Candidates competing in the Republican primary for the U.S. House of Representatives in the state’s 1st Congressional district appeared on Monday’s edition of KET’s Kentucky Tonight.
Jason Batts, James Comer, and Mike Pape discussed their positions on the economy, national security, energy policy, and other issues. Fellow GOP contender Miles Caughey Jr. did not participate in the program.
Kentucky’s 1st Congressional District comprises all or part of 35 counties in central, southern, and western Kentucky. It includes the cities of Columbia, Henderson, Hopkinsville, Lebanon, Paducah, Madisonville, Mayfield, and Murray. The district’s current representative, Republican Ed Whitfield, is not seeking re-election.
Jason Batts has a law practice in his hometown of Clinton and serves as Hickman County Attorney. He is a graduate of Morehead State University and the School of Law at Washington University in St. Louis. Batts is a captain in the U.S. Army and a Judge Advocate in the Army Reserves.
James Comer is a native of Monroe County and a graduate of Western Kentucky University. In addition to running his family’s farming operation, Comer served 11 years as a state representative and four years as Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture. In 2015, he made an unsuccessful bid for governor.
Mike Pape served as district director for Rep. Whitfield for 21 years. The Hopkinsville native studied political science at Murray State University and the University of Akron, where he graduated magna cum laude. After college, Pape briefly worked as political director for the state Republican Party.
The Federal Budget
The three Republicans agree that government spending must be curtailed because they contend that the estimated $19 trillion of federal debt is stifling the economy. Comer and Pape even call for passage of a balanced budget amendment, which they say is needed to force Congress to rein in spending.
Pape adds that legislators must return to passing regular appropriations bills instead of waiting until the last minute to pass an omnibus spending package.
“[That’s] bad business for our country and I blame our Republican leadership right now, which has [control of] the House and the Senate, for not changing that process,” Pape says. “I think it’s the absolute wrong thing to do.”
The candidates also support reforming the nation’s tax codes. Batts calls the inheritance tax “un-American,” while Pape proposes adopting a flat tax and eliminating the Internal Revenue Service.
Jobs and the Economy
The candidates argue that the economy cannot thrive unless businesses are freed from what they see as government over-regulation. Comer points to his record of fighting federal environmental regulations while he was agriculture commissioner.
He pledges to further reduce the regulatory burdens coming from the Dodd-Frank financial reforms as well as from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Army Corps of Engineers. He says he would focus on improving the business climate to create more small-town job opportunities, which he says will help keep the “best and brightest young people” in the district.
“We don’t need stimulus programs, we don’t need government grants, [or] any type of crony capitalism that picks winners and losers,” Comer says. “We just need the government to get out of the way to let the private sector succeed.”
Batts also says he will loosen regulations on businesses, as well as shrink government bureaucracy and simplify the tax codes for companies. He contends another crucial aspect of creating jobs is to replace career politicians who he says have lost touch with how government regulations can hurt local business owners.
“The thought process that usually inspires politicians when they come in and talk to those of us in small business is, ‘What can I do for you?’” Batts says. “That’s the wrong question. The question should actually be, ‘What can I stop doing to you?’ because there’s a lot that the government could stop doing.”
Pape says reducing the national debt and the interest payments that go with it will take a significant load off of the American economy. He also says the way to ease government oversight of small businesses is to cut funding for the regulatory agencies.
National Security and Immigration
With the rise of Islamic State terrorism, the candidates say more must be done to protect the nation from such threats. All three candidates maintain that a primary national security goal should address America’s southern border with Mexico. This issue has been at the forefront of the current presidential primary campaign, as Republican candidate Donald Trump has vowed to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in order to curtail illegal immigration and combat terrorism.
Pape has been criticized for a campaign ad that depicts three young men with Spanish accents cutting through a chain link fence to illegally enter the U.S. He says the commercial is intended to draw attention to the critical issue of border security.
“We saw what happens with open borders in Europe. We saw what happened in Paris last fall, we saw what happened in Brussels earlier this year,” Pape says. “I don’t want that to happen here in the United States, and as your Congressman I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that America is safe, here and abroad.”
Pape says America should build a wall along the entire length of its southern border, and pass a nationwide measure that would allow citizens to carry concealed weapons for self-protection.
Comer says it makes no sense that the Obama administration can track down terror suspects around the world but cannot secure its border with Mexico. He opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants as well as sanctuary cities. Comer also wants to “build the darn wall,” and vows to reduce bureaucracy and red tape that he says impedes the work of border guards.
During his military training along the U.S.-Mexico border, Batts says he has talked with border patrol agents who don’t feel like they get enough federal support. He says the nation is endangered by people around the world who hate America’s freedoms.
“It requires a government that is going to be vigilant and stand up to protect our nation from one border to the other,” Batts says. “We simply don’t have that right now.”
Batts also endorses a border wall, and he calls for stricter enforcement of current immigration laws. He also would reduce federal dollars going to cities that provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants.
The candidates strongly support Kentucky’s coal industry and decry efforts by the Obama administration and environmental activists to reduce coal use in the nation.
Comer says he will fight for coal and rebuild coal communities in western Kentucky that have been devastated by job losses. He argues that coal severance funds have been squandered to build gyms and swimming pools, when they should’ve gone to more focused economic diversification efforts. Comer says that coal and coal burning still have a future, but questions the financial prospects for renewable sources of energy.
“I think solar [is] great, wind [is] great, I just don’t want my tax dollars going to subsidize companies that, once the subsidy is over with, they’re not going to be there,” Comer says.
Batts says there is a war on coal and that Kentucky is one of the battlefields. He criticizes the federal subsidies that support renewable energy projects because he says alternative energy sources aren’t yet economically viable.
Pape says that as Congressman he would seek a seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees coal issues. He contends that once environmental regulations are repealed, coal will once again be the nation’s cheapest form of energy. Pape also says it is unfair that America has strict limits on pollution from coal burning while countries like China and India enforce no such regulations.
When asked whether they would align themselves more with veteran politicians like Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Whitfield, or with political newcomers like Sen. Rand Paul and Gov. Matt Bevin, two of the candidates favored the outsiders.
Batts says he stands with Paul and Bevin, and describes both as constitutional conservatives. Batts says he differs with Whitfield and McConnell on their support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals that he says hurt small-town businesses and manufacturers.
Pape says he admires how his former boss stood up to McConnell to oppose the omnibus budget bill, but he says his personal outlook is more aligned with the fiscal conservatism of Paul and Bevin. Pape says he would try to cut federal spending even further than what Whitfield wanted.
Comer says there are things that he agrees with and admires in each of the four politicians. He adds that he would differ from Whitfield by being more visible in the district and by being more supportive of agricultural interests. Comer contends that Whitfield favored animal rights groups at the expense of Kentucky livestock producers.
In the Republican presidential race, Comer says he will support whoever gets the nomination. He says that person should be the one who has accumulated the most votes going into the GOP convention in July.
Batts says he supports Ted Cruz because he admires the Texas senator’s Christian conservative principles. Pape says he voted for Donald Trump in the state GOP caucus. He praises the New Yorker for leading the debate on border security issues.