Lowden, Hutchison clash over taxes, Obamacare and campaign debt

Republican lieutenant governor candidates Mark Hutchison and Sue Lowden clashed heatedly Monday in a TV debate over taxes, Obamacare and Lowden’s campaign debt with both contenders accusing the other of being deceptive.

State Sen. Hutchison, an attorney, represented Nevada when the state sued to try and stop President Barack Obama’s health care insurance law, but Lowden pointed out he later voted for three bills in 2013 to implement the program — bills GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval signed into law despite his opposition to Obamacare.

The measures included business tax abatements, 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.

Lowden said Nevada should have done what the states of Wisconsin, Florida and Kansas did, which is appeal to the federal government to get more money for Medicaid while reducing the rolls.

“We should join that appeal and say we want our federal money to help those Medicaid patients,” Lowden said.

Hutchison said he was “disappointed” Lowden insinuated that he supports Obamacare when he doesn’t. He said all of the Senate Republicans backed Sandoval in implementing the state health exchange once it was forced upon Nevada.

“Anyone who has not done anything to fight Obamacare, as my opponent has (not), is absolutely wrong and deceptive,” Hutchison said.

Jon Ralston, who hosted the debate on his “Ralston Reports” program on KSNV-TV, Channel 3, challenged Hutchison, asking whether the pure conservative position would have been to vote against anything having to do with Obamacare.

“That’s what he told my neighbor he was going to do,” Lowden interjected in the freewheeling debate where the candidates talked over one another.

“That is so insulting,” Hutchison said, noting he spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars of his own money to fight Obamacare in court. “Everything she says and does in this campaign is to criticize Brian Sandoval.”

“You can be insulted all you want, Mark,” Lowden said. “I’m the one who went against Harry Reid on Obamacare.”

In 2010, Lowden ran in the GOP primary for Senate, but failed to win the nomination, which went to Sharron Angle.

Sandoval has endorsed Hutchison in the race, partly to ensure he gets the GOP lieutenant governor he wants to work with. Also, speculation is Sandoval may not finish his four-year term if re-elected this year as expected. Instead, he could run for the U.S. Senate in 2016 against U.S. Sen. Harry Reid-D-Nev., or return to the federal bench if he gets another appointment. For now, Sandoval said he wants to serve out his next four-year term.

Ralston asked Lowden about her 2010 campaign gaffe where she said that people could barter for their health care, even with chickens in rural Nevada. The Democratic Party stalked her with people in chicken suits throughout the campaign.

Asked if she regretted her remarks, Lowden quipped, “I regret how much money was put into the chickens.”

She said she’s been on the Nevada Medical Board for four years and knows that bartering does happen, mostly using cash in exchange for a reduced doctor’s bill. “It does go on,” she said of bartering.

Hutchison refused to engage the issue, saying, “That was Sue Lowden all by herself. I fought Obamacare on a constitutional basis. I didn’t deal with bartering.”

The two candidates also clashed on taxes, with Lowden accusing Hutchison of voting for dozens of bills during the 2013 session that involved raising various fees to boost revenues. He also went along with Sandoval to extend a $600 million package of taxes that had been scheduled to sunset. Finally, he backed a measure to hike the tax rate on mining to 10 percent, which could have raised $600 million for education.

Hutchison said he and other Republicans backed the proposed mining tax hike to counter a ballot measure by the teacher’s union to impose a 2 percent margins tax on businesses that have annual revenue of $1 million or more.

“This was in response to the margins tax,” Hutchison said, adding it would have harmed business, giving Nevada the fourth highest corporate tax rate in the nation if it passes. “This was going to blow up our economy. Did I look at it (the mining tax) as defusing a nuclear bomb? Yes.”

Lowden accused him of “throwing mining under the bus.”

“It’s very clear he wanted a 10 percent tax,” she said.

As for the list of fine increases Hutchison called Lowden “very deceptive” because some of the hikes involving paying for enforcement provisions. One, for example, increased fines for Medicaid and welfare fraud. Another boosted fines on medical labs that violated the law. Another paid for license plates to honor Nevada’s 150th anniversary this year.

“I wonder if my opponent has even read this,” he said of the list of bills.

“I’m saying I would have voted against all these fee increases,” Lowden said.

Hutchison turned the tables and noted that when Lowden was a state senator in the 1990s she backed increased fees for a water district, real estate licenses and taxes on slot machines.

“And I made a mistake,” said Lowden, who has been a casino executive for a couple of decades with her husband.

Hutchison said Lowden even backed raising fees on veterans to raise money for a cemetery.

On the issue of campaign debt, Ralston noted that Hutchison accused Lowden of saying she was going to pay off some $500,000 in leftover 2010 debt because she’s running for lieutenant governor. He also criticized her for paying about 45 cents on the dollar to the vendors she owed.

“As a small businessman, when you have accounts receivable for years and years … that’s devastating to a small business,” Hutchison said, adding, “It’s between her and the voters.”

Lowden said it’s not true that she’s repaying the debt only because she’s running for public office. She said she had already paid back $2 million of the 2010 campaign debt, including $1 million she loaned herself. And she filed a plan with the Federal Election Commission to finish paying all of it off.

“It’s easy to say everything isn’t paid,” Lowden said, noting attorneys like Hutchison often negotiate settlements with debtors to repay part of what’s owed. “Mark knows it’s a normal business practice to do that.”

Lowden also said Hutchison had to amend his state financial report three times. She didn’t go into detail, but Hutchison once amended his report to show he received as a gift an all-expanses paid trip to Israel last year with other lawmakers.

“What I’m criticizing is somebody who’s not paying their bills,” Hutchison said.

“No one is complaining but you, Mark,” Lowden shot back.

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

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