A common theme emerged at a debate Friday night among the Republican candidates for the 4th Congressional District: Government has grown too big, weakening the country's economy and its citizens' rights.
Vying for Rep. Todd Tiahrt's seat in Congress, Jim Anderson, Wink Hartman, Dick Kelsey, Mike Pompeo and Jean Schodorf seemed to have more in common than they did differences. Each briefly introduced themselves to the roughly 300 people gathered at Word of Life Church and answered questions from moderator Susan Peters of KAKE.
"Our government has fundamentally lost its way," Pompeo told the crowd, some of which had to stand for the debate.
Kelsey said the government was "going in the wrong direction."
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"I believe that it is wrong for my generation to be loading these kids with the kind of debt that we are doing in this country," he said.
Anderson referred to the Constitution and said nowhere in "that document does it say that our country has the right to seize our income, plunder our assets, run our businesses, dictate our morals..."
Schodorf said she was running to help end the recession.
"People are hurting," she said, referring to those who have lost their jobs. "Senior citizens are afraid they won't have money to heat their houses."
Hartman said he was concerned about a "significantly expanded government, weakened free enterprise system and Constitution."
Kelsey and Schodorf are state senators; Anderson, Hartman and Pompeo are businessmen. The winner of the Aug. 3 primary will face the Democratic primary winner for the right to replace Tiahrt, who is running for U.S. Senate.
The first question at the debate centered on health care. Each candidate except Schodorf said they would work to repeal any legislation for government-sponsored health care.
Schodorf said she thought a better solution than what has been proposed exists, but she said that many Americans are hurting financially and need health care. That drew some boos from the crowd.
The candidates also touched on jobs going overseas, which led to a question about taxation.
"The tax system we have now is desperately broken," Hartman said.
He said he wants to change the tax code "to get the bureaucracy off our backs."
Kelsey supports the Fair Tax, a plan that would do away with federal income taxes and replace the system with a national sales tax.
Anderson would support legislation to "immediately repeal the 16th Amendment," which authorized a federal income tax, and said he also supported the Fair Tax.
Pompeo said he's for lowering taxes, which would help stimulate the economy.
Schodorf said she supports the Fair Tax, also called a flat tax, and thinks the country must keep capital gains taxes lowered.
All the candidates said they were against federal bailouts to companies facing bankruptcy.
"We have to remember you cannot have real success unless you have the freedom to fail," Kelsey said. "Risk is part of business."
"It's absurd," Anderson said of bailouts. "If you do not have the business acumen to run your company, then it should fail. You pick up the pieces and learn from your mistakes."
The government itself caused a "huge piece of that problem," Pompeo said, alluding to mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. "The first bailout occurred on the Republican watch," he noted. "This is not a partisan issue."
Schodorf said that a year and a half ago, she thought bailouts were a good idea.
"Today, I think it was not," she said. "It's the same way with the stimulus money."
Hartman said no one had ever walked into one of his businesses, said, "Wink, you screwed up," and offered him a check.
The country must protect itself against terrorism, the candidates said.
"What we need to do is remember that these people want to kill us," Schodorf said. "They want us to fail."
Hartman called the war on terrorism an intellectual war.
"These people will win at all costs. They do not mind if they blow themselves up if they get one of us. They only have to be right one time. We the people have to be right all of the time," he said.
Asked about whether the U.S. should pay for abortions as part of its family planning aid to poor countries, all the candidates said they could not support such measures.
"I do believe that life is precious, it's created by God and it's to be protected by each of us until natural death," Kelsey said.
Pompeo said he hoped "we can find enough Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade."
Rep. Raj Goyle, D-Wichita, is running for his party's 4th District nomination. The only other announced Democratic candidate is Robert Tillman, a retired court services officer.