HUTCHINSON — A Kansas summer day probably has a lot more daylight than the daylight between the political stands of Republican rivals U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., and Roger Marshall, a Great Bend doctor.
The two congressional contenders in the Aug. 2 primary in the First District took the stage Monday night in Hutchinson Community College’s Stringer Fine Arts Center for their first one-on-one debate.
They agree on the:
• Repeal of Obamacare and opposition to Medicaid expansion;
• Opposition to abortion. Huelskamp cited his endorsements from pro-life groups; Marshall said he was “110 percent pro-life;”
• Simplification of the federal tax code;
• More trade opportunities for Kansas farmers;
• Term limits for members of Congress. Marshall would limit a House member to three terms — Huelskamp is running for his fourth term. Huelskamp did not specify where he would draw the line;
• Opposition to the idea of a President Hillary Clinton, although Marshall expressed a willingness to support Republican Donald Trump that was not matched by Huelskamp;
• Objection to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-3 ruling Monday that nixed restrictions on abortion clinics in Texas.
The “biggest difference” between them, said Marshall, 55, in his closing statement, is “I am a ‘peacemaker.’ ”
He said he was called Henry Kissinger as a 10-year-old.
“I’ll get people to work together,” he said.
Huelskamp, 47, described how he looked people in the eye in Washington and stood his ground on his conservative principles. He told former Speaker of the House John Boehner he did not work for him, and “I called out the VA,” he said.
House Republican leadership under Boehner punished Huelskamp in 2012 by removing him from the Agriculture and Budget committees. Under Speaker Paul Ryan’s regime, Huelskamp joined the Steering Committee.
Huelskamp insisted the Steering Committee’s role in appointments means he will return to the Agriculture Committee. Marshall didn’t buy that claim.
Kansas needs a voice on the Agriculture Committee, “which Tim cannot do,” Marshall said.
“I will be back,” Huelskamp said.
Asked how they could help Kansas farmers, both Huelskamp and Marshall pointed to the problem of government overregulation. Huelskamp, who frequently criticized President Barack Obama during the debate, said the president has hurt trade. Marshall said he would go to China to help grow trade.
The Monday event, co-sponsored by the Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce and The Hutchinson News, started at 6 p.m. in an auditorium with seating for 422. Most seats were filled. Emcee Jason Ball, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, promised the debate would not run past 7:30 p.m. and it wrapped up just before 7:15 p.m.
Reno County Republican Party Chairman Gordon Roth was impressed by the audience turnout and considered the debate format and questions fair. He would have preferred, though, that the debate would have stretched to 7:30 p.m.
Comprising the panel and posing questions were Hutchinson News Managing Editor Ron Sylvester, Fort Hays State University political science professor Chapman Rackaway and Eagle Radio’s news director Fred Gough.
Rackaway raised the issue of Huelskamp’s doctorate dissertation that contained criticism of New Deal-era federal farm subsidies. The Topeka Capital-Journal wrote a story about the dissertation that was carried widely. Huelskamp said the story was wrong and the language on subsidies “was taken out of context.”
“The holy grail of the farm bill is crop insurance,” Marshall said.
Both Marshall and Huelskamp have farm holdings, and Huelskamp said Marshall’s son has received more agriculture payments than Huelskamp.
Marshall reacted by noting Kansas no longer has a seat on the Agriculture Committee.
He put the odds of Huelskamp returning to Ag at “next to none.”
“I’m on the Steering Committee that makes appointments,” Huelskamp said.
“We can do a better farm bill,” he said, and that’s why U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, of Kansas, has endorsed him.
“My family, my heart and my home are right here in Kansas,” Huelskamp said, saying he returns home every weekend.
He said he promised to visit each county in the Big First annually, and he has, hosting 372 town halls.
“Tim defines a career politician,” Marshall said.
Marshall said he has more experience in the health care field and that would help in the incremental implementation of a new health care plan. Huelskamp said he, unlike Marshall, would not have a financial conflict of interest in developing health care policy.
“I will not raise your taxes,”Huelskamp said. “My opponent hasn’t taken that pledge.”
Neither candidate brought up a controversial TV commercial the Huelskamp campaign started running in June. It describes a 911 call in Barton County that involved Marshall. The court journal entry listed the misdemeanor as a traffic infraction.
Huelskamp’s campaign manager Jimmy Keady referred to the incident in a statement released after the debate:
“The message in tonight’s debate is clear, if Kansans want a consistent conservative in Congress, they already have one in Tim Huelskamp. Huelskamp has a proven record of fighting for Kansas values. That’s why he has been endorsed by the NRA, Kansans for Life, Club for Growth and the Family Research Council to name a few.
“Roger Marshall has flipped his positions numerous times since his campaign began,” Keady said, including Obamacare as an example.
“Roger Marshall refuses to take a no-tax-increase pledge, and tonight, Roger Marshall came out for an Internet sales tax. If Kansans cannot trust him to be consistent for 15 months, how can they trust him for the next two years?
“Marshall ended the debate by calling himself a peacemaker. I am sure the victim he injured would disagree,” Keady said, referring to the 911 incident.
Marshall initially fought a civil suit brought against him over alleged injuries, but it never went to trial. The parties settled out of court.
Marshall’s campaign manager Brent Robertson focused on the differences he saw in the debate.
“The contrast presented to the voters in Hutchinson tonight couldn’t have been more clear. Dr. Marshall is the outsider conservative who answered the questions directly and concisely. Compare that to Mr. Huelskamp who dodged, blamed and avoided questions like a true politician in order to cover up his record of zero accomplishment. Dr. Marshall is clearly the effective conservative who will deliver the change that is so needed in the Big First,” he said in a statement.