Listen to the full debate here.
What was designed to be a sanitized question-and-answer session on border security on Monday was instead a contentious debate between Democratic U.S. Rep. Harry Teague and Republican challenger Steve Pearce.
The hour-long radio program included note cards. There weren’t supposed to be rebuttals. Candidates were simply supposed to answer a question they were asked related to border security, then move on to the next question.
Teague started out with talking points he would repeat throughout the debate about how he has worked to secure the border by bringing more National Guard troops and Border Patrol agents there, “whereas Congressman Pearce, when he was a congressman didn’t come to the border as often and he actually voted seven times against securing the border.”
Pearce didn’t let that allegation stand.
“He’s welcome to his own opinions, but he’s not welcome to his own facts,” Pearce said, adding that he visited the border often during his six years in Congress and that funding for border security nearly doubled during his tenure. By contrast, he said, Teague voted to increase funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by 35 percent but for the Border Patrol by only 3 percent.
Pearce continued, saying Teague voted for cap and trade instead of securing the border, and said Teague’s priority is to “send jobs out of the country, not to the border.” That, Pearce said, was why Teague insisted on a forum that would focus only on border security – he didn’t want to talk about jobs.
From there, things shifted to a back-and-forth, contentious debate, even though the moderator of the event on KRWG 90.7-FM told the two he wanted to “focus on the future rather than the past.” The moderator worked, with only marginal success, to get the candidates to answer the questions instead of addressing allegations made during the previous response from the other candidate.
Teague isn’t as skilled a public speaker or debater as Pearce, who wanted a debate on various issues, not the sanitized forum that was planned at Teague’s insistence. It was Pearce who worked to shift the tone of the event to an actual debate, but Teague followed him into it.
Teague’s common attack link was to ask, “Which Congressman Pearce is the one that’s campaigning – the one who says he will secure the border or that seven times he voted against it?”
Pearce countered by saying that what he voted against were proposed amendments to bills that were designed by Democrats to kill border security measures.
“So he’s creating facts here that are simply not true, and he’s done that throughout the campaign, and I’m not going to sit here and listen to it,” Pearce said.
Amnesty, Second Amendment
Pearce tried to reveal contrasts between the two – he said Teague supports amnesty while he does not, and he supports the Second Amendment, while Teague does not – but Teague rejected most of Pearce’s claims about him.
Teague does support a path to legalization for the undocumented immigrants already in the country that allows them to stay, but Teague said that isn’t amnesty. It’s the same argument that many Democrats and Republicans make – that allowing people to stay but requiring some penalty other than jail for coming here illegally isn’t amnesty.
Pearce said he wants to require those who are here illegally to return to their home country and get in the back of the line to come here legally.
Asked about guns illegally entering Mexico from the United States, Pearce shifted to talking about the Second Amendment. He cited a 2000 newspaper article in which Teague was quoted as saying he wouldn’t mind turning in his guns.
“Since then he has said that if he knew he was running for Congress he wouldn’t have said that, which tells you something about what his values are,” Pearce said. He added that he supports a repeal of the assault weapons ban.
Teague countered that there is “no difference” between the two on that issue.
“We do not need any infringement on our Second Amendment rights,” he said.
Doña Ana County Wilderness
The candidates were asked about a pending bill in Congress that would create hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness in Doña Ana County but has been delayed because Teague and others have expressed concerns about border security in the proposed wilderness areas.
Teague, despite insistence from the moderator that he answer the question, first talked about what he doesn’t support: a bill Pearce introduced when he was in Congress that Teague said would lead to selling public land to private interests.
Then Teague said most agree that “we need to keep the Organ Mountains public” but said there’s other land in the bill that’s close to the border, and he wants to be sure “that we don’t do anything that encumbers our Border Patrol agents and law enforcement agents.”
Asked to be clear – Was he saying that he doesn’t currently support the bill? – Teague said: “Yeah, until we can be sure that there’s not any hindrance” to law enforcement, “we have to keep looking for ways to make that happen.”
Teague has made statements along those lines in the past, but this was the most definite in opposition to the bill in its current form.
Pearce said he won’t support “any bill that keeps us from securing the border.” No mechanized vehicles are allowed in wilderness areas, with some exceptions for law enforcement in emergencies.
Arizona immigration law
The two candidates were also asked about Arizona’s controversial immigration law.
“The federal government is abdicating its responsibility,” Pearce said. “The Arizona government is simply doing something to try to protect its citizens.”
“I do believe that that’s a step in the wrong direction, but I understand Arizona’s right and wanting to protect its citizens,” Teague said. “I just don’t think we should have a patchwork immigration system across the nation.”
“The United States Congress has been derelict for 10 years in doing this. We need one immigration policy that fits all 50 states,” Teague said.
There was a lot of spin in news releases following the debate.
“Pearce wins border security debate with Teague,” a news release from the Pearce campaign proclaimed.
“Steve Pearce was the decisive winner of today’s KRWG debate with Harry Teague,” the release stated. “In the hour long debate, Steve Pearce repeatedly showed command of a wide array of issues, from securing the border to creating jobs in New Mexico. Congressman Harry Teague repeatedly struggled to explain his positions that are out of touch with New Mexico’s needs and priorities.”
The Democrats sent several releases following the debate. Teague’s release focused more on border policy than it did the debate.
“The difference is clear. In response to the escalating violence along our border, Harry is working with local residents and law enforcement to get necessary resources to the border,” Teague Campaign Manager Dominic Gabello said. “Pearce, on the other hand, continues to take the more dangerous approach of putting partisan politics before the security of the people and communities of Southern New Mexico.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hammered Pearce.
“Having opposed billions in funding for border security during his tenure in Congress, it’s no wonder that former Congressman Steve Pearce used every opportunity on the radio today to change the subject and deny his record,” said the DCCC’s Andy Stone. “But the more bluster Pearce offers on border security, the more southern New Mexicans can see right through this two-faced hypocrisy.”
The state Democratic Party also went on the attack.
“During today’s debate, Congressman Pearce offered no new ideas for securing the border and ran from his record of failures by accusing Harry of supporting amnesty and by attacking Harry for not supporting the Secure Border Initiative (SBInet),” Democratic Party spokesman James Hallinan said. “In typical Washington Waffle fashion, Pearce conveniently failed to mention that he himself voted against the SBInet program in 2007. When it comes to securing the border, even after six years of representing Southern New Mexico, Congressman Pearce still doesn’t get it.”