Politics & Government

Congressional front-runners Estes, Thompson clash in first debate

Libertarian candidate Chris Rockhold’s campaign manager, Jordan Husted, center, ribs Republican Ron Estes, left, during the start of a debate Thursday that also included Democrat James Thompson. Thompson, Estes and Rockhold are running for the seat in Congress given up by Mike Pompeo.
Libertarian candidate Chris Rockhold’s campaign manager, Jordan Husted, center, ribs Republican Ron Estes, left, during the start of a debate Thursday that also included Democrat James Thompson. Thompson, Estes and Rockhold are running for the seat in Congress given up by Mike Pompeo. The Wichita Eagle

In their first debate, 4th District congressional candidates Ron Estes and James Thompson clashed Thursday over Planned Parenthood, Obamacare and immigration.

Asked if he would defund Planned Parenthood, Estes, a Republican, cited broadcast videos that some conservative media outlets said show the group sold parts from aborted fetuses.

“It’s a disgusting process that they follow to make money,” Estes said. “And that’s all it is.”

Estes said county health departments and other agencies could pick up some of the non-abortion services that Planned Parenthood provides.

Thompson, a Democrat, immediately refuted Estes, saying that the reports of selling fetal tissue have been debunked as “fake news.”

“I think it’s shameful that a person that is wanting to run (for Congress) would stand up and continue to recite fake news,” he said.

Thompson said women should control their own reproductive decisions, not politicians.

The Kansas Board of Healing Arts and at least 10 other states’ medical boards or attorneys general investigated Planned Parenthood and found no violations of laws that prohibit the selling of fetal tissue. Medical researchers can legally obtain fetal tissue from abortion providers, who can charge for the cost of packaging and transporting the material.

Health care law

Repeating the national Republican call for repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, Estes said that before the so-called Obamacare system passed, 85 to 90 percent of Americans were satisfied with their health plan.

But he drew some laughs from the audience when he said “there were some folks who chose not to get insurance,” quickly adding that some couldn’t afford it because of pre-existing health conditions.

He said the ACA “blew up the health insurance system” in many states where there is only one company available on federally subsidized health exchanges.

Thompson said things weren’t nearly as rosy before the ACA as Estes remembers. He said his cost of coverage as a small-business owner was cut by half after the ACA took effect.

“Repealing it and going back to the system we had before isn’t going to work because it wasn’t working before,” Thompson said.

Immigration

An executive order signed by President Trump in January threatened to cut off federal grant money for cities and counties that don’t sufficiently help federal immigration enforcement. Asked about “sanctuary” jurisdiction policies, Estes said the United States is a nation of laws, “just like we are a nation of immigrants.”

“It doesn’t give any city the right to violate the federal law just because they choose to,” Estes said.

Thompson said there needs to be a quick and easy path to citizenship for immigrants in the country legally and illegally.

“We’ve got an unfunded mandate that’s come down from the president that’s putting a lot of strain and pressure on our county sheriff,” Thompson said.

Forums

Estes, the state treasurer, called assertions that he dodged a candidate forum at Friends University last week “disingenuous” because he had meetings in Topeka that day.

“It’s not like we’re running from debates. We’re here,” Estes said. “I’ve talked to folks in all 17 counties. I’ve talked about the issues that are important to them.”

Thompson, a Wichita lawyer, criticized Estes for missing multiple forums during the campaign.

“A person shouldn’t expect to get a job if they can’t even attend the job interviews,” Thompson said.

Libertarian Chris Rockhold could not attend the forum on Thursday; his campaign manager Jordan Husted attended in his place. He urged voters to consider their third option in the April 11 special election.

“We don’t have somebody constantly whipping us into voting party line,” he said. “We’re actually going to go to Washington and we’re actually going to represent you and your values as Kansans.”

Husted also criticized Estes for not attending last week’s forum, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters and Women For Kansas.

“We did not have supporters there,” Husted said. “It was a fairly liberal crowd. Chris got screamed at and yet he still showed up.”

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar

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