CD2 candidates agree on border security, split on immigration reform
With a few exceptions, the three Republican candidates for Arizona's CD2 agree: Congress is terrible, the border needs to be secured, and the White House is responsible for the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq.
Retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally, small business owner Shelley Kais and retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Chuck Wooten debated the issues for over an hour on Thursday night at Empire High School in Vail.
Though all three agreed in principle that the Affordable Care Act was a problem, Wooten had the sharpest critique, calling the act "a travesty" and the "greatest fraud ever perpetuated on the American people."
"I refuse to call it the Affordable Care Act because it is none of these things," said Wooten. "We should repeal it down to every single word and replace it with a free-market system."
McSally said that while the U.S. healthcare system was broken, the Affordable Care Act was the "wrong diagnosis." Though she supported the main legs of the law, including forcing insurers to cover preexisting conditions, allow young adults to stay on their parent's insurance, and eliminating extra payments for women's care, she criticized the law's requirement that all Americans carry health insurance or pay a penalty.
The law, she said "uses mandates, penalties and taxes and that's not the way to address to this issue."
As the event was hosted by students from Empire High School along with the League of Women Voters, there were questions about education spending.
When asked about the government's role in education, Kais said that the federal Department of Education was moving into training, which created an overlap with the Department of Labor, such overlap, she said required a review of what an agency does, its mission and how that missions works within the needs of the country.
McSally noted that only about eight percent of education funding comes from the federal government and that state officials, including the candidates for governor, might be a better target for such a question.
"We do have a spending problem, we can't keep piling on more debt, but we need to make cuts the right way," McSally said. She criticized the 2013 sequestration of the federal budget.
"Sequestration is a long word for a failure of leadership," McSally said.
The issue of leadership was repeated several times. All three candidates criticized Congress for a lack of leadership and each took their own shots at the White House, especially when it came to Iraq where ISIS militants have quickly defeated elements of the Iraqi army, captured U.S.-made vehicles and weapons, and cornered Yazidi minority in a mountain range in the northwest part of Iraq.
"If I had lost loved ones in Iraq, I would be so angry about what has happened," McSally said. The U.S. she said, walked away from Iraq. The result, she said, was an "ungoverned spaces" in Iraq and like Afghanistan, this area would become a serious threat to the United States.
Wooten went further, arguing that President Barack Obama "lacks a spine."
"Obama is not MIA, he's actually AWOL," said Wooten, calling back an earlier point that the president couldn't be called missing in action because he wasn't active. "Billions of dollars and thousands of lives, all that we spent is going up in smoke."
In response to the question about Iraq, Kais pivoted to talking about border security.
"We have a bigger program right here, we don't have a secure border, which allows ISIS recruiters to show up at a community near you and recruit within you," Kais said. "We need to secure the border for America and then address the issue."
"The people coming across the border are uninspected," Kais said, arguing that tuberculosis was a part of a "costly burden of illegal immigration" a call-back to a recent opinion piece she wrote for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a conservative nonprofit group.
Kais noted a statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that in 2012, 63 percent of tuberculosis cases were from foreign-born persons. However, the peak of tuberculosis cases was in 1992 and cases have declined annually since then, moreover, while Kais wrote about her concern about drug-resistant types of tuberculosis, the same CDC statistics note that the number of patients with drug-resistant forms of the disease have remained around one percent of cases.
When asked about immigration reform, Wooten had a sharp response.
"The minute that someone comes across the border uninvited, they're a law-breaker," Wooten said. "We don't need to reform immigration, we need to enforce the laws we have. These people are here illegally and they need to be deported."
Kais softened her approach by saying that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. "It's not dignified where we put the unaccompanied minors in Nogales," she said. However, she said the country needed to obey and enforce current laws, step-up I-9 verifications — a system that checks for employment authorizations — and halt money immigrants send home.
McSally couched her ideas in pragmatism. "We need to do this in a way that's practical and also fair."
She said the immigration system should serve the economic needs of the nation and argued that the quota system, in place in some form since 1924, needed to replaced with something that considered families. "We have a failed strategy right now and we need to change the system to respond to our needs."
"This is a complex issue that can't be explained in soundbites, we need to deal with root causes," McSally said. She referred to the 1986 Immigration and Reform Act, widely described as an amnesty bill, arguing that the bill "did not secure the border."
All three agreed that the United States should increase security along the border.
There are less than three weeks remaining before primary voting ends. The winner of the Republican primary will go on to face Democrat Ron Barber, who is seeking his second term after defeating McSally in 2012.
Correction: An earlier version of this report misattributed McSally’s statement that the Affordable Care Act was the “wrong diagnosis.”