2nd District forum: Davis, Watkins clash on immigration, Social Security
photo by: Contributed and AP photos
TOPEKA – Republican congressional candidate Steve Watkins said Wednesday that he wanted the United States to build a wall along the Mexican border and crack down on illegal immigration “to keep our culture,” and that younger workers today should expect to see smaller Social Security benefits than their parents and grandparents.
Democrat Paul Davis, meanwhile, said he thought immigrants living and working in the U.S. should have “a pathway” to citizenship, and he vowed never to cut Social Security benefits to pay for tax cuts or balance the federal budget.
Those were just two of the issues on which the 2nd District candidates clashed during their first joint appearance Wednesday evening at a candidate forum in Independence.
“I’m proud of our country. I want to keep our culture. That doesn’t make us Republicans bad. It just makes common sense,” Watkins said in response to a question about immigration policy. “I want to build the wall, end sanctuary cities, end chain migration, give growers and builders and manufacturers the (human resources) that they need, but also respect the fact that we are a nation of immigrants. I’m so proud of that.”
President Donald Trump made building a border wall a central theme of his 2016 campaign, and he has at times threatened to veto spending bills — possibly forcing a partial shutdown of the federal government — if Congress refuses to fund it. But so far, he has not followed through on that threat.
Davis did not directly address the issue of a border wall in his remarks, but he outlined a general position on immigration that included granting some undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship.
“I believe that people who are here that are contributing to our economy, that are playing by the rules, that are paying taxes, that are learning English should be given a pathway to becoming an American citizen,” Davis said. “George W. Bush proposed this when he was president and, unfortunately, because we had too much bickering in Congress, we just couldn’t get it done.”
Watkins, of Topeka, is an Army veteran and West Point graduate who now works as an engineer for a company that contracts with the military. He has never run for public office before and has recently faced scrutiny over claims he has made about his biographical details and business background.
Davis, of Lawrence, is an attorney and former state legislator who served as House Minority Leader from 2009 to 2015. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014 against then-incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback.
Libertarian candidate Kelly Standley, of St. Paul, was expected to take part but did not attend.
The event, which was streamed live by the Davis campaign, was billed as a “forum,” not a debate, meaning both candidates were asked the same questions and allowed to state their positions, but they did not directly respond to each other or rebut the other candidate’s statements.
On the issue of protecting Social Security, Watkins described the system as “broken” and on a pathway toward bankruptcy, and said the only way to save the system was to reduce benefits for future retirees.
“So, my plan is twofold,” he said. “We protect Social Security for those at or nearing retirement age. And in addition, my generation, Generation X, moving forward we’ve got to take a close, hard look at the program and realize that it is going bankrupt.”
“So my advice to people my age and less is, don’t expect those kinds of benefits, not at the rate we’re currently receiving them,” he added.
Davis vowed not to cut Social Security, and he was harshly critical of a plan by House Republicans to reduce entitlement spending to balance the federal budget.
“I think that that is wrong,” Davis said. “Now, there are some people out there that are talking about how to expand benefits, and it would be nice if we could have that discussion, but the fact of the matter is that we need to be focused on preserving the benefits that we have.”
“If we’re going to do that, the federal government has to get its fiscal house in order,” Davis added. “We’re seeing exploding deficits and exploding debt. And the recent tax plan has just made things that much worse.”
The forum in Independence was sponsored by a number of county Farm Bureau associations and local chambers of commerce.