Arkansas 4th District Rep. Bruce Westerman met with his Democrat and Libertarian challengers in a debate held by Arkansas PBS Tuesday. Democrat William Hanson and Libertarian Frank Gilbert are challenging the incumbent Republican congressman in the race to represent the southwest Arkansas district in the U.S House of Representatives.
Westerman is a trained forester and engineer and has served in the House since 2015. Hanson is an attorney and former law professor. Gilbert is the former mayor of the Grant County town of Tull.
The three candidates voiced their opinions on numerous issues, such as healthcare, the national debt and police reform. Westerman, who’s seeking his fourth term in the House, said the federal government should be involved in reforming policing tactics that disproportionately affect Black Americans and other people of color.
“Black lives do matter. All lives matter. The organization Black Lives Matter, I'm not sure that I agree with everything that they say, or that when you go to their website, you click on the donate button, and it goes to ActBlue which is a Democrat fundraising site,” Westerman said. “We’ve got to quit politicizing all these issues and search for real problems and not just find those problems but get the bipartisan support to implement those solutions to the problems.”
Westerman said he supports an existing bill that would discourage the use of police tactics like chokeholds and no-knock warrants but does not explicitly ban them. Hanson said there is evidence of a systemic problem with policing in America when it comes to race.
“We need a use of force continuum in terms of when police can really begin to use deadly force. We need independent investigators… it's difficult when a DA has to prosecute a police officer that he or she works with on a day to day basis. It’s a conflict just waiting to happen, so most states like California have started using independent investigators,” Hanson said.
Gilbert said both a lack of trust in law enforcement by the general public and a lack of accountability in government contribute to the problems surrounding policing in the country.
When asked about the possibility of further coronavirus relief packages, Westerman said states need more leeway in spending existing funds from the CARES Act.
“It could be spent right now if Congress would give the flexibility for the Paycheck Protection Program. We need to make changes on that,” Westerman said. “The bill was a huge bill, it was pushed through quickly like it should have been, but we’ve found out there’s some things in it that need to be changed. We don't need to have another relief package that does stuff that's unrelated to the pandemic.”
Westerman also called for an end to the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, which he’s sought to replace with his own legislation called the Fair Care Act. Hanson disagreed, saying Westerman’s bill had failed to garner widespread support and that the ACA provides more comprehensive health insurance coverage.
“The Affordable Care Act has done a remarkable job in making sure that many Arkansans have insurance, and I think we don’t need to replace it, we just need to fix those things that are problematic,” Hanson said. “The court should not make the ACA unconstitutional, so I think we just need to quit playing around with healthcare especially during this time.”
Candidates also disagreed on abortion rights, with Westerman saying he’s against the procedure and Hanson saying he favors a woman’s right to choose. Gilbert said he would support making abortion a criminal offense.
“I think Arkansas had it just about right before Roe v. Wade. The state of Arkansas, if an abortion was committed, charged the doctor; he could be fined, he could lose his license, if you continue you could eventually wind up in jail. The woman could never be the perpetrator of that crime. She was the victim,” Gilbert said.
Election Day is Nov. 3. The period of early voting in Arkansas begins next Monday, Oct. 19 and lasts until Nov. 2.
You can watch the full debate here.