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GOP congressional candidates debate in shadow of early voting

During their last GOP primary debate Friday on the eve of early voting, Assemblyman Cresent Hardy suggested he would change two of his votes implementing Obamacare in Nevada if given the chance, and his foe Niger Innis said he regretted not voting for most of his adult life.

The two Republicans also sided with Cliven Bundy in his clash with the Bureau of Land Management, saying the government acted too harshly in trying to seize his cattle and they didn’t see any reason to arrest the Bunkerville rancher for not paying $1.1 million in grazing fees.

Hardy said “time will tell” whether the government arrests Bundy, but he suggested the rancher has nowhere to appeal his case.

“Where’s the higher court that he can go to for his redress?” Hardy asked. Innis said of any potential Bundy arrest by law enforcement, “I think they can use their resources better than that.”

It was the candidates’ fourth debate, airing live at 6:30 p.m. on “Ralston Reports, ” a 30-minute political talk show hosted by Jon Ralston on KSNV-TV, Channel 3.

The two are vying to replace U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., who now represents the 4th Congressional District that includes North Las Vegas and all or part of six rural counties.

During the debate, Ralston ran a political action committee ad supporting Innis against Hardy, noting he voted three times during the 2013 Legislature to implement the Affordable Care Act in Nevada despite his overall opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Asked if he would vote the same way today, Hardy said he would likely change two of his votes but said he would still back expanding Medicaid because the state has an obligation to provide health care to the poor.

“I don’t believe that most of them I would” vote for again, Hardy said. “I don’t know (about) Medicaid. That’s a state obligation to take care of those in need.”

Hardy noted the lawmakers weren’t voting for Obamacare itself but to implement the program through a state health insurance exchange instead of leaving it to the federal government to run in Nevada.

“That was not Obamacare we were voting on,” Hardy said.

The measures he and most other Republicans voted to approve included business tax abatements related to Obamacare, setting up so-called facilitators to the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange and passing the state budget, which expanded the Medicaid program for the poor.

Innis said he thought the ad was “spot on” in criticizing Hardy, who could have voted against implementing Obamacare and chosen to opt out of the entire system like the state of Wisconsin did, a decision upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Cresent had the opportunity several times to not enable Obamacare,” Innis said, adding Hardy “had a chance to be a leader” but failed.

Ralston said states were only given two choices — implement a state exchange or join the federal Obamacare exchange.

“The third choice is to do what other states did … which was not participate,” Innis countered. “Cresent had the opportunity to vote against Obamacare, but he voted for it.”

The ad hitting Hardy also noted he had declared bankruptcy when he ran a construction company. Hardy defended his actions, saying he filed Chapter 11, which allows a company to reorganize to pay off its debts, to avoid laying off workers or closing the business, which he later sold.

Ralston also aired an ad Hardy’s campaign is running against Innis, mocking him for calling himself a “rock star” and pointing out he has rarely voted and left New York for Nevada while deeply in debt.

Innis said he was in the process of paying his debts and dealing with the Internal Revenue Service on back taxes he owes.

As for not voting, Innis said he spent years traveling the country representing the Congress of Racial Equality. And in 2008, when he skipped voting, he was promoting an “all of the above energy policy” in a nationwide campaign that drew lots of attention, including in Congress.

“I do regret not voting,” Innis said.

The rock-star label was taken out of context, he said, noting he used it to defend the tea party, which was accused of being racist.

“I said I’m a rock star with the tea party,” said Innis, who is black. He said it “in defense of the tea party.”

Early voting in Nevada begins today and continues through June 6, ending four days before the June 10 primary. The winner of the GOP primary will be the underdog in the Nov. 4 general election against Horsford, Nevada’s first black congressman, because Democrats enjoy a near 12-percentage-point advantage over Republicans among registered voters in the district.

In their last debate on April 29 in Las Vegas, the Bundy-BLM clash was the main topic of the forum. Innis accused Hardy of being all talk and no action over the years for doing nothing to help Bundy or to address the public lands issue. Hardy said he has been meeting for years with Bundy and Nevada officials about ways the state can gain control over more of the land.

The two traded similar charges in Friday’s debate.

The two men also talked about how they believe U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is somehow behind the conflict.

Ralston read a piece Innis mailed out, accusing Reid of orchestrating the BLM roundup because his former staffer, Neil Kornze, is now head of the agency, and one of Reid’s sons was involved in a potential solar project that may have involved the use of public land.

The solar project, however, was dropped and isn’t near Bunkerville, and Kornze was confirmed as the new head of the BLM after the agency began the Bundy roundup.

Innis said he was merely suggesting there should be an “investigation of potential links” to Reid.

Hardy, too, said he thinks Reid is behind the effort to clear cattle from the land in the Gold Butte area because environmentalists want to preserve it.

The vast 4th Congressional District includes North Las Vegas in Clark County as well as part of Lyon County and all of Esmeralda, Lincoln, Mineral, Nye and White Pine counties. More than four-fifths of district voters live in the urban North Las Vegas core, where Horsford grew up.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.

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