CONWAY — With no Democrat in the race, the Republican incumbent was the main target of attack by his third-party challengers in a debate Thursday between the candidates for Arkansas’ 3rd District congressional seat.
First-term U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, faced challengers Rebekah Kennedy of the Green Party and David Pangrac of the Libertarian Party in the debate that was recorded for airing on the Arkansas Educational Television Network.
Ken Aden, the Democratic nominee for the 3rd District seat, dropped out of the race in July after his claim to be a former Green Beret was shown to conflict with military records.
The general election is Nov. 6. Early voting began Monday.
Pangrac, a Van Buren resident who manages a furniture warehouse in Pocola, Okla., said the country is $16 trillion in debt, its immigration system is a disaster and programs like Social Security and Medicare are in danger of bankrupting the country.
"What has our congressman done for the last two years to solve any of these problems?" Pangrac asked. "Well, he’s voted to extend the Patriot Act, to pass the (National Defense Authorization Act) allowing the indefinite detainment of American citizens, he’s sponsored an Internet sales tax, he’s voted to raise the debt ceiling."
Kennedy, a lawyer who lives in Harrison and has run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate once and attorney general twice, said Womack and others in Washington of both major parties are refusing to talk about global warming, which she called "the greatest threat to our national security, our economy and our nation’s future."
Womack said his 30-plus years of experience in the Arkansas Army National Guard and his experience in business — he formerly managed his family’s radio station, KURM — and in government as a former Rogers mayor have given him a varied background to take to Washington.
"I am there to champion smaller government, more efficient government, to do what we can to erase the deficit, to work on solving the debt crisis that faces our country," he said.
Each of the candidates was asked where he or she would cut government spending. Womack said the Department of Education would top his list of federal agencies to consider abolishing.
"I’m a big believer in education, but I’m not real sure that the Education Department at the federal level is the best consolidation of that power," he said.
Pangrac said he supports doing away with the Federal Reserve.
"Our money is being printed out of thin air, and inflation is a tax," he said. "It’s a tax that we don’t see, it’s a tax that everybody pays, and it’s a tax that hurts the working, the poor, the elderly absolutely the most."
Kennedy said the nation could save money by not entering into unnecessary military conflicts overseas and by not "forcing the Pentagon to buy weapons systems they do not want." She also said Congress should look "outside the box" for ways to raise revenue, and suggested a tax on Wall Street trades as one possibility.
Arkansans will vote Nov. 6 on whether to legalize marijuana at the state level for medical use by people with certain health conditions. Kennedy and Pangrac both said they would support legalizing medical marijuana at the federal level.
"It is merely a matter of political wrangling that the federal government has not already legalized the medical use of this useful drug," Kennedy said.
"Any patient suffering from some of these horrible illnesses should not ever be denied their medicine. If it can help, then so be it," Pangrac said.
Womack said he opposes legalization of medical marijuana. Talking later to reporters, he said his position is based on personal experience in his family with drug abuse.
Womack’s son, James Phillip Womack, pleaded guilty in Benton County Circuit Court in 2010 to delivery of methamphetamine.
"If you’ve ever … had a front-row seat to the devastating impact that drugs have on our society, it’s kind of hard to look in that direction and say, ‘You know, I think we ought to start making exceptions for certain drugs,’" Womack said.
Womack and Pangrac did not mention global warming during the debate. When asked about it later by reporters, both said they differed with Kennedy on the issue.
"If we create these onerous rules — where there is mixed opinion about whether or not they’re even needed — if we continue to pour these regulations on top of our job creators, our energy producers, today, what effect is that going to have on this economy?" Womack said.
Pangrac said he believes economics are encouraging people to use less fuel and buy more fuel-efficient cars without any need for government involvement.
"At this point I’m not entirely sure that it’s not a problem that will continue to correct itself," he said.
The debate was scheduled to air on AETN at 7 p.m. Thursday and again at 4 p.m. on Nov. 4.