Local | News

Congressional District 8 debate hits on freedom, extremism and fraud

Democrat Ron Barber, Republican Jesse Kelly and Green candidate Charlie Manolakis sparred politely at their last debate before a Congressional District 8 special election on June 12. But the three candidates, vying to complete the term of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, clearly delineated their battle lines before an audience of more than 450 people at the Tucson Jewish Community Center on Wednesday.

Congressional candidates for the upcoming special CD8 election, Democrat Ron Barber, Republican Jesse Kelly and Green candidate Charlie Manolakis, debate at the Tucson Jewish Community Center on May 23, 2012. (Marty Johnston/TJCC)

While Barber proclaimed, “I’m going to Washington to be the strongest voice I can for middle-class America, for seniors and for the military,” Kelly insisted, “Washington doesn’t listen to us. We need jobs to pay off the debt. The way forward is through economic freedom. We need government to get out of the way.” Manolakis told the audience, “My main motivation for running is social justice.”

The economy, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid topped the debate, which was sponsored by the Arizona Daily Star. “Priority number one is to extend the Bush tax cuts,” not to take more money out of the private sector, said Kelly. “I will never vote for a tax increase for middle-class Americans,” said Barber, “but the richest among us must pay their fair share.”

Kelly pounced on Barber’s use of “fair share.”

Profit is not a bad word,” said Kelly, adding that fair share is a term “used in Europe or Russia.” Barber, in turn, pointed to profits of some corporate CEOs “rising 340 percent in the past four years.”

In an exchange on Social Security, Kelly said that “the government doesn’t even pretend to put [taxpayers’] money into Social Security. They send your money to the general fund.” His solution is “to give future generations choices” whether to stay in the pool or to invest in private funds.

“Social Security is solvent until 2033,” noted Barber.  That isn’t a very long time, he added, but if people “opt out of a system that has been successful for 75 years it will fall apart. We need more people paying into the system. We need to get more people back to work,” he said. “We need a bipartisan solution as we’ve had in the past, not extreme proposals.” He also chided Kelly for previously saying that “Social Security is a Ponzi scheme” and recently eliminating the comment from his website.

Kelly retorted that the website was changed in response to TV attack ads taking his comments out of context.

“I think it would be great if you’d man up and say you’ve changed your position,” implored Barber.

Noting that Barber had said, “We cannot allow people to opt out of Social Security,” Kelly stated, “We are the land of the free. We do as we please in this nation.”

While Manolakis espoused “health care for all” and bringing the troops in Afghanistan home sooner, Barber focused on “seeking bipartisan support for vets to get proper treatment for PTSD,” post traumatic stress disorder, when they return to the United States after serving in the military. Manolakis spoke repeatedly about Medicaid fraud as a major problem within our system of government.

“’Obamacare’ should go away and be repealed, and it looks like the Supreme Court will do that,” said Kelly, who said that he wants health insurance companies to compete, letting people cross state lines to purchase coverage.

During the 75-minute debate, the candidates discussed the future of the Rosemont Mine, energy policy, U.S.-Mexico border security and gun laws. Barber, 66, is the former district director for Giffords, and previously worked more than 30 years at the Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities. Kelly, 30, is a project manager in his family’s business, Don Kelly Construction.  Manolakis, 72, is a retired substitute teacher.

Members of the audience, both Jewish and non-Jewish, expressed their views following the debate. Adam Kwasman is a Jewish Republican who managed Kelly’s 2010 campaign for Congress against Giffords and is running this year for the Arizona State Legislature. The debate gave “a clear contrast between who supports ‘Obamacare’ and who wants it repealed, who supports a free market economy and who supports big government,” said Kwasman, a Tucson Hebrew Academy graduate who holds a master’s degree in economics.

“Jewish people should come to the Republican Party,” he told the AJP. “If ever there was a group of people who shouldn’t trust big government it’s the Jewish people.”

Bob Levine, a Barber supporter, characterized Kelly as “an idiot.”

“How stupid can people be to vote for him? The Republican Party used to be a decent party,” said Levine. “They’ve gone downhill ever since George [W.] Bush came in and people listen to Fox News. It’s not a real news station; it’s a sounding board for the Republican Party.”

Wearing a Jesse Kelly T-shirt, Geri Ottoboni was enthusiastic about her candidate. “I’m a senior on Medicare,” she said, adding that a doctor friend “showed me in ‘Obamacare’ that I’m expendable because I’m over 40,” and not working.

For Bob Krackow, the debate “reaffirmed that Ron Barber has got to be elected. The contrast between him and Kelly was frightening. Kelly was parroting the Tea Party agenda. He’s unintelligent, and why is he running for Congress if he’s against government?”

CD8 covers much of eastern Pima County, Cochise County and parts of Pinal and Santa Cruz counties. For voting information, go online to pima.gov/elections or call 724-4330.