(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – Two of the four Republican candidates seeking to replace Sen. Randolph Townsend in state Senate District 4 in Washoe County attacked one another’s records in a debate televised today on the Nevada NewsMakers program.
Assemblyman Ty Cobb said one of his opponents, Ben Kieckhefer, has called for “revenue enhancements” which Cobb said is support for a tax increase. Kieckhefer denied the charge.
Kieckhefer said Cobb has been an ineffective lawmaker by failing to stop legislative tax hikes and by getting only one bill signed into law in two sessions of the Legislature.
Cobb said his record opposing tax increases is evidence of his effectiveness.
Two other candidates did not wade into the fray to such a degree, with Todd Bailey calling for the repeal of the state payroll tax as a way to create more private sector jobs.
“We need to get Nevada back to a place where we create a lot of new jobs,” he said. “That’s what we need to be focused on.”
Frank Wright said the recession gives lawmakers a chance to reign in the runaway government growth of recent years by reducing taxes and creating a more favorable business climate.
“We have for the last 10 years had a crazy increase in government spending and now we have to cut back,” he said. “It is because of the policies we have enacted that haven’t worked. We need to bring businesses back to this state.”
Cobb was also asked for a brief statement on a recent incident in which he kicked down a political campaign sign for Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, a Democrat who is running for a different state Senate seat.
Cobb said he apologized and offered to pay for a replacement, and that the incident is not a reflection on his judgment as a candidate for public office.
Cutting taxes, reducing the size of government and improving efficiencies in how necessary state services are provided are ways offered up by the candidates to help bridge what is expected to be a multi-billion dollar hole in the next two-year state budget.
Kieckhefer, currently the public information officer for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, said improved efficiencies is one key to balancing the budget.
Kieckhefer, who said he will step down from his state job if he is elected to the Senate, said an example is an electronic application process being implemented in his agency that will make government more efficient.
“We need to pare down government to its most effective and essential levels, we need to cut our spending to that level, and at that point we need to evaluate as a state how we provide our services,” he said.
This would include a review of which levels of government are providing which services as a way to improve efficiency, Kieckhefer said.
Cobb said as a member of the Assembly he has consistently voted against tax increases approved by a majority of lawmakers. To get people back to work, he said Nevada should stop paying benefits to illegal residents, reform the public employee pension plan and limit the size of government to increase the amount of money available to the private sector.
The debate got a bit heated when Bailey accused Cobb of voting to eliminate the ability of voters to elect judges. Cobb rejected the claim, saying all he did was vote to put the issue of whether to elect or appoint judges to the voters in the 2010 general election.
Kieckhefer jumped in at this point, saying taxes and spending are the big issues in 2011.
“We’re all against higher taxes,” he said.
“No, you’re not against higher taxes,” Cobb said.
Cobb said Kieckhefer has made statements supporting higher taxes.
“I have not said that,” Kieckhefer replied.
Pointing to Cobb’s record, Kieckhefer said it is one of failure, demonstrated by the fact that Cobb has twice been voted the worst lawmaker in Carson City.
“I think the people of Washoe Senate District 4 need better representation than that when we’re going into a session that is going to be deciding redistricting and deciding the future of our state,” he said. “He’s no good for us and we need to do better.”
Cobb replied that his ranking of worst lawmaker was the result of lobbyists grading him poorly because he has refused to raise taxes or expand the size of government.
“What I’m suggesting is that when Mr. Kieckhefer says we need revenue enhancements, which of course means tax increases, we cannot afford tax increases,” he said.
Kieckhefer said as a former member of the Gibbons administration, he worked on a policy of lower taxes.
Besides the four Republicans, Independent American M.K. Yochum is on the ballot in the Senate 4 race.