Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Wilson, Pearce Have 1st Debate
By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
ALAMOGORDO In the first debate between the state's Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate, Rep. Heather Wilson portrayed herself as a "common-sense conservative" Tuesday night, and Rep. Steve Pearce said he is the "true conservative" needed to help right the struggling party.
The two candidates Wilson, from the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District, and Pearce, from the southern New Mexico 2nd Congressional District squared off in a two-hour debate sponsored by the Republican Party of Otero County at the Willie Estrada Memorial Civic Center.
They drew sharp distinctions between each other on votes for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and spending for the Department of Energy and homeland security.
Pearce was the only member of the New Mexico delegation last year to vote against legislation that would have expanded the SCHIP program. When consensus could not be reached, Congress passed an 18-month extension of the current program.
Pearce said he was proud to have voted against the legislation because "that's Hillary Care Lite the beginning of socialized health care."
Wilson said she sought to preserve a program that benefits thousands of New Mexicans while making needed improvements.
Both candidates agreed about the need to address illegal immigration, but Wilson criticized Pearce for voting against a homeland security appropriations bill last June that would have provided funding to hire 4,700 additional Border Patrol agents.
"You can't talk the talk if you're not willing to walk the walk," Wilson said.
Pearce said he supports tightening border security, but said he objected to the appropriations bill because it contained what he considers budget excesses.
He said the Department of Homeland Security said it costs $180,000 to train each Border Patrol agent. Pearce later sponsored a failed effort to move $120 million from the Transportation Security Administration budget to DHS to hire the Border Patrol agents.
"At some point, we have to say we've got to spend money wisely," Pearce said.
Wilson also noted that last year Pearce supported an effort to slash $1.8 billion from the Department of Energy budget, an effort that could have eliminated jobs at the state's national laboratories.
She said she stood up to defend New Mexico jobs, while Pearce said he was trying to cut wasteful spending.
Pearce said he is a true conservative willing to hold the line on new taxes and excessive government spending.
Noting he was a founding member of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, Pearce said, "We're fighting a cultural battle inside this country. ... We are willing to take the hard stands."
Meanwhile, Wilson said: "The New Mexico Republican Party needs to a nominate a common sense conservative who can win in November. I know how to win where it's tough to win, and this year's it's going to be tough to win."
Rep. Tom Udall, from northern New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District, is the only Democrat in the race.