Republican candidates for the 1st Congressional District Bill Clifford, of Garden City, and Tracey Mann, of Salina, debated Saturday at the Republican Expo at the United Wireless Arena.
The debate was moderated by radio host John Whitmer, of the John Whitmer Show, who also moderated a town hall session with Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Roberts.
Clifford, an Air Force veteran and eye surgeon who has served in local government, described himself as dedicated to pro-Trump, anti-abortion, pro-gun, pro-agriculture values.
"I’m a doer, not a talker, and I’ve decided to go to Washington to reenter the cockpit to fight for Kansas," Clifford said.
Mann, a businessman and former lieutenant governor of Kansas, addressed protests against racial injustice and police misconduct across the nation and acknowledged that racism is still an ongoing problem in the U.S. He said he is running to maintain conservative values in Kansas.
"I’m running for Congress because I want for my four kids, all of our kids and grandkids, to live in a country that’s capitalist and not socialist," Mann said.
The first question posed in the debate asked how each candidate would work with Congress to help get the national economy back on track post-COVID-19 and how they would help reduce the federal debt.
Mann said the government needs to be forced to balance the budget, reevaluate budgetary priorities and reexamine what functions need to be performed by federal, state and local government.
He said he was against shutting down the economy as COVID-19 cases spiked, saying the increase was due to testing becoming more readily available.
Clifford said supporting President Donald Trump and his decisions was the best way to bring back the economy.
Both candidates said they signed a pledge against raising taxes.
According to Mann, one of the things needed to battle unemployment is to remind people that it is more profitable to be at work to stimulate the economy than to stay home. The best way to reintroduce an agricultural boom into the economy, he said, is to allow it to grow with fewer regulations.
The candidates became a little divided, when asked how they think Trump and Gov. Laura Kelly have handled procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clifford, as the only Finney County commissioner to vote against businesses reopening when told by the state that they could, expressed confidence in the way Finney County followed its reopening procedures.
"Those of us that serve at the local level understand what is best for our local economies, for our local citizens, and I will go to Washington and never forget when I take a vote how I am affecting people back home in the 1st District," Clifford said.
Mann disagreed, saying Finney County’s delayed reopening hurt businesses.
"I think other counties should’ve handled reopening safely, and it’s very important we do that because there’s so much at stake," Mann said. "Because if we look at this pandemic, you are seeing it’s not just the physical health but also the economic health, the financial health, and the mental health of people."
When asked about the importance of the separation of church and state, Clifford and Mann acknowledged it as a freedom in the U.S. that is important to many people and that it is worth protecting from government overreach.
The candidates also agreed that supporting the U.S.-Mexico border wall project is the best deterrent against illegal drug trafficking and firearm trafficking into Kansas. Clifford also suggested that securing the border would prevent the spread of infectious disease.
"I once was a first responder as an emergency medical technician in Texas," Clifford said. "On any day it’s a dangerous job, whether you’re on the border or on the streets."
Clifford also said he would fight against any effort to defund the police.
The candidates were asked what they thought about South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s proposed police reform bill.
Clifford said he supported Scott’s bill, describing it as more "nuanced" than U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s police reform bill, but maintained that the federal government shouldn’t interfere in local government procedures.
Mann voiced support for Scott’s police reform bill and said better tracking of officer activities, including infractions and screening their past, is an ideal way to improve.
He condemned the idea of defunding the police over the actions of a "handful of bad apples," saying that would make no sense.
"Point to a single country in the world that is better off with a lack of law enforcement," Mann said.
John Bennett, vice president for the organization Understanding the Threat, was the keynote speaker at the event. His remarks were followed by those of the organization’s president, John Guandolo.
Their presence caused some concern in the community because Understanding the Threat has been identified as an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.