U.S. Senate candidates debate immigration, health care

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona speaks after the U.S. Senate debate Wednesday night. Democratic candidate Carmona, Republican candidate Jeff Flake and Libertarian candidate Marc Victor discussed immigration and health care in the debate hosted by PBS Eight. (Photo by Kirsten Kraklio)

Arizona U.S. Senate candidates discussed immigration, health care reform and tax cuts Wednesday night in downtown Phoenix in the first of three debates.

Ted Simons, host of PBS Eight’s “Arizona Horizon,” moderated the debate between Democrat Richard Carmona, Republican Jeff Flake and Libertarian Marc Victor.

Carmona, a former U.S. surgeon general, emphasized his desire to preserve the American system that he said allowed him to succeed.

“I’m a high school dropout from an immigrant family,” Carmona said. “I have prospered because of (America’s) great infrastructure of opportunity.”

Carmona said small businesses need incentives to rebuild.

Flake, a U.S. representative for Arizona’s 6th Congressional District, said the federal government should not supply incentives to small businesses.

“The best incentives are to allow individuals and businesses to keep their own money and to let the market allocate capital,” he said.

Flake spoke at length about his elimination of earmarks.  He said the last thing Arizona needs is to go back to the “earmark era.”

“We need for the federal government to establish and create an environment where the private sector can flourish,” Flake said.

Victor, a practicing criminal defense attorney, said the private sector, not the federal government, creates jobs. He brushed aside Flake’s comments about eliminating earmarks.

“Talking about (earmarks) is like talking about a drop of water in the ocean,” Victor said.

Carmona and Flake agreed tax cuts passed during former President George W. Bush’s administration need to be extended.

“Now is not the time to raise taxes on people,” Flake said.

Victor said the Bush tax cuts didn’t go far enough and he would prefer to see income taxes abolished entirely.

Immigration and border security were also hot topics among the candidates.

Carmona, a former Pima County deputy sheriff who worked on the Arizona border, said comprehensive immigration reform is necessary.

“I understand (Arizona’s) border better than most,” he said.

Victor said he would solve border security issues by eliminating benefits for illegal immigrants, which would stem the desire to migrate.

“The problems at the border are really a function of the fact that we have an ever-increasing welfare state,” Victor said.

Flake said other federal reforms cannot move forward until the border is better secured.

“We have to do more than just secure the border,” Flake said.

Flake and Carmona support the DREAM Act, which was first introduced to the U.S. Congress in 2001 and would grant conditional permanent residency to illegal immigrant youth.

Carmona said he supports the DREAM Act, but citizenship must be earned.

“It’s a solution to a very complex problem that’s plaguing us right now,” Carmona said.

All three candidates believe the current health care system needs reform, but they differ on what change is the best route.

Private companies largely own and operate the current system, leaving many Americans uninsured.

Carmona said the current system doesn’t need to be eliminated, but needs an overhaul.

He said he disagrees with a voucher system, which transfers the risk from the system to the patient.

Victor said health care is one of the worst decisions America ever got involved in.

“There needs to be a wall of separation between government and health care, and government and most things,” Victor said.

 

Reach the reporter at kkraklio@asu.edu