A reactive crowd packed City Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City Wednesday night as the two Oklahoma Congressional District 5 candidates debated.
The candidates shared their views on immigration, gun control, health care, social security and education while making their case to CD 5 voters.
Rep. Steve Russell, the incumbent Republican, served in the U.S. Army for 21 years before being elected to the Oklahoma Senate in 2008 and to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014. He owns a small business that manufactures rifles.
“America is still worth fighting for. It’s not worth fighting against,” Russell said. “As a member of Congress, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, but it wasn’t the first time. I’ve been doing that since I was 18 years old.”
Kendra Horn, a Democrat, is an attorney, has worked in the aerospace industry and is a small-business owner.
“Simply put, I’m tired of watching Oklahoma be at the bottom and the top of all the wrong lists,” Horn said. “I believe we deserve representation that is going to listen to us, that will vote to invest in education, protect access to health care and bring the government back to the people.”
The debate was broadcast online by KWTV News 9, and it can be seen in full here:
Russell: ‘It’s not the government’s right to make your health care choices’
A conspicuous distinction between Horn and Russell fell within their views on how the U.S. can bolster its economy. Horn identified the inequity of wealth as the economy’s biggest problem.
“Those massive profits in the stock market are great for a few people, but one of the biggest challenges in our economy is we have this growing gap between those who have and those who don’t,” Horn said. “And this tax bill that was passed last year, which Congressman Russell supported, is a part of the same type of tax cuts we saw here under Gov. (Mary) Fallin.”
Russell advocated limiting government’s role in the economy.
“I think we have to have faith in the American people,” Russell said. “Equitable distribution sounds a lot like taking away the free market.”
Despite jeers from Horn supporters, Russell stood firm in his support of a free market, which largely defined his views on health care. He criticized the Affordable Care Act, saying it increased the price of health insurance for his employees by 250 percent.
“The most important thing to remember is that it’s not the government’s right to make your health care choices,” Russell said. “You want to see what government health care looks like? It’s called the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs].”
Horn took a vastly different stance on health care. She said she supports the Affordable Care Act because it protects consumers with pre-existing conditions and offers protection from insurance companies, policies she said Russell had voted against.
“Fundamentally, health care to me is a right. It’s not a privilege,” Horn said. “It’s a right because, at some point in time, each and every one of us is going to need medical care.”
Social Security yields argument over Russell letter
Horn and Russell also butted heads over how best to ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security. Russell pointed to free market solutions, saying that a stronger economy would generate more revenue and therefore more money for Social Security.
Horn insinuated that Russell supports the privatization of Social Security.
“The federal deficit is not growing because of social security,” Horn said. “Now there are things we need to do to secure it long term, but privatization is not among them.”
Russell said he did not support privatization of Social Security, but Horn referenced a letter someone received from Russell’s office that she said demonstrates Russell’s support for Social Security privatization efforts. Russell denied that he support such a position, but Horn said her staff would put the letter on social media, and they did:
#Oklaed from the federal level
After a question about what the federal government could best do to improve Oklahoma education, Russell said he was proud of his education record.
“We co-sponsored [House Resolution] 5. It eliminated the No Child Left Behind standard,” Russell said. “Any teacher will tell you that those things were well intended, but they created enormous burdens on teachers.”
Russell said it was not the federal government’s job to make education standards and that such work should be left to local school boards and citizens. Horn argued that the U.S. is facing immediate debt issues related student loans.
“The best thing that Congress can do to improve our education system is to deal with the crisis of student loan debt,” Horn said. “We can invest in programs that allow our students to get the training and career experience they need to go out into the workforce.”
Candidates differ on rifle magazines
In the face of high levels of gun violence in the U.S., the candidates discussed their views on Second Amendment rights and what we can do to prevent mass shootings.
“I believe that it is important that we address a broad range of issues rather than targeting the tools. The problem is not the tools,” Russell said. “The problem is we’ve got issues on local law enforcement putting the right things into the database so that sales are prevented. We have problems with mental health that we need to address (…) There’s a whole array of solutions.”
Horn expressed her support of law-abiding gun owners, but stressed that there are potential bans she believes would curb gun violence.
“Most of the gun deaths in this country are as a result of domestic violence and suicide. These are places where we can, we should and we must start,” Horn said. “Not to interfere with responsible gun owners’ rights, but in banning bump stocks, banning high-capacity magazines (…) That includes expanding background checks and closing loopholes that are there.”
Russell said he does not support bans of bump stocks or high-capacity magazines.
Horn: ‘Fundamental philosophy’ different on immigration
Both candidates expressed similar views on immigration policy. Russell said illegal immigration was a “non-starter,” but that there would be benefits in expanding visa opportunities.
“We have 7 million vacant jobs. Why not bring folks and expand our worker visas?” Russell said. “We worked on legislation called an H2C visa which would allow people to come in and increase those numbers so that they can get into the workforce.”
Horn called attention to the Trump administration’s detention of children on the border, but had little disagreement with Russell on immigration.
“The difference, I think, between the two of us is not on our fundamental philosophy on immigration because certainly we need to keep our borders safe. We need to use technology, we need to be smart about it,” Horn said. “But we have to remember we are dealing with humans.”
In her closing remarks, Horn identified other key issues as net neutrality, climate change, paid family leave, violence against women and keeping foreign influence out of U.S. elections.
Russell said he wished they had talked more about national security and that it was a top priority of his.
Voters will decide between the pair on Tuesday, Nov. 6.