Carmona, Flake spar on earmarks

October 11, 2012
Arizona Capitol Times
Evan Wyloge

When Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake and Democratic former Surgeon General Richard Carmona weren’t attacking with or defending against accusations of inconsistency on their positions during their first debate, the two U.S. Senate hopefuls drew key distinctions on a variety of topics, but none more than the role of federal earmarks.

Where Flake has always held high his stark opposition to the practice, Carmona framed the issue as neglecting opportunities to invest in Arizona’s infrastructure.

Carmona said he would fight to bring federal dollars into Arizona, in order to invest in the environment that he said will spur economic growth among small business owners.

“I keep hearing from businessmen, ‘We need infrastructure, we need infrastructure.’ And what they tell me is, ‘Congressman Flake is not available, because he thinks these things are bad,’” Carmona said. “I think what we ought to be doing is working with business to create infrastructure to make Arizona the most attractive place to live, and people will come with their ideas and businesses will grow.”

Carmona held up Mesa Mayor Scott Smith as an example, saying that Smith told him Flake was absent when Mesa was looking for federal assistance on private-public projects the city was working to put in place.

“Not all earmarks are pork,” Carmona said. “What we’re talking about is smart investment in our communities”

Flake stood by his opposition to earmarks for such projects, which has been a hallmark of his 10 years in Congress, saying that the more effective way to help spur economic activity is to create a stable and minimal tax and regulation system.

Flake tried to connect Carmona’s stance to the Obama administration, saying that the Democratic agenda is to pick “winners and losers” with incentives and what he called political patronage.

“The best incentive is to allow individuals and businesses to keep their own money and to allow the market to allocate capital,” he said. “It does it so much better than government does.”

Flake said Carmona, who only earlier this year switched from an independent to a Democrat, is comfortable in his newfound party, because both the Democratic Party and his opponent believe that only the federal government can create jobs.

Carmona defended his decision to join the Democratic Party after being a lifelong political independent, and said he chose to run as a Democrat because he disagreed with Republican positions on immigration and health care that he characterized as extreme. He also said that he still differs with the Democratic Party platform on a variety of issues

The two squared off in a debate hosted by “Arizona Horizon” and televised on Eight, Arizona PBS. The meeting, which is the first of three scheduled debates but the only one that will be broadcast statewide, was also aired nationally on C-SPAN.

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