GOP congressional candidates cover range of issues in Mesquite debate

Updated April 12, 2018 - 10:42 pm

From abortion rights to transgender troops and military action in Syria, four Republicans running in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District delved into the issues Wednesday during a debate hosted by the Mesquite Republican Women.

Former U.S. Rep. Cresent Hardy, former talk show host Jeff Miller, Air Force veteran Dave Gibbs and business leader Bill Townsend mostly agreed on abortion, signing a pledge to not raise taxes and fighting for control of federal lands in Nevada. But their differences emerged on foreign policy, climate change and transgender rights issues.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday tweeted a promise that U.S. missile strikes in Syria “will be coming” in the wake of a chemical attack on citizens there, and warned Russia, whose leaders had vowed to shoot them down, against partnering with Syria.

Townsend was adamant that America should stay out of Syria, which he said would only escalate tensions between the U.S. and Russia. “There is nothing for us to gain by going into Syria,” said Townsend, who leads TV production company RevolutionSports, Inc. and a pharmaceutical research firm.

The U.S. has some troops on the ground in Syria, and Trump ordered a missile strike on Syria last year.

Miller, a former radio show host who now runs a Las Vegas-based horseback riding company, agreed.

“I don’t want to send my sons or your sons to war over some people who don’t care about us,” he said.

But Hardy and Gibbs took a different stance. Hardy, who was the District 4 representative from 2014 to 2016, said protecting people is the “right thing” to do.

Gibbs equated Syria to a schoolyard bully.

“Like the school bully, they need to be grabbed by the collar, and they need to be swatted,” Gibbs said. “That’s what they did when they launched chemical weapons against women and children.”

Abortion, taxes and troops

Hardy said he supports abortion only in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother’s life. Gibbs said he wants to cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood, saying the nonprofit “should go out and raise money” on its own.

Townsend said that the real issue is unwanted pregnancies and he would advocate for better birth control and more access to women in lower-income communities. Miller said he would like to bring more awareness to other options, such as adoption.

The men agreed to sign a pledge that promises not to raise taxes, but Townsend said it “depends on what it says.” The four men unilaterally supported a push to take back Nevada lands from the federal government.

Asked about Trump’s ban on transgender troops, Gibbs — who served 25 years in the Air Force — compared it to serving alongside his first female instructor pilot, calling that a “culture shock” at the time.

But times have changed. Gibbs said, “If the troops are OK with it, I’m OK with it, too.”

Miller agreed, saying that if a service member shows mental competence, Congress should not decide who is fit to serve in the military.

Hardy said he would like to re-enact “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” a policy instituted by the Clinton administration that banned openly gay, lesbian or bisexual troops. The policy ended in 2011.

Packed field

There are 16 candidates running for Nevada’s 4th Congressional District — including six Democrats — a district that has a Democratic voter-registration advantage. The seat is being vacated by Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who faced sexual misconduct allegations last year.

Mike Monroe and Kenneth Wegner were the only Republican candidates who did not take part in the debate.

The two-hour debate Wednesday helped Bonnie Mink, 68, a retired Mesquite resident, make up her mind. She’s leaning toward voting for Gibbs or Hardy.

“There is so much turmoil going on in the government,” Mink said. “We need good representation, and this was informative.”

Contact Ramona Giwargis at rgiwargis@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4538. Follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

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