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election 2012:

In two testy debates, clear contrasts between congressional hopefuls

Candidates for 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts meet head on


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Third Congressional District candidates Dr. Joe Heck, left, and John Oceguera, center, wait for the start of a debate at Vegas PBS and moderated by Mitch Fox Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012. Photography was not permitted during the debate.

Updated Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 | 9:47 a.m.

4th Congressional District Debate

Fourth Congressional District  candidates Steven Horsford and Danny Tarkanian shake hands after a debate sponsored by Vegas PBS Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012. Launch slideshow »

3rd Congressional District Debate

Third Congressional District  candidates Dr. Joe Heck, left, wraps up while moderator Mitch Fox shakes John Oceguera's hand after a debate at Vegas PBS Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012. Photography was not permitted during the debate. Launch slideshow »

Sen. Heller vs. Berkley Debate

Sen. Dean Heller and challenger Shelley Berkley congratulate each other after their debate at Vegas PBS on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Clear contrasts and cantankerous candidates were on display Thursday as the candidates for the 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts squared off in half-hour debates.

First up in the doubleheader of debates that took place at the Vegas PBS studio, was a meeting between the candidates for the 3rd Congressional District, Rep. Joe Heck. a Republican, and challenger Assemblyman John Oceguera, a Democrat.

In a cordial but contentious debate, Heck accused Oceguera of lying about the incumbent’s record and Oceguera stood behind a controversial attack ad.

Mitch Fox of Vegas PBS moderated the 30-minute debate that touched on domestic and foreign policy issues.

The most heated exchange came when Oceguera was asked about a recent television ad in which he accuses Heck of being callous toward the needs of rape victims.

Fox pointedly asked Oceguera if he still stood by the ad, which many political observers said crossed the line of fair play.

“Yes. I will stand by that ad, and here’s why,” said Oceguera, who indicated that his mother was a victim of domestic violence. “Congressman Heck’s record on women’s health and safety is clear. He voted to weaken the Violence Against Women Act, he voted twice to defund Planned Parenthood … It goes back to his history in the legislature where he voted to not fund domestic violence programs, rape crisis programs and vaccine to help women to be protected from cervical cancer.”

Heck shot back that Oceguera was purposefully distorting his record.

“There he goes again with these blatantly false accusations, which have been widely panned throughout the independent media,” Heck retorted. “The fact is I voted for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act … The votes that he references in the (state) Senate were the end-of-session pork bills that had 30 to 40 different little pet projects, all of which were very reasonable very worthwhile, but which never received a public hearing. I’m into transparency and accountability.”

The 1994 Violence Against Women Act is up for renewal this year, and competing House and Senate versions have yet to be reconciled. The House version excludes provisions that would protect immigrant victims from abusers who would use their immigration status against them, and that explicitly authorize services for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual victims.

In response to a question on standards and funding in education, Heck said he wanted to give more control to local school districts to decide on academic standards and use of funds.

Oceguera, in his response, said Heck supported cuts to Pell Grants and the early education Head Start program.

“His view is that we should cut education, and my view is that we should invest in education,” Oceguera said. “And it’s a long history, in the Legislature, when we served together, he voted to cut textbooks and supplies.”

Democrats’ claims of cuts to Head Start stem from Republican budget proposals that called for broad cuts to nondefense discretionary spending. Such cuts would most likely impact education, but it is not clear in what way.

“Well, my opponent is moving with blatantly false statements about cutting Head Start,” Heck said. “The tactic is you look at what the budget cut is going to be and then find the thing that is going to resonate the most with the folks back home and use that as an example of the dire situation that any cut to spending may cause. There is nothing in any of the things we voted for that would cut Head Start directly.”

Heck and Oceguera found the most common ground on the one foreign policy question regarding support for Israel if the Mideast nation were to attack Iran. Both candidates said it was vital to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons and they would support Israel in efforts to do so.

Heck and Oceguera clashed on most everything else, including tax cuts. Heck said taxes must be kept at a minimum to promote economic growth, while Oceguera said the Bush-era tax cuts should be allowed to expire for people who earn more than $250,000 per year and he agreed with the “Buffet Rule,” a minimum tax rate for those making over $1 million per year.

Heck and Oceguera never shook hands during their encounter, yet in the second debate of the day, to represent the newly formed 4th Congressional District, candidates Republican Danny Tarkanian and Democratic state Sen. Steven Horsford shook hands before launching into a testy back-and-forth.

The first question of the 30-minute debate from Fox set the tone for the remainder of the exchange.

Fox asked Tarkanian about his previously stated support for Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, the state’s immigration enforcement law.

“I believe the state of Arizona had the duty and obligation to do what they felt was best protect the safety and welfare of its citizens,” Tarkanian said. “Arizona, from my understanding, passed this law because there was so much crime being committed by the people who were coming into the country illegally, and they were worried about the health and safety of their citizens.”

Fear of crime was one reasoning behind the passage of Arizona SB1070 in 2010, but data show violent crime rates in every major Arizona city were falling in the years preceding passage.

“My opponent said he actually loved the Arizona anti-immigration law, and if he had his way he would have allowed it to come to Nevada." Horsford said. "This is a law that was opposed by the Chamber of Commerce, by the Nevada Development Authority, by the Resort Association, the Latin Chamber of Commerce and others. I joined with those business groups, because they were concerned that that legislation, that anti-immigration Arizona law would cost hundreds of conventions and had caused thousands of job loses in our community.”

“This is another example of what you’re going to see the rest of the night: My opponent will continue to misrepresent my position with absolutely no basis to fall back on,” Tarkanian said, a sentiment he repeated often. “… What I said very clearly was Arizona has the right to provide for the health and safety of its citizens, and Nevada has the right to determine whether they need that or not.”

Tarkanian has said in the past that immigrants residing in the country illegally should be denied any taxpayer-funded services, and he supported profiling as a law-enforcement tool.

In June 2010, Tarkanian is quoted in a Politico story saying: “I love the Arizona law.”

Horsford did some artful dodging of his own as well. Fox asked Horsford a question about how much the current economic situation is a result of the policies of President Barack Obama, whom Horsford was an early supporter of in 2008.

Horsford instead discussed the merits of financial services and banking reform, and his record leading the Culinary Training Academy. Asked again about how much blame rests on Obama’s shoulders, Horsford avoided the question a second time.

The two candidates traded petulant jabs from their respective podiums for the rest of the debate. While Horsford poked at Tarkanian’s lack of experience — despite a few attempts he has never won elected office — Tarkanian said Horsford shared blame for Nevada’s high unemployment and weak economy because of his leadership role in Nevada Senate.

Tarkanian framed himself as a champion of individual freedom and states' rights.

Asked about Social Security reform, Tarkanian said he wished to protect the program for those close to retirement but believed participants should be allowed to move the money into personal retirement accounts.

“I also believe in individual liberties and freedoms have made our country the greatest country in history of society,” Tarkanian said. “And those individual liberties and freedoms mean that we should choose how we want to invest our hard-earned money.”

Horsford retorted that if Social Security funds had been in private investment accounts during the recession, countless people would have lost their retirement savings.

“My opponent, he said he would allow Wall Street to determine whether or not people have Social Security in place,” Horsford said. “If we had allowed that to happen under the Bush Administration, we have seen what it did to the housing market, just imagine what it would have caused to so many people who are dependent on Social Security.”

Horsford said he supported the Affordable Care Act and opposed nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain, while Tarkanian said he would support a “repeal and replace” approach to the health care law and wanted to see something come out of the $12 billion in infrastructure and feasibility investments made in Yucca Mountain that would help the state economy. Depending on what Nevada resident's want, Tarkanian suggested a nuclear spent fuel reprocessing plant or data storage facility.

Fox asked both candidates about their stances on the Defense of Marriage Act and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Tarkanian said he supported “states' rights” and would leave decisions on same-sex marriage to local governments, and he believed the policy on homosexuals in the armed forces should be left up to the “military brass.”

Horsford said directly that he “supports marriage equality for all people.”

This story was changed to better represent Danny Tarkanian’s statements on Yucca Mountain.

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