By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: Half a dozen candidates in the crowded GOP field seeking to take on Harry Reid in the U.S. Senate race in November debated here Friday, with responses showing more agreement than discord on issues ranging from immigration reform to the need to reduce the size of the federal government.
Businesswoman and front-runner Sue Lowden, Las Vegas businessman Danny Tarkanian, former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, current Assemblyman Chad Christensen, investment banker John Chachas, and military veteran Bill Parson, all participated in the 90-minute exchange sponsored by Anger is Brewing, an active group in the Nevada Tea Party movement.
Polls show several of the GOP candidates defeating Reid in a head-to-head match-up.
Candidates were asked what the federal government’s role should be in rebuilding the economy.
Chachas, who grew up in Ely, said the best way for the federal government to help would be to get out of the way.
“We have an economy that is enormously dynamic, and the more the government imposes itself on it, the worse this recession will be, the longer it will last,” he said. “The government trying to decide which industries we want to invest in is a bad idea.”
Creating short-term government jobs won’t work either, Chachas said, adding that it’s important to control the “head count” of public employees which is the nation’s fastest growing employment sector.
Lowden said government needs to get out of the way, but it should cut taxes as well to spur economic growth.
Cutting the corporate tax, the payroll tax and zeroing out capital gains are all ways to help the country get back on its feet, she said.
Christensen said the first objective to restoring the economy is replacing Reid, the Senate majority leader.
“I will take the fight to make sure that the federal government stops meddling in Nevada,” he said. “We have to make sure our entrepreneurs have a home and it’s here, and that we’re able to attract industry to this business mecca and magnet called the state of Nevada.”
Angle said her economic policy is called “pay back, cut back and take back.” It stands for pay back the deficit, cut back on taxation, spending and regulation and take back by repealing the federal health care law.
“Our government shouldn’t be involved in our economy here in Nevada,” she said. “I have a record of no new taxes as your state legislator.”
Angle said her first bill would be to “unfund Obamacare.”
Tarkanian said his economic plan talks about reducing taxes, but also seeks to lessen burdensome federal regulations.
“We have to reign in the power of the EPA, OSHA, and some of these other agencies that are costing our businesses so much money where they can’t compete internationally and preventing them from expanding and increasing,” he said.
Tarkanian said he also supports turning Yucca Mountain into a site for reprocessing of nuclear waste, which would generate jobs for the Nevada economy.
All the candidates said they support tax reform with numerous references to abolishing the income tax and going to a “fair tax” or “flat tax” system.
The candidates were also asked to comment on the federal health care legislation.
Christensen said the law puts a $600 million burden on the state of Nevada that the citizens cannot afford to pay at a time of economic crisis.
“We absolutely have to repeal,” he said. “It is a crying shame that our senior senator Harry Reid called that his bill and that’s why he has got to go.”
Chachas said repealing the law is a simple matter of introducing legislation in Congress, but Republicans have to offer an alternative.
The way to bring health care costs down is to put consumers in charge of their purchasing decisions, he said.
Lowden said legislation to repeal won’t work if there isn’t a president who will sign such a measure. In the meantime, Congress should stop funding elements of the bill such as the hiring of 17,000 IRS agents to enforce the law, she said.
Tarkanian said he supports repeal as well and that a court challenge is the best option. One key to reducing the cost of care is tort reform, he said.
Angle said as a state legislator, she sought a repeal of the mandated coverages required in Nevada for a health care policy to lower costs. Angle said she also introduced tort reform legislation.
Parson said the states should sue to overturn the law, but must also look at a long-term strategy.
“We must say that we the people, will not tolerate this type of disrespect towards the Constitution,” he said.
Following the health care question was a discussion of state’s rights and the 10th amendment. All the candidates said they believe the federal government has to some degree over-stepped its Constitutional authority and that the states need to fight for more sovereignty in policy making.
The candidates were also asked what their major weakness would be if they win the primary and face Reid, who is expected to have a campaign war chest of $25 million
Chachas said Reid will try to make his 25 years of experience in the private sector a liability, but said it is actually his biggest asset.
Angle said she would be painted as too conservative, but that she will lead a broad coalition of groups, from the Eagle Forum to gun owners, who all say Reid has to go.
Christensen enumerated the many reasons why he believes he has the best chance to defeat Reid, including the fact he has won every political race he has run. He got a laugh from the crowd when, asked to answer the question about his liabilities, Christensen said he didn’t know of any.
Lowden said she has already been attacked by Reid on a variety of issues, and that those attacks will intensify if she advances in the primary. But Lowden said she defeated the state Senate majority leader in 1992 and so knows how to deal with political attacks.
Lowden drew laughter and applause when she said that if Harry Reid spends $25 million in Nevada in the general election, it would give the state “the best stimulus” he’s provided yet.
Tarkanian said Reid will trot out the discredited opposition research used against him in previous races, but said he can deflect it because it has been proven in court to be false and defamatory. Tarkanian said he will focus on Reid’s poor record as a senator.
Candidates agreed that immigration reform is needed and were generally opposed to amnesty while differing slightly in their policy focus.
Chachas emphasized the need to enforce existing laws, while Tarkanian talked about removing incentives to illegal immigrants such as taxpayer funded welfare benefits, education and medical care.
Christensen congratulated Arizona on their new immigration law, and Angle agreed Arizona needs to “stop the invasion” of illegal immigrants into their state.
Lowden said she “absolutely agrees with what Arizona is doing.”
Parson suggested giving all illegal immigrants 90 days notice to leave the country or sending law enforcement to remove them forcibly.