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Flake, Cardon differ sharply on issues in Senate debate

Jeff Flake (left) and Wil Cardon (File photos)

Rival candidates Wil Cardon and Jeff Flake kept things mostly civil Wednesday night at a forum hosted by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce, but made sure to get in a few digs as the duo competes in an increasingly nasty GOP primary for the U.S. Senate.

Cardon, Flake, former Youngtown Mayor Bryan Hackbarth and radio host Clair Van Steenwyk squared off at Chandler City Hall on the economy, health care, the federal deficit and energy. Presumptive Democratic nominee Richard Carmona did not attend.

Flake, a six-term congressman, took a few preemptive stands against Cardon, a Mesa businessman who has spent the campaign painting Flake as an out-of-touch Washington insider. In his opening statement, Flake urged the crowd to be skeptical of someone who uses one or two votes in a decade-long career to define that person.

“You’ll hear people often criticize one vote that’s taken here or there. During my time in Washington I’ve cast literally thousands of votes,” Flake said. Beware of somebody who takes one vote and tries to cast somebody’s career on one vote.”

Flake also sought to get in front of Cardon’s description of him as a career politician with a nod to outgoing U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, whose seat the two are vying for.

“A lot of people throw the term around career politician,’” he said. “I can tell you I’m glad for every year that Sen. Kyl has been in Washington and what he did for the state.”

Cardon stuck with his message – that he’s a career businessman who understands the private sector. Cardon, who has repeatedly criticized Flake for his positions on illegal immigration, carbon taxes and other GOP primary staples, said Arizona needs “consistent, reliable conservatives, not people who have shown through a pattern of voting how they do not consistently represent (conservative) principles.”

“I believe now more than ever we need business people in Washington, DC. That’s why I’m running. We need people who are outsiders, not insiders, who have not been part of the Washington problem,” Cardon said. “We need to send people to Washington, D.C., who actually believe it’s public service, not public employment.”

When moderator Melissa Blasius of KPNX-TV (Channel 12) asked the four candidates about their positions on energy needs, Flake once again sought to turn one of Cardon’s frequent criticisms into a strength.

Flake, who spoke just before Cardon on the issue, lambasted congressional Democrats for a 2009 “cap-and-trade” bill that would have increased taxes on carbon emissions, calling it a “revenue grab.”

The better alternative, Flake said, was a bill he co-sponsored that would have increased taxes on carbon emissions while implementing commensurate decreases in payroll taxes for any company that had to pay it.

“No money flows to Washington at all,” Flake said of his bill. “That’s the best way to go about it if you’re going expose the Democrats’ plan for what it is.”

Cardon said a cap-and-trade bill, whether it’s the Democrats’ version or Flake’s alternative, is still a bad idea. Cardon has attacked Flake for his co-sponsorship of the bill, even making it the centerpiece of his first television ad against the congressman.

“I disagree that we need a carbon tax or some other game to play that’s a carbon tax. We need to say a carbon tax, an energy tax, is wrong. Not revenue neutral. We need to reduce taxes, not change the way taxes are collected,” Cardon said.

While Cardon reiterated his private-sector background and Washington “outsider” status, Flake took a dig at the business background that’s been the centerpiece of his campaign. Flake spoke about working two jobs to pay his way through college, and pointed out the differences between his background and that of his wealthy opponent.

“I had to go out and find my own way. I didn’t have any inherited wealth,” Flake said.

Cardon saved his toughest shots at Flake for his closing remarks, where he referenced the self-imposed term limits pledge Flake made when he was first elected in 2000. After three terms, Flake backed out of the pledge.

“You won’t have to worry about me. If I make a promise I’ll keep that promise. I won’t change when I go to Washington, D.C., and say, ‘Well you know what? I found out I need to be here longer,’” Cardon said.

Despite an occasional swipe between Cardon and Flake, the forum was fairly civil, especially compared to attacks the two camps have been lobbing at each other on television recently.

Flake launched his first television ad on Tuesday, a positive piece that depicted the congressman as a “battle-tested conservative.” The ad was in sharp contrast to the anti-Cardon ads run a week earlier by the Club for Growth, a deep-pocketed conservative group that is backing Flake.

Cardon, who has run ads attacking Flake for his positions on illegal immigration and cap-and-trade, took aim at the Club for Growth in his closing remarks as well, and pointed out that he hasn’t received any super PAC support.

“I’ve been attacked on TV now by a super PAC supporting Congressman Flake. I believe those attacks are false and they are lies and I ask that we not have super PACs come into this state and not get involved in this race,” he said. “I believe the elections ought to be held on the basis of Arizona votes, not on the basis of Washington special interests.”

The four candidates at the Chandler City Council chamber were Republicans, but Carmona, the former U.S. surgeon general, didn’t completely escape notice.

“The Democrat who will be running against one of us here has already expressed support for Obamacare. He’s called himself the nation’s doctor. I don’t think the nation needs a doctor. I think you need access to your own doctor, and you won’t have it under Obamacare,” Flake said.

The candidates were unanimous in their insistence that the Affordable Care Act must be repealed. Flake said that repeal should be followed up with tort reform, legislation allowing health insurance to be sold across state lines, and increased availability of health savings accounts. He also said individuals should get the same tax breaks that businesses get for purchasing health insurance.

When asked how they would improve the jobs situation in Arizona, Cardon said it was his “dream question.” Cardon, who is president of his family-owned real estate business, spoke of the need to put more businesspeople in the Senate, noting that only 15 of the 100 senators have business backgrounds. But he did not give any specifics on how he would improve the economy.

Cardon later said the federal government should open the country to more nuclear energy, saying Arizona could export a lot of energy to California and other states, which would improve the economy and employment in Arizona. Cardon also said regulations by agencies such as the Environmental Protection Service must be decreased, which he later said would create jobs as well.

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