Arizona Public Media hosted a one-hour forum for the candidates in Congressional District 8 on May 16 in anticipation of the June 12 special election. AZPM political correspondents Christopher Conover and Andrea Kelly questioned the candidates. View the forum video and read the transcript here.
Transcription by Sheryl Poling, AZPM
Christopher Conover: Good evening and welcome to the Your Vote 2012 Congressional District 8 Special Election Forum. I’m Christopher Conover. Tonight we’ll hear from the three candidates vying to fill out the remainder of the term vacated by Gabrielle Giffords. So let’s meet our candidates. First we have Green Party candidate Charlie Manolakis, next is Democrat Ron Barber and finally Republican Jesse Kelly. Joining me in the questioning is Arizona Public Media political correspondent Andrea Kelly. Everyone, welcome, and thank you so much for coming in.
Andrea Kelly: Thank you, guys. We’re going to start with a question. We asked the public to submit questions for you and we’re going to start with one of the publicly submitted questions. This comes from Bruce Evans and he says, “Are you for keeping Medicare and Social Security in their current forms? If yes, then how do we keep them? If no, how specifically are you going to cover older adults? And we’ll just go around the table in order starting with Charlie Manolakis.
Charlie Manolakis: Yes, definitely want to keep them in their present form. Through the decades it’s been evidenced that these forms that are in existence now are working very well to such an extent of wellness that we will not have any insolvency until 2037 if we look at it as it really exists at this time.
Andrea Kelly: And Jesse Kelly.
Jesse Kelly: We will protect the benefits that seniors have earned but we will not do it with the government in its current anti-business policies. We need to expand energy production in this country, that’s oil, that’s coal, natural gas, uranium that will not only create millions, not thousands, millions of American jobs. It’ll also bring in the revenue to our government that will allow us to protect the benefits that seniors have earned.
Andrea Kelly: And Ron Barber.
Ron Barber: Well, Medicare and Social Security are investments that people have made all of their lives and they should be expecting that they’re going be there when they retire. Literally thousands of Southern Arizonans depend on these two programs in their retirement. 20% of Americans have Social Security as their only source of income. Privatization has been suggested. Certainly Mr. Kelly has repeatedly said he would like to privatize and eliminate and phase out these programs. That’s wrong for Southern Arizona seniors. It’s wrong for American seniors across the nation. My work when I go to Congress will be to make sure we protect those programs and increase their solvency beyond 2024 for Medicare and beyond 2033 for Social Security. It can be done but privatization and voucher systems is not the way to go. These are guarantees that seniors must be able to depend on.
**Christopher Conover: This is kind of a follow up to that question and it’s really a philosophical question and we’ll start with you Jesse and we’ll work our way around but should the government be in the business of running a retirement system?
Jesse Kelly: I think an interesting philosophical question actually in reference to what Mr. Barber said is do you want to elect a candidate who has run his entire campaign based on attempting to scare seniors into voting a certain way. That’s the campaign that Ron Barber has run. What I’ve said from the very beginning of last campaign and this campaign is that we have to protect the seniors who are currently on these programs while giving choices to future generations. That has been the message then, it is the message now and to cut up video clips on TV and take them out of context I find to be really, really sad campaign tactics.
Christopher Conover: So philosophically you would keep some sort of a government system, how it’s funded, how it’s administered but philosophically larger picture you would keep some sort of government system.**
Jesse Kelly: Right now these seniors have paid into these programs their entire lives. The federal government doesn’t have an option to turn around and say, sorry, you’re of luck now. The federal government has an obligation to provide those benefits that seniors have earned.
Christopher Conover: So Ron, philosophically a government run system is a good idea, the mechanics, the hows and the wherefores but philosophically larger picture?
Ron Barber: Well, it’s a system that people have paid into. It’s an investment that they’ve made with their own money through their payroll deductions both for Social Security and for Medicare. And as far as scare tactics, Jesse, I think you need to take another look at what we’ve said. We’ve really repeated your own words. You have said repeatedly, I want to privatize Social Security and Medicare. I want to eliminate them. You’ve called them a Ponzi scheme. You’ve said the people who are getting Medicare are on public dole. All of those things are bad for Southern Arizona seniors and bad for America and I’m just saying that your own words are what we’re talking about. I think it’s important for the voters of District 8 to know where the candidates stand and there’s a stark contrast between your position on Medicare and Social Security and mine. You want to privatize it. I have said from the very beginning we’re going to preserve it and protect it for seniors now and in the future. As far as your idea that we’re going to take people out of the system as an option, the math just doesn’t work. If you take younger people out of the system, people who are retiring in future generations and future years simply won’t have the money in the system. You can’t have it both ways, Jesse, and I’m just repeating your words in our campaign ads because you’ve said them.
Christopher Conover: All right. And Mr. Manolakis, philosophically is a government run retirement system a good idea?
Charlie Manolakis: Yes. I think it is a good process to exist and continue. But I’d just like to mention at this time that my opponents here have really left out a very impotant element of the American population as they campaign. They’re always talking about Social Security and Medicare but they’re never talking about Medicaid and just about any process that takes place in regards to Medicare also takes place in regards to Medicaid. It just happens to be a fact of our living history at this time that there are 90 million people on Medicaid. We have to start paying attention to these people and we have to be taking care of this. This is an outlandish, unrecognization of people who exist in this country. That’s 90 million Americans and you people have not given them any attention and it’s definitely needed.
Andrea Kelly: As a follow up question, Jesse Kelly and Ron Barber, what you guys were just talking about, things that have been said in past campaigns. Jesse, you have said in 2010 running for Congress and this year running for Congress that you wanted to protect the benefits of those who have paid into the system. But in 2010 you did also say that you were phasing out and eliminating Social Security and Medicare and this year on your website it says you would not vote for that. Can you explain how that change in position happened, what contributed to that?
Jesse Kelly: What we’ve done is we’ve clarified. When we talk about what the future should look like of these programs, the future should look like choices. I know Ron Barber doesn’t feel the federal government should give the American people choices. I believe that this is supposed to be a free country where we do have choices. And also let’s not forget that it’s actually Ron Barber who supported $500 billion in Medicare cuts and $500 billion in tax increases through his support of Obama-care. I will vote immediately to repeal Obama-care as soon as I’m elected to Congress on June 12th.
Christopher Conover: Let me bring up, you’ve brought up healthcare so let’s go ahead and jump into that. That has also obviously been a topic of conversation in this campaign. As you just said, and we knew this, Jesse, you would have voted against the healthcare bill. What we don’t know is in the form it was passed how Ron and Charlie, if you were the member at the time, would have voted so let me start with Ron. Ron, if you were the sitting member when the vote came up and you had to press the red or the green button, as that bill was written how would you have voted?
Ron Barber: Well, first of all I think it’s important to correct the record. I was never in Congress. There may have been a phantom election that I couldn’t participate in that Jesse’s talking about. I don’t know about that. I never took a vote on the affordable healthcare act sometimes called Obama-care. It is a bill that is far from perfect. There are a lot of things that need to be changed in that bill and rather than throw the baby out with the bath water, what I would rather do and I think this is the reasonable and moderate approach, is to save those things in the bill that help Americans and take care of those things that don’t. Taking our for example any impact, negative impact on small businesses and middle class Americans. That is not something that I would support. I would immediately move to eliminate the ability or to give the federal government the ability to negotiate the price of Medicare medications which was prohibited by a bill that was passed in 2006 when President Bush was in office. Mr. Kelly is trying to mislead the Southern Arizona voters and I think they’re a lot smarter than that, Jesse. They’re not going to buy this cover up and pulling the wool over their eyes. So I think people are much smarter than you give them credit for and I want to say clearly, never in Congress, never voted for it. No matter what you say I have a record on it, don’t have a record on it. But let me speak to Charlie’s point about Medicaid. When Medicaid came into Arizona in the mid 80s I was the state director of the Department of Developmental Disabilities. I was part of a legislative team and a department team that put together the Arizona Medicaid program. We put together the best Medicaid program in the country because we focused on home and community based services, less costly and much more humane because it kept seniors and people with disabilities in their own homes rather than in institutions. So I know Charlie very well as you’ve said that Medicaid is a crucial part of the services we need to preserve for people with disabilities. I worked 32 years in service to people with disability, I know the importance of them and you’re absolutely right. We need to be talking about that as well.
Charlie Manolakis: But I’d like to say this to that if I may. This campaign has been going on a good number of weeks now, we’re three quarters of the way into the campaign. You have never mentioned the word Medicaid; neither have you.
Ron Barber: But we’re talking about it now, Charlie.
Charlie Manolakis: It’s about time, but it’s too late as far as I’m concerned because it is an outstandlingly terrible neglect that you two exhibited to the American people. This is 90 million people. When I talk about healthcare reform I talk about everyone. I do not leave out 90 million people and I’ve been talking about these 90 million people constantly at Occupy Tucson and I’ve talked about the thousands of people in this regard. And also when I get on the radio waves which I have done before in regards to healthcare reform and have spoke to millions of people, I am speaking for every one of the American people in this country, okay? I am in a e pluribus unum kind of scenario, that’s one for one and all for one. But you two have neglected these people so I really show, I think it really shows where you’re at in regards to being representative of this country. I don’t think you’re ready to do that. You cannot ignore 90 million people and be representative.
Ron Barber: Charlie, I would put my 32 years of experience with Medicare, Medicaid rather, up against anybody and I think you know that I’m supportive of it so I don’t think that’s a fair assessment.
Charlie Manolakis: I don’t think the American people know that 'cause you never even mentioned it.
Ron Barber: Well, we’re mentioning it now, aren’t we?
Charlie Manolakis: It’s much too late.
Christopher Conover: Let me jump back there to the original question. If you had been the sitting member, which as you said you weren’t, none of you were, but if you had been the sitting member when the healthcare bill was up for its vote, red or green? Would you have voted for it? It’s been through the whole process.
Ron Barber: I really can’t respond to a hypothetical question like that. In order to really respond to a question like that you would have done, I would have done what Congresswoman Giffords did. She went all over this district listening to thousands of peoples’ points of view. We had something like 40,000 emails on the subject. She took all of that into consideration and made her vote. I didn’t do that. I was not the representative at the time. It was a 2700 page bill. In order to really pass a bill or vote for one or say I would vote for one I would have had to read it and thoroughly examine it. That’s the kind of congressman I think people want and I’m not going to answer a hypothetical question without having done the homework that she did and made her decision.
Christopher Conover: All right. And Charlie, let me put that to you. If you’d been the sitting member, knowing what you know, red button or green button on that one?
Charlie Manolakis: Yes, I would have voted for it because it’s the best thing we could do at the time because Congress wasn’t gathering together the way that we thought they would in 2003 when Senator Obama at that time said that what this country needs is a single payer healthcare system and the only way we’re going to have it is if we have a sitting Democratic president and we have a majority Congress. Well, the opportunity was there but unfortunately we’ve had people phasing out of that opportunity. So I would have voted for it under that circumstance. But I don’t think it’s that good. If people pay attention to surveys as they are in reality, done in valid, empirical, psychological, sociological processes, if they pay attention to the results of those surveys, they would find this. In regards to the voice of the American people, the reality is not a 50/50 percent response to this plan. The reality is when people are asked, When the American people are asked, how do you feel about this plan, 75% of them will say it does not go far enough and in this country now we have existent 23 states that are a facsimile of the single payer system. Let me correct that because Vermont has come into being as a single payer state. This is the best kind of healthcare plan for this country that a single payer universal healthcare plan. So Vermont has come into a reality, an existence, an historical existence of the single payer state as of now. And also Massachusetts which I believe is the best state in this country as far as healthcare goes with 98.2% of its citizens covered as going another direction which I think we should pay a lot of attention to. And that direction is they’re moving to something called Medicaid for All and this may be even a better process of a plan that also is good, existent in our legislature, in our Congress, which is called Medicare for All. This Medicaid for All may very well be better. So I only would have voted for that plan because I would not have had the support at that time but I think the American people have said for decades and decades they want a universal healthcare and they want hands off, 80% of them say they want hands off Medicare. They don’t want anything to happen to Medicare. And 75% say hands off Medicaid. So by my opponents not tuning into this reality of the people of the United States of America, they’re doing us a great disservice and I don’t think they should sit in our congress as senators. But I’ve been fighting for this for 40 years and every time I speak in regards to a change and the need for reform I’m speaking for all the American people.
Andrea Kelly: Charlie, you mentioned a few times today and in previous interviews that you support a single payer system. That was something that several Democrats tried to get added to the Affordable Healthcare Act in 2010. It didn’t pass. There is not the same party in majority in Congress as in the presidency so how would you get that done now? Is this something the states should be doing or the federal government?
Charlie Manolakis: I think we have to bring the American people more into a voice expressing this is what they want. And actually it wasn’t only a few, we had a pretty good number, several dozen at least, that wanted to get that plan passed at that time. And I think the country will wake up to the reality of what’s going on once we start looking closely at these 23 other states that really have good plans for healthcare reform that are close to the universal single payer system.
Andrea Kelly: So to clarify, let that be a state decision.
Charlie Manolakis: No. The government can become involved but let the government pick the best one in regards… working with the American people in that way.
Christopher Conover: We recently, Jesse, and all of you, had the U.S. Supreme Court arguments on the healthcare bill and afterwards Governor Brewer said to us that the healthcare system is broken and something needs to be done, and this is something we heard a number of Republicans say, they don’t like the current law but they said something needs to be done. So this is kind of a two part question. A, do you agree with that statement and B, if you do, what needs to be done to fix the system as a whole?
Jesse Kelly: Absolutely, something does need to be done. We have the finest care in the world in this country as evidenced by the fact that people come from all over the world, all the dignitaries with their “compassionate” systems come over here to use our care because here in the United States of America we still have the best care money can buy. The problem we’re seeing is that money can’t buy it right now. The costs are going through the roof. Currently by just taxation we’re paying 25% higher than we should be for our prescription drugs. Everything is being taxed. Under Obama-care the taxes are endless. They even tax tongue depressors and rubber gloves. So how do we bring down the cost? We force insurance… we let people buy insurance across state lines which they currently can’t do. We allow businesses to pool together in the same way that states can to purchase one big plan, one umbrella plan for everybody. And the biggest thing is individual ownership of health insurance. We need to give individuals the same tax breaks that businesses get in order to purchase their own insurance. It shouldn’t be such a needlessly complicated process to where Americans have to live in fear of losing their job and therefore losing their insurance. They should be able to go home right now and go online and purchase a health insurance plan that works for them that’s tailor made for them. But in short we have a high quality system but it’s too expensive because the government currently controls 50% of it. We need to walk back those taxes and burdensome regulations and then we’ll bring down the cost of our system.
Christopher Conover: Ron, do you agree with Governor Brewer’s assessment that the system is broken, something needs to be done, so what?
Ron Barber: I think the governor had it right. When 47 million Americans are without healthcare coverage and a vast majority of them end up in the emergency room, the most costly place to get medical care, that’s not right. When children go without healthcare, they grow up into adults who are not healthy. When seniors have to pay for preventative care, they don’t go for preventative care. We need to do a lot to improve the system and the issue really is one of cost as well as accessible healthcare for Americans. We have to bend the curve of healthcare cost rising. We pay more in this country for healthcare than any other industrialized country and yet when you look at the metrics, we don’t get the same outcomes unfortunately and that’s because there are a lot of unnecessary things that are being done to increase the cost. So as I look at the Affordable Healthcare Act there are many things about it that need to be changed, no question. And I’ve laid out a plan for the amendments I would submit to that bill. But when people talk about, as my opponent here, Mr. Kelly, talks about repealing, I assume then he wants to repeal the prohibition on insurance companies that stops them now from excluding someone from healthcare because of a preexisting condition. I assume by repeal he means we want to stop closing the doughnut hole for seniors. I assume by repealing the healthcare law he wants to make sure that the cap on medical expenses stay as the cap. I was in Sierra Vista a couple years, we had a public forum on healthcare. A retired firefighter stood up. He said, I’m a middle class American, I’m retired, everything was going fine for us and then my wife got a very serious neurological disease. She maxed out the cap on her healthcare plan and we nearly went into bankruptcy. Had it not been for our church and supporters and friends and borrowing money my wife would not continue to get the treatment. I assume by repeal Mr. Kelly would keep the cap and that woman would still have a problem and that family would still be in medical bankruptcy. There are some good things in this bill. We need to keep it. There are many things in it that we need to change. I think what you do with any kind of legislation of this magnitude where it has problems, you go in and you take out those things that are not right and you keep the things that are good. And I think that’s what American people want. They want that kind of moderate approach to legislation and to resolving the issues that this country faces and that’s the kind of approach I will take to Congress. Moderation, not extreme and radical views like Mr. Kelly.
Christopher Conover: And Charlie, let me let you jump in on this question also before me move on.
Charlie Manolakis: As far as the so-called Obama healthcare plan goes, which is not President Obama’s plan, it’s a plan of the House of Representatives. As far as it goes, there’s a lot of good things in it and there’s a lot of bad things. I could at this time if we had time bring out a dozen components that are good and a dozen components that are bad. But we have existent in this country 23 states that are above that level. In Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Utah and Hawaii, just to mention several. These plans are better than this Obama-care plan, which is not Obama-care plan, it is a House of Representatives plan. I think that we should pay attention to the 23 states that are really doing well and come about developing a better plan out of hat. As far as any bills go and any plans go, we have a big problem in this country in regards to our bills and the laws of the land. They’re written in such a way that the American people cannot read them. This has to be changed. These bills and these laws have to be put in simple, direct, clear language that the American people can understand. After all, we have our troops going out, putting their hands up to promise to protect this Constitution and this Bill of Rights and this Declaration of Independence and we have first responders and everybody else that is involved in putting up their hand. They should be able to understand what they are protecting, what they are standing for. So this sort of thing has to happen.
Andrea Kelly: Moving on to a slightly different topic but still related to Social Security, Medicare and Affordable Care Act. We’ve seen some outside influence, outside campaigning coming into this campaign, obviously a change since the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court a few years ago and I want to start with you on this one, Ron. Is this outside influence, outside campaigning, and by that I mean campaigning done beyond just the three of your campaigns. How is that affecting the race and is it appropriate?
Ron Barber: Well, one of the things that it’s done is made this a much more expensive race and I think one of the problems we have in our campaign finance laws is the cost of campaigning. I think most Americans would like to see the cost constrained. But as you’ve pointed out, the Citizens United lawsuit that was decided by the Supreme Court said ultimately that corporations are people. Well, I don’t believe that. I think it was a really bad decision that they made. Obviously it’s now the Supreme Court’s decision and we have to abide by it. But it has allowed anonymous corporate donors and individual donors to flood money in to this campaign and I expect it to go on. Unfortunately there’s no way to control it because the law allows it to happen. I think the most important thing we can do in any campaign though is tell the truth. The American people I think vote for two reasons for a candidate. One, do they believe that his policies make sense to them and reflect their values and two, can they trust that person and that’s really what this campaign is about. Can we trust a candidate, Mr. Kelly in this case, who has repeatedly said one thing and now wants to say something different, not just on healthcare, not just on Medicare, not just on Social Security but a host of other issues. I think it comes down to this, who can you trust. I hope my 32 years of public service in serving people with disabilities and my five and a half years of public service working for Congresswoman Giffords gives me that kind of credibility. I will not be telling people one thing and then doing another or trying to change my position. That is really the issue here and that’s why unfortunately we have campaign ads that are counter… back and forth saying one thing and then another. What the real issue is is what is the truth. Harry Truman once said something very important here. If you tell the truth, you’ll never have to remember what you said.
Andrea Kelly: And Charlie Manolakis, as I mentioned before, we’ve seen outside influence, campaigns beyond just the three of you sitting here, getting involved in this race. Most of it… all of it has been in support or opposition of your two opponents. None of it has been directed at or supporting you. What do you think of that outside influence and is it appropriate?
Charlie Manolakis: Well, I really stand, I want to get the money out of the politics and this is… we have too much of our politicians being bought in the campaign process and why exist in our congress. This has to stop, this has to change. That’s why I’m moving now, I haven’t even moved for any contributions from anyone. I’m just moving for the votes of the people. I just need to people to come under the wings of this eagle and take me into congress. I don’t need the monies. So I don’t think this is a good process to have continue in this, that this money process which has so much influence on our government and on our country. It’s had so much influence on our government and our country that we now have a revolution in this country, a revolution is gong on. It’s called Occupy, Occupy Tucson, Occupy New York, Occupy Philadelphia, Occupy Boston and several other dozen places in this country and the main reason for that that’s going on is because the American people are tired of broken promises, they’re tired of lies and they’re tired of corruption which is very often associated with the root of evil as expressed in the Bible and Jesse this is not okay with Jesus. And it’s not okay with the American people. So I think we have to move to change the process in which we are going for. So again, I want to take the money out of politics. I just want the vote of the people to take me into congress so I can speak more for them and represent them the way they should be and get the broken promises, the lies and the corruption out of our political government and let us function, let the real government function, we the people. We are the real government and we have to have money taken out of politics.
Andrea Kelly: And Jesse Kelly, you’ve, just as Ron Barber has, you’ve been on the receiving end of support and opposition from outside groups. What do you think of outside influence in the campaign?
Jesse Kelly: Well, I think it’s obvious who’s backing who in this campaign. As soon as Ron Barber declared his candidacy, Nancy Pelosi threw him a fundraiser in Washington with Raúl Grijalva. I think it’s clear that Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi are trying to buy another reliable, far left vote in Congress and we are going to stop them because it’s not going to be ads that stop them, not from our campaign or anybody else. The truth is, the people of Southern Arizona want lower taxes, they want more jobs, they want lower gas prices and lower power bills using American energy, not foreign energy but American energy. This is what we’ve run our campaign on, it’ll continue to be what we run our campaign on and I believe we will see victory in June.
Christopher Conover: So let me follow up because national money is coming in on behalf of you. Is that appropriate cause you’re getting national money too.
Jesse Kelly: Absolutely. I think that if the national money comes in from one side, then the national money should come in from another in order to clarify a lot of the lies and distortions we’ve seen.
Christopher Conover: Nineteen percent of this district is in Cochise County. We all talk a lot about Tucson, it’s where we live, it’s where our offices are but 19% of the district does live in Cochise County so in our inviting questions from people around the district here we actually got a video question from Bill Hess, a reporter at the Sierra Vista Herald. Here’s Bill’s question.
Bill Hess: The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has informed the Upper San Pedro Partnership that they, the BLM, has senior water rights in the Upper San Pedro River Basin. This is seen by some in Cochise County as an assault on development in the area. Joining the BLM in opposing two large developments in Sierra Vista, are a number of environmental groups. Do you believe the BLM has overstepped its federal authority and what do you think local communities, Sierra Vista City Council, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, can do to overcome what many see as a federal government power grab which is detrimental to the economic well being of the area?
Christopher Conover: Charlie Manolakis, we’re going to give you the first shot at that one.
Charlie Manolakis: Okay, would you give me a little clarification of the video? It didn’t come through very clearly.
Christopher Conover: Absolutely. Bill is talking about a BLM decision and what is the role of government, federal, in putting in environmental regulations and also when the locals oppose how does all of this work, the federal and the state and the locals hand in hand or not hand in hand?
Charlie Manolakis: Well, I think that the federal authorities should have the overseeing power over the state. That’s how our government exists to begin with. The federal oversees the state and has the superseding power over the state actions and processes so I think the federal government is the way to go. Pay attention to that and make sure it works all right. It took the federal government to do a lot of things for the environments in this country, even seat belts in car environments to make the people safe or safer. So I think the federal government should have the power in this issue.
Christopher Conover: Jesse Kelly.
Jesse Kelly: The founders of this nation believed that the federal government served the states, that the federal government only exists at the states' behest and I believe that as well. When we hear that the federal government owns or controls 50 percent of the state of Arizona, that’s frightening. It is the duty of Cochise County, Sierra Vista, Tombstone who’s having a quarrel with the federal government right now about their water rights, they need to stand up for themselves. The Bureau of Land Management has absolutely overstepped its bounds and as the next congressman from Congressional District 8 I will insure that the federal government gets out of their way.
Christopher Conover: And Ron.
Ron Barber: Well, for the last five and a half years as Congresswoman Giffords’ district director, with her authority and with her support have fought the federal government when it’s overstepped its bounds. We fought the government when FEMA put 90% of Marana into a flood plain, we pushed back, we put in legislation through the Congresswoman intruding legislation and FEMA had to back off because they had made a huge mistake and now maybe 7% of Marana is in a flood plain. That saved millions of dollars in terms of insurance. We pushed back on the Environmental Protection Agency when they wouldn’t allow a project to go forward that hooked up Huachuca City water, wastewater, to the Fort so they could recharge it into the San Pedro. I think a congressional office has to be an advocate for the people with any federal agency that tries to push the people around. So in regard to the question that Bill asked, I’ve worked for all this time too with the Upper San Pedro Partnership. The Upper San Pedro River is inextricably tied to the future of Fort Huachuca, one of our most important national security assets. We have to have a balanced approach. In other words, we have to both protect one of the most bio diverse environmental areas outside of Costa Rica in this hemisphere and that is the Upper San Pedro River. And we have to make sure that the Fort continues its mission and expands its mission. The two are tied together. And to the extent that any federal agency is trying to supersede local people trying to make good decisions, I would oppose it as we’ve done in the past in our office. Now the Upper San Pedro Partnership is a coordination group, a coalition of agencies both local, county, city as well as federal agencies, the Fort and so forth. They have a really good plan to make sure that the Upper San Pedro is saved and continues and that the Fort continues as a result. I want to support the people of the Upper San Pedro Partnership as well as the communities that are trying to make sure that the water is there as well as that they are able to grow in a sensible and prudent manner. No question about it, when the federal government oversteps its bounds, a congressional office and a member of congress has to push back.
Andrea Kelly: And in seeking questions from the public we got one that was directly for you Mr. Kelly and it was obviously somebody who was listening to the primary campaign and heard you talking about your energy policy and your plans to use more domestic energy to improve the U.S. economy. This is from Andrew Tubiolo and it says, Mr. Kelly, if you are elected to office and you find that your statements about the amount of oil in the U.S. are not true, what would your new energy policy be in a world where the United States ranks not first but 14th place in proven reserves, produces 5.5 million barrels of oil a day and consumes 21 million barrels of oil a day. We checked those numbers. There was actually a story in USA Today that has numbers that are in line with the numbers he’s using here.
Jesse Kelly: I’m actually thrilled he brought that up because it was actually the GAO, a government agency that just came out and said as far as recoverable oil goes there is more oil in the form of oil shale in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado than the entire rest of the world combined. That’s simply oil shale. We’re currently using 2% of our off shore drilling capability, only 6% of our on shore drilling capability. And when we ask about clear contrast between the candidates in this race, let’s keep in mind that President Barak Obama, with 14% real unemployment and $4.00 a gallon gasoline in several states, blocked a pipeline that would have lowered the cost of fuel and created 20,000 American jobs, I stand for that pipeline, I stand for more sensible drilling everywhere we can, and that’s not only oil, natural gas, coal, uranium. We have all the capability we need, all the resources we need in this nation, not only to protect the benefits that seniors have earned by increased revenues into the government but to create millions of new jobs, to lower the cost of fuel, to lower the cost of power. Currently right now in North Dakota, because they’re drilling, they have 3% unemployment and the biggest problem they face currently as a state is there’s literally not enough housing for all the jobs we’ve created. We have Southern Arizona families that can’t afford to drive their children to school, they can’t find a job. If they have a job, they can’t afford the gasoline to get to work. It’s time to stop letting the EPA control our environment, our energy policy in this nation and start getting the government barriers out of the way and letting the American energy companies go out there and create jobs for the American people.
Andrea Kelly: But again, the question is asking if not all of the oil reserves are accessible as not all of them are. The U.S. is already using 77% domestic oil. So if you cannot tap all of those resources that you’re mentioning for logistics reasons, how would your policy change?
Jesse Kelly: But we can tap those resources. In fact we even have ANWAR in Alaska that’s brought up as a place and let’s talk about this for a second. The technology has advanced so much in the energy field that if we were to go drill in ANWAR we’re talking about a stamp, a postage stamp size impact on an area the size of a football field. It’s that kind of impact, a tiny, tiny impact and yet we’d get all that oil. There is the oil here. We are currently drilling less in federal lands now than we ever have because of the policies of President Obama. President Obama blocked oil drilling in the gulf and then sent $3 billion to Brazil of taxpayer money so that they can drill for oil. Does that sound like a president and a policy that’s out for jobs and out for the American people? I do not think it does and that’s why we’re going to go back to Washington and fight against that.
Andrea Kelly: OK, and as that last question was directed directly for you, Jesse Kelly, we’re going to ask Ron Barber and Charlie Manolakis, what is your proposed energy policy?
Ron Barber: Well, we have to get energy into this country and that means we have to continue to bring oil into play, we have to bring in natural gas which is at an all time low in terms of cost. The oil reserves are not as big or bigger than Saudi Arabia or the rest of the world and that’s the reserves that are really accessible. What Mr. Kelly talks about is oil in shale which there’s no technology available today to make it happen. It if was, it would be pursued. What is interesting though about the oil, the shale issue is that we have found natural gas which is much easier to extract from that body. The most important thing we can do here is stop sending our money overseas to buy oil from hostile governments. We have to have energy independence. We spend $1 billion a day in buying oil from foreign governments. That is a huge part of our trade deficit which also is a huge part of our overall deficit. We have to bring it under control. My energy policy would be continue to have oil, continue to have natural gas as a part of our energy source. In fact over the last two years oil production in this country has quadrupled, it has not declined. It is bigger than it’s ever been. There are literally hundreds of licenses that have been given to oil companies on public land that they’re not using. Now the issue is really I think this, we have to have a bridge to the future. The future I believe is largely about renewable energy. In Arizona it is a no-brainer with 300 plus days of sunshine every year that we should become the solar capital of the world and we are now ranked third in the country after the last surge in solar production in our state. I really am interested in jobs. We all talk about jobs but let’s be realistic about it. The jobs that we’re going to create here are from high tech and bioscience and research projects that move quickly to market from the University of Arizona research programs. I don’t know that there are any oil wells available in Arizona and I think, Jesse, you probably have been spending a little bit too much time in Texas because we don’t have oil here to create jobs. What we have here though are those kind of high tech jobs that we can build on if we have a good educational system that trains scientists and engineers, if we really invite and make this an easy place for people to come and do business, we will have the jobs here that make sense here, not oil since we don’t have it here. And I think energy policy has to basically be all of the above. Moving us out of the dependence on foreign oil towards independence with renewable energy and certainly a bridge to that future is oil and gas.
Andrea Kelly: And Charlie Manolakis, your proposed energy policy if you’re a congressman.
Charlie Manolakis: I think a good thing for the country to do would be to reduce the speed limit and in this way we’d be saving a lot of cost on oil, we would have people feeling more in a state of equilibrium as they live their everyday life and we’d be gaining the capacity of gain that is talked about in developing cars 10 to 15 years down the road. I heard this 20 or 30 years ago. We’re going to develop the right kind of cars and we’re going to reduce the energy problem. I would say just reduce the speed limit to such a capacity that it’s going to save a lot of energy. Then I don’t think we’re doing enough with our green energy capacities. I heard a lot of talk during the last campaign run for the presidency that there’d be a lot of development of green energy capacities and windmills and sonar. I don’t think we’re doing enough and I think we should work on that more concentratedly in a fashion that’ll be very graceful and at a good level of development for the country and it could produce a lot of jobs that aren’t being induced into the society at this time. So I would say reduce the speed limit and increase our capacity, our involvement and our development of green energy.
Christopher Conover: Ron, you mentioned solar and other alternative sources, Mr. Manolakis, you mentioned more green energy so this is for all of you. We’ll start with Ron and work our way around. So how does the government, as a member of Congress, influence industry to get more development of what we now call alternative fuels?
Ron Barber: Well, essentially it’s going to have to be a private sector development. Small businesses in this country represent two thirds of the economy and until we really help small businesses with tax credits and tax breaks as well as taking away regulations that get in the way, we’re not going to have that kind of business no matter what the industry is. As a small business owner myself for 22 years with my wife, I know what it takes to run a small business and I will take that experience to Congress. But what we have to do in the area of renewable energy is to provide the kind of incentives that are in place right now. We have a tax credit for homeowners and for businesses that has really resulted in a boom in solar energy. We also have a Department of Defense policy that has increased the amount of renewable energy that the Department of Defense is using both here as well as in theater to save lives by having produced energy on the spot as opposed to bringing in convoys. We have a great boom in Arizona, in Southern Arizona, it is taking off. We just have to drive by Davis Monthan Air Force Base to see the array of solar panels. Now the base, residential community at the base is the largest residential community in the country that is run by solar. That’s the kind of future I think we have. But it’s not going to happen overnight. Right now only 8% of America’s energy comes from renewables. We have to give the kind of incentives that is going to make that happen. We’ve had the state government give incentives and we’ve had the utilities give incentives and yes, we’ve had the federal government do the same thing. The oil industry has been subsidized for many, many years and anyone who says we can’t do the same kind of support to renewable energy is saying we don’t care about renewable energy. We also need to take a look at those oil subsidies for companies that are making huge profits and the taxpayer is paying part of that profit.
Christopher Conover: Mr. Manolakis, you mentioned green energy so how does the government encourage alternative or green energy?
Charlie Manolakis: They just have to… they have the capacity, the engineering capacity throughout this country, right here in Arizona, in Tucson, Arizona, we have engineering students that are very high level and this is the case throughout the whole country. I think it would be good to maybe develop something like an energy corps for the country. Go to all these universities, bring in this great brain matter and put it into the country’s development of the green energy. Contact the universities, bring them in like sort of like energy corps or something like AmeriCorps and this way maybe we’ll start getting progressive gains that are not happening enough at this time.
Christopher Conover: And Jesse.
Jesse Kelly: Sure. I think we need to clarify first of all what Mr. Barber was saying when he said we need incentives. That means taxpayer handouts. That means the taxpayers once again are forced to write another check to prop up an industry that will one day be capable of propping up itself. I believe that these alternative energies are the wave of the future. I believe one day the technology will absolutely be there so that we can constantly rely on them. The technology is not there yet and when we have taxpayers so burdened right now, when we have a government that’s trillions in debt, we can’t afford more handouts to any business of any kind. And I do have to laugh when I hear people talk about handouts to oil companies. They pay the exact same in taxes that every other business pays in this nation and when we talk about the entity that pays, that has profited more than the oil companies off of oil, it’s the federal government. For the last 25 years the government has made more than the oil companies have made. And are we going to sit here and champion the fact that we have solar panels in Afghanistan, is that our new Department of Defense policy. I thought our defense policy was to win the battles we have to win and then start bringing our men and women home from combat. That should be the goal, not how many renewable energy resources we’re using. Time to bring our men and women home from the battles we’ve won in victory.
Christopher Conover: Jesse, let me just follow up and make sure I understand something you’re saying. No subsidies, no corporate handouts. Are you talking no corporate tax breaks at all, that needs to stop since the government’s got a deficit?
Jesse Kelly: I think they all pay the same tax rate. I don’t believe the federal government, well, it’s not even what I believe. The founding fathers, the Constitution of the United States does not allow the federal government to pick a winner and loser of industries. They shouldn’t have bailed out Wall Street, they shouldn’t have bailed out the auto industry, they shouldn’t have bailed out so many things and right now it’s not their job to attempt to pick a winner and loser of industry. The oil companies, the coal companies, they should get no breaks that the solar companies don’t get. They should all be treated equally on an equal playing field because when they compete with each other, then the technology advances, more jobs are created and who wins after that happens, the American consumer wins because we get better power at a lower cost. That’s the beauty of economic freedom and that’s what we’re based on in this country, not a government controlled economy, economic freedom. We talk about small businesses yet we constantly hear President Obama and the other party banging the drum of raising the taxes on those people who make $250,000 and more. Well, I’m a small businessman. That’s called a business that’s registered as an S corporation. When you talk about raising taxes on those who make $250,000 or more, that means you talk about raising taxes on small businesses in a time where businesses need to be expanding and hiring more people. We need to be cutting taxes on every business in the United States.
Christopher Conover: Ron, let me just kind of follow up on all of this. Tax breaks for solar industry, other alternative energy and oil, just tax break for everybody if I understand that’s what Mr. Kelly is saying. Good idea, bad idea, just level the playing field, all energy gets it.
Ron Barber: I’m glad to hear Mr. Kelly say he doesn’t think there should be subsidies for the oil industry. I think they should be phased out because they’ve been going on for a long time. They have a solid industry, they’re making huge billion dollar profits every year. I think it’s time for that to be phased out. We don’t need to be doing that with taxpayer money. But let’s look at alternative or renewable energy. It’s an infant energy source. We’re just beginning to learn about how do we make solar more efficient and more effective. We’re just beginning to learn how to make geothermal practical. We’re just beginning to learn how to make wind more practical. And those are things that we want to incentivize, we want to help the industry. Tax credits for consumers is a tax break for the person who puts solar on their roof. It’s not for the industry. The industry grows because more people want it but the tax incentives have resulted in a huge boom in solar energy, particularly in this state. I think to compare the oil industry subsidies to the ones that are being given, incentives to solar industry, is just comparing apples and oranges. The oil industry has had these subsidies for many years, they’re making billions of dollars in profits and I think it’s time to phase those out. So let me just say one more thing about the energy policy issue. A lot of things have been said in Mr. Kelly’s campaign and on his website that are just flat out wrong. One of them is that he believes that oil is a renewable resource. I don’t think so. I believe that’s incorrect and I just think we need to have the ability in our candidates to tell the truth and not to make stuff up.
Jesse Kelly: Well, sadly, that’s not nearly the first lie that Ron Barber has told in this campaign. I am hoping that will be the last. I said that, it was a joke, everybody knew it was a joke so once again, here at a public forum, a man of your stature just lied to every voter of Southern Arizona.
Ron Barber: Just let me interrupt for a second.
Jesse Kelly: How embarrassing.
Ron Barber: Let me interrupt for a second.
Jesse Kelly: I have not interrupted you once nor will you interrupt me once sir. So please let’s not do that.
Ron Barber: Go ahead and finish and then I want to talk about what you just said.
Jesse Kelly: I would appreciate that. I would appreciate that.
Ron Barber: Go ahead, finish.
Jesse Kelly: Thank you. I’m done. Please continue.
Ron Barber: You’re finished? Okay, good. I guess I didn’t interrupt you. Here’s the thing. You said not too long ago that you wanted to eliminate the minimum wage, right? You said it, it’s on tape. Are you denying that?
Jesse Kelly: I’m allowing you to finish. Please continue.
Ron Barber: No, did you say that?
Jesse Kelly: Is it my turn to talk?
Ron Barber: No, I’m just asking you a question. Yes or no.
Jesse Kelly: You are not the moderator in this debate, Mr. Barber.
Ron Barber: Okay, but I’m just asking. Let me go on. You said it and then I went on a local radio talk show and I repeated what you had said which is actually on tape. You came on later on that show and said I was a liar. Well, the facts are that I wasn’t a liar and you’re trying to misinform people. So I just think you need to get your facts straight, you need to not be attacking me inappropriately, you need to not make things up as you’ve been doing from the very beginning. You need to tell the truth and then we’ll have a more civil campaign. That’s the real issue here is making stuff up is not what this campaign is about and you’ve done a lot of it.
Jesse Kelly: That’s right. What this campaign is about is a clear contrast. I’m a United States Marine Corps combat veteran, born in this nation, I’m a husband and father of two and I am a small businessman. I believe in the greatness of the American people, not the greatness of government. I believe that solar is in the future of this country. I also believe every single car should have a full tank of gas that did not cost $4.00 a gallon. I believe that we will have jobs, not government created jobs but jobs created by the American people and the American businesses. When I talk to small businesses in this nation, you know what they tell me, that they don’t want to expand anymore because they’re frightened of a government that’s grown too big. The American people need not be frightened of their government anymore. We are going to win elections in this nation, we will come back and we will be better than we have ever been before.
Christopher Conover: We got sidetracked and I want to let Mr. Manolakis get in on this tax breaks subsidy issue for energy companies, all energy companies, not just one alternative or oil or some combination.
Charlie Manolakis: I think Mr. Barber’s covered just about everything I would have to say on that issue.
Andrea Kelly: All right, moving onto another issue. One thing that’s been different in this campaign versus many of the campaigns in years past is that the border has usually been a big focus of Congressional District 8 candidates and campaigns. We’re not hearing as much about the border this time around and I’d like to ask why. Mr. Barber, we’ll start with you.
Ron Barber: Well, I think it’s still an issue. I don’t think it’s been brought to the fore but I’m glad you raised the subject. For five and a half years as the Congresswoman’s district director I had the lead on many issues. One of them was on border security. And over that time I’ve met with ranchers, Border Patrol agents and administrators and local law enforcement and businesses and people who live along the border. We have to do more to secure the border. We cannot cede one inch of American territory to the drug cartels with their drugs and their violence and that’s the position that I’ve taken as district director. And when the advice came in from ranchers and from other people who live in and around the border about what we need to do, I provided a list of ideas to Congresswoman Giffords which were included in a bill, a $600 million bill, an emergency appropriation for border security. Every one of those ideas came from people who live on or around the border or who are involved in law enforcement. More forward operating bases, more boots on the ground, more mobile surveillance systems, more UAVs and drones to cover the border, better communications systems. All of those came from the work that I did on behalf of Congresswoman Giffords with the people who are affected by this. We’ve done a lot but we need to do a lot more.
Christopher Conover: I don’t want to interrupt but we only have about four minutes left and I want to make sure everybody gets a fair shake on this. Mr. Manolakis.
Charlie Manolakis: Yes, it is true at this time there’s been a lot less attention associated with the border. I think the main reason for that is people are tuning into really what’s been the main issue in this country for a hundred years and that’s healthcare. So that’s why we’re not having that much attention with the border. As far as that goes, I’d just like to interject, we do not have the best healthcare system in the world in this country. Year after year independent studies have rated us like 35 or 40. Evidence that this is true is the fact that just two years ago UMC was saying or two or three years ago UMC was saying that we do not have enough doctors to take care of the patients in this city at this time. So I think the reason why there’s a lot less tension is because the American people are becoming more aware and speaking up about the main issue that’s been the main issue for 100 years, that’s healthcare. Be it associated with Medicare, be it associated with Social Security or Medicaid where it’s not being associated enough with and it should happen.
Andrea Kelly: And Jesse Kelly.
Jesse Kelly: The border is always going to be a huge problem. I know we’re in a hurry here. Build the double layer border fence. They built it in San Diego and violent crime dropped by 50%. Give the Border Patrol agents the manpower and resources they need. They’re currently purchasing their own AA batteries some of the time. That’s completely unacceptable. Allow them to be down on the border where they want and also expand our port of entry which right now is very small and it’s actually hurting commerce. So we not only need a nice high double fence, we need a nice wide gate to let our neighbors to the south know that we are here to be your friend.
Christopher Conover: All right, we have less than two minutes left so we’re going to go to one more viewer question. We need a very short answer. This comes from Ilene. Her questions asks, explain what you think the job and responsibility is of a member of Congress, what it entails. Unfortunately we only have about 90 seconds so very short, what is the number one priority of a member of Congress and we’ll start as we began, we’ll end as we began, we’ll start with Mr. Manolakis and work around to Ron.
Charlie Manolakis: Okay, the main priority as a member of Congress is to make, live and to the best ways possible the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence and stay within the realms of what these express. This is how we began as a nation. This is how we’re living as a nation. This is how we are continuing but we’re not paying enough attention to the Declaration of Independence and as a member of Congress this is the way I would go.
Christopher Conover: All right, Jesse.
Jesse Kelly: Our main job will be to remove government regulations and taxations so that businesses can create jobs and the American people can get back to work again, start embracing American energy and get us back to being a great nation. Our best days are ahead of us. We’re about to see it.
Christopher Conover: All right. Ron, you get the last about 30 seconds.
Ron Barber: OK. I think the best way to describe the role of a Congress person is to say that the term representative is not just a job title, it’s a job description. In order to be a true representative of the people that elect you, whether they voted for you or not, is to listen, to listen to what they have to say and go forward and make sure you are the strongest voice you can possibly be for their concerns and their issues. And that’s the pledge I’ve made to the people of Southern Arizona and that’s the one I’ll take to Congress.
Christopher Conover: All right. Well, Ron Barber, Jesse Kelly, Charlie Manolakis, thank you so much for coming and thank you too, all of our viewers and listeners for tuning in for this hour. If you’d like to watch this entire forum again, it’s on our website, azpm.org. Remember, early ballots go out tomorrow and election day is June 12th. For Andrea Kelly, I’m Christopher Conover, Arizona Public Media.