CONWAY — The candidates for Arkansas’ 4th District congressional seat said Monday they support different presidential hopefuls, but they agreed that voters should not reject Republican Donald Trump based on comments he made about women in a 2005 video.
Incumbent Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, and Libertarian challenger Kerry Hicks of Mena discussed Trump’s comments and other issues in a debate at the AETN television studio on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas. The debate was taped Monday afternoon for airing at 8 that night.
There is no Democratic candidate in the race.
The first question of the debate was about a recently surfaced 11-year-old video in which Trump is heard saying he tried to seduce a married woman and is “automatically” attracted to beautiful women.
“I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss, I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the p——,” Trump says in the video.
“As just about everyone else does, I condemn the statements made by Mr. Trump,” said Hicks, 53, who makes his living by collecting moss and selling it to a natural products wholesaler and is supporting Libertarian Gary Johnson for president.
But Hicks, a former construction worker, said he did not believe Trump’s comments should be the basis for deciding whether he should be president. He said he viewed Trump’s words as just “talking trash” and said that “I’ve seen it a thousand times on construction sites.”
“If he gives an apology, and we believe that apology is sincere, we need to move on instead of making it a monthlong news story,” Hicks said.
Westerman, 48, who served in the Arkansas House from 2011-13 and has been a U.S. House member since January 2013, said, “I’m not here to defend Donald Trump. The comments that he made 11 years ago were disgusting. … Had somebody said that about my wife and daughter, it would probably have been fighting words regardless of what the context of it was.”
But Westerman did not withdraw his support of Trump. He said his focus is on policy issues such as health care, over-regulation of businesses and job creation.
“It was 11 years ago, and hopefully if he is elected president he will control his mouth much better,” Westerman said.
Responding to a question about recent shootings by police, Hicks said, “I think it’s a good idea that on most occasions a police officer should be unarmed and not need to use his gun. He needs to understand the neighborhood that he’s in, he needs to understand the fear, if there is legitimate fear in the neighborhood where he’s working.”
Hicks also said, “If you are a police officer and you murder somebody as a police officer or you cover up the murder of your fellow officer, although I’m opposed to the death penalty, if that is the maximum sentence, then those people should get it,” he said.
Westerman said it might be fine to have unarmed police in the fictional town of Mayberry, “but we don’t live in Mayberry today.”
“We have to keep our officers armed. We have to do better training, and we have to weed out the bad apples. But most importantly, we have to enforce the rule of law and we have to stand behind the men and women that put the uniform on every day, that go out and put their lives on the line to protect us,” Westerman said.
Hicks said he opposes the use of government tax dollars as incentives for private business projects. Asked after the debate whether he opposes a planned $1 billion Sun Paper pulp mill in Arkadelphia, a project receiving millions of dollars in state and local incentives, Hicks said, “I’m not opposed to it per se. I’m opposed to state tax money being used for the construction of it or to prepare for the construction of it. I don’t think that’s a good use of tax dollars.”
Westerman told reporters after the debate that as a congressman he does not have much say in how local and state governments spend their tax dollars, but he said the mill will be good for the local economy and the state’s timber industry.