Congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian surprised the Review-Journal’s reader panel by stopping by its meeting Wednesday and fielding questions for more than an hour.
The panel, composed of a dozen voters from various backgrounds, age groups, occupations and political parties, met for a third time to discuss election issues. The newspaper invited 10 candidates to speak with the panelists, but Tarkanian, a Republican businessman, was the only candidate who showed up.
His Democratic opponent in the 3rd Congressional District race, nonprofit leader Susie Lee, canceled her appearance, citing a scheduling conflict.
Tarkanian told the panelists he supports President Donald Trump’s “America-first policies” including the president’s stances on repealing the Affordable Care Act, national security, tax reform, immigration and border security.
Republican Howard Galin — who voted for Tarkanian when he ran for the CD3 seat in 2016 — asked about ending “sanctuary cities.” Tarkanian said he would vote to defund them.
“I believe the vast majority of Americans believe we should have a secure border,” Tarkanian said. “Whether that’s a wall or some other type of technology, who in their right mind thinks we should have an open border and allow anybody to cross over that wants to and any type of contraband to cross over?”
While he supports beefing up border security, Tarkanian said he is not anti-immigrant: His grandmother escaped the Armenian genocide in 1917. “She took advantage of the American dream, worked her tail off and created an opportunity for her son to become the greatest basketball coach in NCAA history,” he said.
Tarkanian was quick to draw a line between Trump’s policies and his sharp tongue, saying he doesn’t support the president’s offensive comments and tweets.
Democrat Ann Cribari said that “words matter” and the president’s rhetoric troubles her.
“I care about the soul of this country,” she said. “And the soul of this country is defined by the words that are coming out of the president of the United States’ mouth and they’re horrible, despicable and divisive.”
Tarkanian said he is “not going to defend that rhetoric.”
“I don’t blame it all on President Trump,” Tarkanian said. “I think this is a process that been going on for years. I think President Trump has taken it to a new level.”
Rebecca Garcia, an independent who’s most concerned about the state’s education system, grilled Tarkanian over his support of school choice, saying it’s unfair to fund private schools with government money while public schools are underfunded.
Tarkanian said his kids have attended public and private schools, and the public schools were “failing them.” He said the most voters he met in minority communities want school choice. “Why should they be denied that?” he asked.
Airline pilot Will Bradley, a Republican who served 32 years in the Army, praised the GOP tax plan and said his company has increased his pay 15 percent. He pleaded with Tarkanian to “force Congress to declare war” before soldiers are sent to combat.
“I saw a lot of guys die for nothing,” Bradley said. “Please, before you send any of my buddies to combat in the future, force Congress to declare war. Because that forces this whole country to get behind it and members of Congress can’t willy out. You’re either all in or we’re not.”
Retired newspaper reporter Louis Filardo, a nonpartisan, asked Tarkanian — who has run for office in every even year since 2004 — about his record of unsuccessfully running for office. Tarkanian said that he lost the 2016 election by 1 percentage point, and he is confident he can win this year.
“Thank goodness Abraham Lincoln didn’t quit: He ran eight times before he got elected to anything. I see your persistence as a virtue, sir, not a detriment,” Bradley said.