit-dependent veteran.

Sitton harkened back to Vietnam, saying that the Obama adminstration's cuts to veterans benefits were creating a hostile environment for returning veterans.

Antenori blamed "punks, and that's what they really are, that never served our country," for reductions in benefits.

Antenori called for more veterans in all levels of government to stand up to "moochers who want to cut benefits."

Kelly also called for increased protections for veterans' benefits.

A line in the sand

Asked about border and immigration policy, all candidates agreed that the border should be more secure, and that measures should be put in place to ensure that people eligible to immigrate legally can with the less inconvenience and red tape.

McSally expressed concern over "transnational criminals operating in 1,000 American cities, moving guns, drugs and money."

Rather than calling for more laws, McSally said we need to enforce what we have to control illegal immigration.

Sitton said he's seen the same mistakes made over and over in border policy in his time in Arizona.

He called for economic deregulation to allow the free flow of legal workers across the border.

Antenori, in a diatribe, said, "The media, they think they're so smart. They have a Chicago style that they use when they're writing their stories. But they keep out 'illegal' when they write their stories. They say we're anti-immigration. We're anti-illegal immigration."

He added, "If [immigrants] don't want to come here and learn our language and customs... [immigrants] can come through the front door and sign the guest book, but they can't come through the back door and raid the fridge."

Kelly said the Duncan-Hunter Act, a landmark border control policy, was signed into law by Bill Clinton, and that a non-partisan approach to legislation was key. He also noted drops in violent crime in both San Diego and Yuma after border physical barrier improvements.

The Republican primary in the special election cycle is April 17, although early voting begins next Thursday. The voter registration deadline for the primary is Monday.

The special general election, in which the GOP candidate will face off with ex-Giffords aide Barber, is June 12.

The winner of the special general vote will fill the CD 8 seat through next January. In the succeeding Congress, most of the district will be represented by the winner of the vote in the newly drawn Second Congressional District.

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