Fallout from Obamacare dominates final GOP lieutenant governor’s debate

In what likely was their final debate, GOP lieutenant governor candidates Sue Lowden and Mark Hutchison clashed heatedly Monday over her $600,000 in unpaid campaign debts and his votes to implement Obamacare as a Nevada-run exchange despite his opposition to the health care insurance law.

Lowden also accused Hutchison of using Gov. Brian Sandoval “as a crutch.” Hutchison countered by asking her why she keeps criticizing the popular Republican governor, who endorsed him for the No. 2 job in the state.

“It’s a shame that you have to keep using the governor’s name as a crutch,” Lowden said as their debate over Obamacare devolved into personal attacks. “You’re running on your own here.”

“Brian Sandoval signed it into law,” Hutchison said of the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, then wondered why Lowden was slamming the governor. “She wants to be his partner, and she’s insistently criticizing him.”

Sam Shad, the host of Reno-based “Nevada Newsmakers,” then cut off the exchange.

In the tense half-hour encounter in the televised debate, the candidates agreed on at least one thing: opposition to legalizing marijuana for recreational use because it would have a negative effect on society.

If Sandoval doesn’t complete his term after his expected re-election this November, the lieutenant governor would move into his job, raising the stakes in this year’s race. Speculation is that Sandoval could challenge U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in 2016 or accept another federal judgeship or a Cabinet post if the GOP wins the White House.

During the debate, Shad asked Lowden how voters will respond to her unpaid debt of more than $600,000 from her failed 2010 U.S. Senate run. She lost the GOP primary to Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle, who lost to Reid.

Lowden said she’s waiting for the Federal Election Commission to approve a debt repayment plan filed in December that would pay vendors about 45 cents on the dollar. In one case, however, Vital &Associates has sued for nearly $78,000 Lowden says she doesn’t owe.

“I’m entitled to my day in court,” Lowden said, noting her campaign debt wouldn’t be an issue if she weren’t running for public office. “This is a political issue.”

Hutchison said, “Nevadans are going to decide whether the explanation Ms. Lowden has been giving rings true to them.”

Lowden said Hutchison, a state senator whom she called a “personal injury” lawyer, likely has negotiated lower payments for his clients.

“Any money that is owed by our law firm or by me personally, they get paid,” responded Hutchison, who said he represents only business clients. “Businesses are outraged by businesses that don’t pay their bills.”

Lowden shot back, “I’ve had no one who’s been outraged.”

The candidates’ exchange on health care began with a question from Shad, who asked Hutchison if voters might be “confused” because he opposes the Affordable Care Act yet voted in three instances during the 2013 legislative session to implement the state-run program and to expand Medicaid under Sandoval’s budget.

Hutchison noted that he represented Nevada at no charge in a lawsuit challenging Obamacare as unconstitutional, but that after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law the state had only two choices: run its own exchange or allow the federal government to do it.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in Nevada who fought harder to defeat Obamacare than me,” Hutchison said.

He said one of the votes involved giving Nevada businesses a tax break for complying with Obamacare.

“That’s not supporting Obamacare,” he said. “That’s giving businesses an opportunity to survive … Obamacare.”

The second vote approved “facilitators” to help people sign up for the Silver State Health Care Exchange.

“I believe the state ought to control our own health care and our own health care decisions,” Hutchison said, explaining he’s a “10th Amendment guy” for states’ rights. “That’s not supporting Obamacare. That’s supporting the state of Nevada.”

The third vote was for Sandoval’s budget, which includes expanded Medicaid.

“I’m sorry to see my opponent is attacking the governor’s policies,” Hutchison said. “I support the governor’s budget.”

Lowden pushed back and accused Hutchison of having a liberal voting record.

“I’m running for lieutenant governor against Mark Hutchison, and it’s not about anybody else,” she said. “The truth is you got an F on your report card for being such a liberal in your voting record.”

Challenging Hutchison directly on his Obamacare-related votes, Lowden asked him, “Are you proud of those votes?”

Hutchison laughed, then said, “I will fully embrace my vote for having the state of Nevada control health care for Nevadans.”

Hutchison noted he wasn’t alone in that view. “Brian Sandoval, me and every single Republican senator voted to put facilitators on the Silver State Exchange, which existed before I got there,” he said. “I think that’s the way to go.”

Lowden insisted the decision was ill-advised. Without going into details, she declared the Silver State Exchange “a failure — just like your report card,” Lowden said.

Hutchison insisted having the state runs things is still the right way to go.

“It’s unfortunate my opponent would rather have the federal government come in and do that rather than support the governor and rather than support Republicans” who backed him, Hutchison said.

The report card Lowden referred to was put together by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative/libertarian think tank. It gave Hutchison a score of about 43 percent. NPRI scored Sandoval at 36 percent, lower than all Republicans in both houses of the Nevada Legislature and lower than about half of the Democrats.

Monday’s debate — the candidate’s fifth — was taped in Las Vegas. It’s scheduled to air 4:30 p.m. today on Cox Cable channel 123 in Las Vegas and re-air at 5:30 a.m. Saturday on KSNV-TV, Channel 3, in Las Vegas. The debate also will be shown in Reno at 12:30 p.m. today on Channel 4 and at 9:30 p.m. on Charter Cable channel 190. It may be viewed starting Tuesday at http://www.nevada­newsmakers.com.

The winner of the GOP primary likely will face Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, in the Nov. 4 general election.

At the end of Monday’s debate, Lowden challenged Hutchison to more faceoffs with less than two weeks before early voting begins May 24. Hutchison said he’s too busy campaigning.

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

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