Three candidates for the Seventh District Congressional seat met in a final debate at Willard High School last night. Republican Billy Long, Democrat Scott Eckersley and Libertarian Kevin Craig made an effort to draw distinctions between their positions and attract voters.
The debate was hosted by YOUNG (Yesterday's Oath Under Noble Guardians) Conservatives of America. Educator Dr. John Lilly served as the event moderator. The candidates each responded to nine questions, then posed questions to each other and ended with a closing statement.
The first question about pursuing the Fair Tax bill now in committee in Congress gave the candidates a chance to show their differences. Craig said he would "probably" support the Fair Tax as a step in the right direction. He was more interested in eliminating government agencies that he considered unconstitutional, such as the Departments of Energy and Education and abolishing the personal income tax.
Long said he was a strong supporter of the Fair Tax. The 67,000 pages in the tax code will generate different responses to questions from every Internal Revenue Service agent. Eckersley said he supports a solution such as a simplified tax code or a flat tax. He found inherent pitfalls in the Fair Tax system that would not resolve issues over taxes.
Asked about voting for the next Speaker of the House, no matter how close the vote, Long categorically said he supported Republican John Boehner "as a practical matter." Eckersley and Craig said they supported neither Boehner or Democrat Nancy Pelosi. Craig leaned more toward Congressmen Ron Paul or Paul Ryan.
None of the candidates felt healthcare represented a constitutional right. Eckersley said he favored innovative and viable solutions, like the consensus since 2007 that children should be allowed to stay on their parents' insurance until age 25. People at present were accessing healthcare at taxpayer expense, making a solution bigger than any political party's view, Eckersley said. He considered it important to live up to promises made to seniors, like Social Security.
"Nothing can stop you from buying healthcare," Long said. "The government has no authority to make you buy healthcare."
Providing incentives to stop Medicare fraud was a better solution than requiring people by pay into their own retirement, Long said.
Craig detailed how the Constitution created a government of enumerated powers. The authority for one party to take money out of another's wallet was not one of them. He supported abolishing Social Security, which he called "a Ponzi scheme."
All the candidates seemed to support opening the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) to drilling. Long said the reserve is the size of South Carolina and the drilling effort would equate to an imprint the size of the Springfield airport.
Craig said the federal government needed to sell lots of land it owns, like half the state of Arizona. Eckersley endorsed using all resources available to break the pattern of sending oil money to the Middle East.
The candidates agreed on their support for the Second Amendment. Eckersley said he became acquainted with hunting through Scouting and felt the key to gun safety lies in responsible ownership. Long said he opposed all challenges to gun ownership. Craig opposed all restrictions on gun ownership of any type. The point of the amendment was to enable the citizenry to defend itself against a tyrannical government.
Defending the Constitution brought strong responses from the candidates. Long said he definitely supported it. Eckersley said he was the only candidate with a record of pushing back against overreaching government. Craig said he was the real champion of the Constitution and the most conservative of all the candidates on this point.
Targeting portions of the federal government for elimination produced differing answers from each candidate. Long said his main priority in the election would be to repeal or replace the healthcare reform instituted by the Obama administration. What could not be repealed should be defunded, he said.
Eckersley viewed talk about eliminating Social Security and the Department of Education as "fringe ideas." He preferred to look at practical solutions that avoid repeating catch phrases in campaigns.
Craig had a long list of departments targeted for elimination on his webpage. He viewed the Post Office and the National Endowment for the Arts as particularly wasteful. Craig challenged the Republican Party to make the reductions proposed in the 1996 Contract with America to get the federal government back to its size when George W. Bush became president.
Candidates got to challenge each other with direct questions. Eckersley asked Long if he would go along with abolishing the Department of Energy, for example, if Republican leadership supported it. Long qualified his backing for a wholesale elimination. Eckersley countered that federal funding pays for programs like school lunches and school transportation. Elimination of such funding is a fringe idea, he said.
Long asked Eckersley if he supported tort reform that would do away from frivolous lawsuits. Eckersley said yes, adding attorneys filing such suits can now be disbarred.
Long said he had wanted to run for Congress in the 1990s but the time was not right for his family. He felt the Founding Fathers believed in citizen legislators. The people in Springfield knew him and knew what he stood for. Long said the debate was the 20th meeting of the campaign for him and commended the organizers for their efforts.
Eckersley said each candidate brought unique experiences to the table. He felt the election was about character. The country needed someone to buck the trend, and he was the candidate to do it.
Craig called himself "an extremist," but not one prepared to "bomb our opponents back to the stone age." Craig said politics is "a tug of war." A Libertarian in Congress could provide a pull in the other direction from the current course, a pull that could change to nation.
Dr. Lilly said the fourth candidate in the race, Nicholas Ladendorf, is officially a write-in candidate. Ladendorf's candidacy was acknowledged, but he was not invited to participate in the debate.