FLAGSTAFF - U.S. Senate candidates finished their series of televised debates with sharp assessments of themselves and their opponents Friday. Republican incumbent Jon Kyl repeatedly highlighted his experience in Congress and his understanding of national security matters, energy and other issues.
Kyl characterized Democratic challenger Jim Pederson as someone who has a shallow understanding of both the inner workings of government and of the political issues.
Pederson, the founder and chairman of a successful development company, described himself as a results-oriented businessman who won’t put up with the status quo.
He painted Kyl as a political insider who is content to go along with Bush administration policies and who ignores constituent concerns in Arizona.
The debate at Northern Arizona University marked the final meeting between the rivals before they embark on political tours that will zigzag the Grand Canyon State before Election Day on Nov. 7.
The stakes are huge. Both campaigns have spent more than $10 million each in the hardest fought Senate campaign in Arizona in a generation.
The results will indicate whether Arizona voters are satisfied with Kyl’s conservative Republican voting record and principles or if voters are ready for Pederson’s moderate Democratic stance.
The candidates clashed on nearly every issue, even on national security, which they agreed was the top issue in the campaign.
The exchange got testy. Kyl said he believes keeping the United States safe begins in Iraq, where terrorists have chosen to engage U.S. forces. Pederson countered that Iraq is a mess, U.S. troops are getting killed needlessly and that the United States’ involvement has made America less safe.
“Look at the growth of terrorist organizations around the world. Look at the growth of terrorist attacks around the world,” Pederson said.
“I’ve heard a lot of tough talk. I haven’t heard a lot of smart talk. But, you know what? I learned a long time ago in business the tough talkers usually have something to hide. What this administration has to hide is incompetence,” the Democrat said.
Kyl differed sharply.
“The key challenge is winning this war against the terrorists, and you can’t win the war by leaving the battle. That’s the critical point here,” Kyl said.
“As a member of the United States Congress, I haven’t been talking tough — and by the way, viewers are going to have to determine who’s been the tough talker here. Who’s talked about specifics?” the Republican said.
He noted his work on the USA Patriot Act and other legislation, improvements within U.S. intelligence agencies and the detection of planned terrorist attacks on the United States since Sept. 11, 2001. “I don’t know how you can say this is not progress in fighting the war on terrorists,” Kyl said.
Things also got heated concerning oil and energy policy.
Pederson charged that Kyl has been a non-player in efforts to develop alternative fuels and has protected the interests of oil companies.
“Our people are way ahead of their elected leaders in recognizing this problem and willing to do something about it with a little leadership. But you can’t have a senator that consistently votes in favor of the oil companies, that constantly votes against alternative fuels,” Pederson said.
Kyl shot back that the energy bill that came before the Senate earlier this year contained both subsidies for oil companies and language to develop alternate fuels.
“Well, Mr. Pederson would put me in a very difficult situation — to vote both for and against a bill,” he said. “So which one would I do, vote yes or no? Well, I voted against the bill notwithstanding the fact that those energy companies wanted it, because it did have about $80 billion in subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies.”
The country needs to drill in the Gulf Coast and Alaska to get more oil in the short term, because it’s impossible for the United States to conserve its way out of the problem, he said.
“Jon, listen to what you said. You said you can’t conserve your way out of this problem.” Pederson said. “Sure you can. That’s the biggest potential.”
Libertarian candidate Richard Mack was not invited to the debate that was arranged by Kyl’s and Pederson’s campaigns.
Jon Kyl: Work with Iraq to build a stable, pluralistic and effective national government. Train Iraqi forces to assume more responsibility for their own security. Foster conditions for a sound economy. The mission will be won in stages that are determined by conditions on the ground, not by arbitrary timelines.
Jim Pederson: Push for a plan that establishes measurable goals for stabilizing the country and concrete conditions to bring troops home. Make the Iraqis take responsibility for policing their communities. End no-bid contracts that waste taxpayer money. Fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Kyl: Increase oil exploration in the Gulf Coast and in Alaska to become less dependent on foreign imports. Cut back government requirements for “boutique” blends of gasoline that drive up costs. Encourage development and use of alternate fuels such as hydrogen and next-generation use of coal and nuclear power generation.
Pederson: Create a program to focus the attention and labor needed to develop clean-energy technology. Increase automobile fuel efficiency standards to 43 miles per gallon for cars and to 33 mpg for light trucks by 2012. Eliminate tax breaks for big oil companies, and implement federal gas price-gouging laws.
STEM CELL RESEARCH
Kyl: Keep current policy that bars federal funding to develop new lines of embryonic stem cell lines. The current policy removes the incentive for research that destroys human embryos.
Pederson: Support federally funded embryonic stem cell research, a measure that offers hope for finding cures for Alzheimer’s, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and other conditions.
Kyl: Taxes on income and investments must be kept low so Americans work, save and invest to keep the economy growing. Limit government spending and restructure entitlement programs like Medicaid, Social Security and Medicare. Reduce “pork-barrel” projects.
Pederson: Cut government waste and “pork-barrel” projects that waste billions of dollars annually. Stand up to special interests in Washington that pad their pockets with costly tax breaks. Allow the Medicare program to negotiate for lower drug prices.
Kyl: Increase minimum wage to $6.25 an hour, coupled with flex-time options for families and tax relief provisions for small businesses to help mitigate the effect of higher wages.
Pederson: Increase the wage to $6.25 an hour to lift full-time workers from below the poverty line.
Kyl: Hire 10,000 new U.S. Border Patrol agents and 1,250 new customs agents. Install new technology, such as cameras and sensors, along the border. Build new infrastructure, such as Border Patrol stations, checkpoints and detention centers. Strengthen tracking systems to better monitor immigrants who enter the country and fail to leave.
Pederson: Recruit, hire and train at least 12,000 new U.S. Border Patrol agents. Create a high-tech “virtual fence” along the border. Upgrade information systems. Expand capacity for detention facilities for foreign nationals.