primary debate
News 9 photographer Jeremy Love captures NonDoc's 2020 GOP primary debate for Oklahoma's 5th Congressional District on Thursday, June 18, 2020. News 9's digital stream of the debate can be viewed here. (Michael Duncan)

China, President Donald Trump and Oklahoma’s energy industry were among the featured topics in NonDoc’s 5th Congressional District Republican primary debate this evening at Oklahoma City Community College. Meanwhile Democratic incumbent Rep. Kendra Horn’s name was barely mentioned.

Streamed online by News 9 and embedded via Facebook below, the 90-minute CD 5 debate brought together the top five candidates for the GOP nomination and while the candidates didn’t engage much with each other, they all worked to establish their conservative street cred, firing broadsides at Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama and even Mitt Romney ahead of the June 30 primary.

The debate opened with reference to ongoing national discussions about policing and the Black Lives Matter movement. The question was simple: “Who wants to be the first candidate on stage to say ‘Black Lives Matter’?”

Businessman David Hill responded quickly: “Of course black lives matter.” But Hill’s response also discussed attacks on police.

“It’s important we build relationships with each other,” he said. “We have to give our police more resources. The idea of de-funding our police forces is ridiculous.”

All the candidates spoke on the topic, but Hill and Sen. Stephanie Bice (R-OKC) were the only candidates to specifically say “black lives matter.”

Terry Neese, the founder of a personnel service company who has touted her enthusiasm for Trump, said the country is out of control.

“We’re in a very difficult situation,” she said. “But let me say we must restore law and order. We have descended into mob rule. It’s an extreme disappointment to see supposed leaders like (U.S. Sen.) Mitt Romney locking arms with domestic terrorists in opposition to our law enforcement. When I am in Congress, I will restore law and order.”

Neese applauds Trump virus response

Terry Neese
Terry Neese answers a question during NonDoc’s 2020 GOP primary debate for Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District on Thursday, June 18, 2020. (Michael Duncan)

Neese lavished praise on Trump throughout the debate, including his handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic. As of Thursday, the United States has had 2.2 million cases of the virus, with more than 120,000 deaths. Oklahoma broke a new record Thursday, recording 450 new cases.

“I truly believe our president is one of the best presidents we’ve ever had,” Neese said. “He really stepped up to the plate to make sure we eradicate this virus. I think he’s done an incredible job and we should all say a prayer for him.”

Navy veteran Miles Rahimi said China and the World Health Organization were primarily to blame for the United States’ difficulty with the pandemic.

“The real question is how did we get to a point where we allow our survival to depend on a hostile foreign power?” he said, referring to China and the drugs and personal protective equipment made there.

Bice also praised Trump’s response to the pandemic.

“I want to say I’m proud of President Trump and Gov. (Kevin) Stitt using the data we have available to make these decisions,” she said. “It’s easy to armchair quarterback. This is going to go on for a while and we have to do what we can to flatten the curve and address the cases we have so it doesn’t get out of control. I think we’ve made headway.”

Economy a major concern amid pandemic

Janet Barresi
Janet Barresi answers a question during NonDoc’s 2020 GOP primary debate for Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District on Thursday, June 18, 2020. (Michael Duncan)

All the candidates favored opening the country as much as possible, even amid rising numbers in some states, including Oklahoma.

“I support the president and the response he’s had, but it has wrecked our economy,” former Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi said. “Right now, nothing is more important than getting Americans back to work. We have to empower small businesses to bring employees back to work.”

Rahimi said one way to do that is to suspend all immigration to the United States to help Americans better compete for jobs.

“One of the policies I’m proposing is an immigration moratorium,” he said. “Take a stop, and focus on Americans first. It’s clear to me that we have corporations and universities that are abusing our work and student visa programs that drive up the cost of college for these STEM jobs that are the future. And they decrease wages and increase housing costs.”

All the candidates said they would have voted for the CARES ACT, which provided cash payments to most Americans, added unemployment benefits and offered assistance to businesses affected by the pandemic. However, none of the candidates said they were in favor of another stimulus package at this time.

“The CARES Act was flawed because Nancy Pelosi and the liberal Democrats in Washington crammed it full of pork projects,” Hill said.

Barresi said one of her biggest concerns in the wake of the CARES Act was the ballooning federal deficit.

“The most important thing is to get the economy going again,” she said. “This is from a woman who thinks our $26 trillion debt is immoral. I would have voted for it, but I think anything coming in the future, we need to take a hard look at the effect that has on the economy.”

On foreign policy, Hill took perhaps the hardest line on China. He said the nation is America’s greatest economic threat in the world today.

“We have to hold China accountable,” he said. “They restricted travel within Wuhan and yet allowed flights to go to Europe and the United States. We found out during the virus just how much our economy was controlled by China. We need essential things Americans need for our health and safety to come back here.”

Only Rahimi, Neese favor Saudi oil ban

Stephanie Bice
State Sen. Stephanie Bice (R-OKC) answers a question during NonDoc’s 2020 GOP primary debate for Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District on Thursday, June 18, 2020. (Michael Duncan)

On oil and gas, Rahimi and Neese were the only two candidates to favor a ban on imported oil from Saudi Arabia, which has helped flood the market and drive down prices globally.

Baressi argued that liquid natural gas should be America’s primary focus when it comes to developing energy sources, especially in Oklahoma.

“We actually have a glut of oil in the United States,” she said. “We don’t need any more oil. What we need to do is create a greater demand for liquid natural gas and become a net exporter. That would generate thousands of jobs.”

Bice was among the candidates who disagreed with the idea of a ban on oil imports. She said a ban likely wouldn’t be effective.

“There is a difference between imported oil coming from Saudi Arabia and oil drilled here, so I’m not sure that’s the solution,” she said. “Oklahoma and the nation have fought for decades to be energy independent, and that’s important. We should be making sure we are supporting our oil and gas industry by supporting initiatives that allow them to grow.”

Neese: ‘I think we’re not doing enough’ on Russian interference

David Hill, Miles Rahimi
With Miles Rahimi looking on, David Hill answers a question during NonDoc’s 2020 GOP primary debate for Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District on Thursday, June 18, 2020. (Michael Duncan)

On other issues, all of the candidates expressed a desire to repeal Obamacare, and none raised their hand when asked if they would vote for State Question 802’s proposed Medicaid expansion. On Russian interference in the 2020 election, most said it was a concern.

“I think we’re not doing enough,” Neese said. “It’s important Russia doesn’t get involved in our election. It’s important no one outside America gets involved.”

Rahimi agreed.

“Clearly we’re not doing enough if they are actively interfering in our elections,” he said, referencing federal reports.

Hill returned to China as a potential problem in the upcoming general election.

“China spreads disinformation. That’s their goal,” he said. “I’m relieved to hear not one vote was changed in America. But people need to know these corrupt communist regimes are not our friend.”

Horn barely mentioned in GOP CD 5 debate

While the candidates took hard-line stances on immigration, Democrats and policing, current CD 5 incumbent Congresswoman Kendra Horn barely drew a mention. Horn won her seat in 2018 and is favored to secure the Democratic nomination in the June 30 primary against perennial candidate Tom Guild.

Only Rahimi mentioned Horn directly. That came near the very end of the debate, when he questioned two votes by Bice in the State Senate.

“There were two bills you voted against,” he said. “One of those would have restored religious liberty for adoption organizations. We need to prosecute the case against Kendra Horn, and so how are you, State Senator Bice, going to do that if you are willing to mislead and double down to the voters?”

Bice said she is ardently pro-life and had been absent for the two votes Rahimi mentioned.

“Every single bill that has been put forth that has been a pro-life initiative I have a 100 percent voting record on,” she said.

The candidates in the GOP race will hope to capture a majority of their party’s vote in the June 30 primary. If none hits that mark, a runoff will be held Aug. 25.

Questions were asked during Thursday night’s debate by NonDoc’s Tres Savage and News 9’s Aaron Brilbeck.

NonDoc’s 2020 political debate series is sponsored by the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, McSpadden, Milner & Robinson, and Fowler Auto Group.

Watch the full GOP primary CD 5 debate

(Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly noted which candidates supported a potential ban of oil imports from Saudi Arabia.)