Congressional Republican candidates Kirk Adams and Matt Salmon faced off Tuesday in a debate that focused on experience -- one candidate’s recent spending cuts at the state level vs. the other’s older record of balanced budgets in Congress.
The longtime Mesa residents agreed on the substance of most issues during a generally cordial debate for the heavily Republican Congressional District 5. They are seeking a seat in the U.S. House, which serves Gilbert and Queen Creek, along with parts of Mesa and Chandler.
Each tried to portray himself as the more accomplished or aggressive leader on fighting national health-care reform, working to bolster Arizona’s defense industry, reducing spending while in office and his ability to get things done.
Salmon, a Congressman from 1995 to 2001, said he could hit the ground running if elected and offer the skills he used in the 1990s to help pass the first balanced federal budget in 40 years.
He said it’s important for voters to know “everything is based on seniority” in Congress, and that he’d return as a fourth-term U.S. representative despite leaving office to fulfill a pledge limiting himself to three terms.
“That means the likelihood that I might be the chair of some committee is pretty good,” Salmon said. “I think that will help me to get some people to vote the right way.”
Adams was elected to the state House in 2006 and said it’s more relevant that he was House speaker when Arizona cut spending 30 percent during a massive economic downturn. Adams, who resigned to run for Congress, said the political fights of the 1990s are quaint compared to battles he’s led today.
“I think the politicians and the lobbyists of the past have given us a broken country, a country of problems and I think it’s time for this generation to rise up and take the reigns and fix what has been broken,” he said.
Adams frequently needled lobbyists, a reference to Salmon’s work since leaving Congress.
The candidates both said “extremist” environmentalists had destroyed jobs with restrictions on mining and make federal forests more fire-prone by scaling back the timber industry’s activities.
The candidates agreed the nation’s top priority should be eliminating the massive budget deficits quickly but attacked the other’s preferred options.
Adams said the proposed budget plan by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, offers a “smart way” to tackle spending cuts.
Salmon said he preferred a plan by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, that would balance the federal budget in 5 years instead of Ryan’s slower approach.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction, but balancing the budget in 25 years is not acceptable to me,” Salmon said.
Adams shot back that the Ryan plan is preferable than other ideas that have yet to be formalized on paper.
“Not accepting the Ryan plan is the same position Harry Reid takes,” Adams said to Salmon, referring to the Democratic Senate Majority Leader from Nevada. The quip garnered a mix of jeers and applause from a packed auditorium at the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa.
On health care, Salmon said he fought the Clinton Administration’s proposal in the 1990s. Adams said he played a pivotal role in making Arizona the first state to pass a law exempting residents from participating in a federal health-care system.
The candidates said they both will work to make Arizona one of six places that the federal government would designate as hubs for work on unmanned aerial vehicles.
Salmon said he routinely worked with cities and the Arizona Legislature while in Congress, and has since been active in defense work. He said he’s currently working with Mesa and can offer the political strength needed in Washington.
Adams said he led an effort to help The Boeing Company preserve its flight paths around the Mesa facility where it manufactures the Apache attack helicopters. Adams said he’s led other defense efforts and criticized Salmon for lobbying on behalf of El Mirage in a way that he said hurt the neighboring Luke Air Force Base.
The debate was sponsored by the East Valley Chambers of Commerce.
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