Republican candidates debate immigration, health care (w/video)

Marina Riker By Marina Riker

Feb. 12, 2018 at 10:27 p.m.

Republican candidate for Congressional District 27 Eddie Gassman takes a seat after answering a question during a forum at the University of Houston-Victoria. John Grunwald passes the microphone to Jerry Hall. From left, Bech Bruun, Michael Cloud and Chris Mapp wait for their turn.

Republican candidate for Congressional District 27 Eddie Gassman takes a seat after answering a question during a forum at the University of Houston-Victoria. John Grunwald passes the microphone to Jerry Hall. From left, Bech Bruun, Michael Cloud and Chris Mapp wait for their turn.   Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

Republicans vying for their chance to fill the congressional seat in District 27 debated issues ranging from immigration to Hurricane Harvey to health care in hopes of winning over voters in the March 6 primary.

The six GOP candidates gathered in the University of Houston-Victoria North building Monday to debate the issues.

The Republican candidates include Bech Bruun, former chairman of Texas Water Development Board; Michael Cloud, former chairman of the Victoria County Republican Party; and Christopher Mapp, a small business owner from Port O'Connor. John Grunwald, a retired accountant who lives in Houston; Jerry Hall, a mediator who lives in Corpus Christi; and Eddie Gassman, a contractor from Corpus Christi, are also seeking the seat.

Each candidate introduced themselves and had two minutes to argue their positions.

IMMIGRATION

Cloud, whose wife is originally from Mexico and now a naturalized citizen, said he supports immigration reform because he knows first hand the challenges that come with the United States' immigration system.

"We spent two hours at the border while they were (figuring out) what to do with the fiancé visa," said Cloud.

But Cloud said streamlining the immigration process must be a part of other policy efforts. He said he supports President Donald Trump's approach to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which includes implementing other changes such as securing the border with a wall.

Bruun agreed that DACA should be taken up with "full-scale immigration reform," which includes building a wall and funding local law enforcement. Another priority for Bruun is using technology - drones, for example - to monitor the border.

Chris Mapp said he's not in favor of allowing Dreamers - undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, to have citizenship under any condition, but doesn't think they'll be forced to leave the U.S. He also said he wants to build a wall and deter people from coming to the U.S. and accessing welfare programs.

When asked about DACA, Gassman said he thought that most people - whether Democrat or Republican - don't want Dreamers forced from the country. However, he said there should be incentives for people to come here legally and thinks sanctuary cities should be defunded.

Grunwald, meanwhile, said Dreamers should get a "tap on the hand." He said there are no right answers when it comes to fixing the country's immigration system, saying, "If we build a 30-foot wall, they'll have 40-foot ladders."

Hall said that he supports Trump's policies, including building a wall, and putting Americans first.

"We can be caring and compassionate," said Hall. "But we also can put a line in the sand and say enough's enough."

HEALTH CARE

Most Republican candidates said health care shouldn't be considered a right and touted plans to reduce government invovlement in the health care market. Candidates including Bruun, Cloud and Hall said they supported doing away with state boundaries to allow health insurance plans to be sold nationally.

Bruun said he wanted to see more plan options offered to the public, while Cloud was also supportive of increasing transparency in billing to reduce costs.

Gassman also said he wants the government to get out of health care, but wants to see greater access to affordable care. One idea is to allow part-time employees to purchase insurance under their employers, he said.

Hall said he lived in Latin America for more than a decade, and blamed special interest groups for the country's rising health care costs. He said he supported reforming laws that allow people to sue doctors in an effort to reduce costs.

Mapp, a business owner, said access to health care is a right, but health care isn't a right. Meanwhile, Grunwald said the government shouldn't fund health care.

SEPARATION OF CHURCH, STATE

Most candidates said they were religious, but would uphold the Constitution.

Bruun, said although Biblical law guides him in his daily life, constitutional law is the law of the land.

Gassman said he thought the country needed to have a conversation about religious liberty, but that he would not push his religious beliefs on anyone.

Mapp said while Americans have freedom to practice religion, constitutional law should be followed.

Grunwald took a similar stance, saying the Constitution is the basis of Americans' daily lives.

Meanwhile, Cloud said he didn't see religion and the state as conflicted entities. The Constitution was birthed from Christian principles with the idea that God gives man the right to give authority to a government.

But Hall said Christians have been afraid to speak up for their beliefs. If elected, he wants to bring God back into school, courts and governments, and would hold a prayer vigil in a high school on Election Day.

HURRICANE HARVEY

Almost six months after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, reducing red tape is a top priority for most Republican candidates.

Bruun said he decided to run for U.S. Congress because of Hurricane Harvey. After working at the state's top water agency, he believes he's the most qualified to deal with federal and state agencies to streamline aid, he said.

Cloud also said he would push to loosen up federal funding and allow local officials to make more decisions about how to spend it. Cloud said private groups such as churches often outpaced the federal government.

Hall, meanwhile, criticized Farenthold's response to the storm, saying he was a "no-show." If elected, Hall said he would represent the citizens of the district, not anyone else.

Mapp was hard on the federal government's efforts and said the Federal Emergency Management Agency did the "worst job" he's ever seen. He said he would advocate for and represent the district - especially in times of need.

Gassman said both insurance companies and FEMA had problems. Gassman, who works as a contractor, said insurance companies cause problems for homeowners because they don't want to pay what contractors charge.

Grunwald said despite his community in Egypt getting flooded, it didn't get help from FEMA.


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