BOISE – Idaho U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador and his Democratic challenger, Shirley Ringo, outlined starkly differing positions on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to taxes and spending, as the two faced off in a debate on Idaho Public Television on Thursday night.
Labrador, a Republican seeking a third term in the district that represents North Idaho, noted that Idahoans voted in favor of banning same-sex marriage in 2006.
“We have to look first at the Constitution. There’s nothing in the Constitution about gay marriage, there’s nothing in the Constitution about traditional marriage,” he said. “So you need to decide whether that’s something that courts should be deciding, or the people should be deciding.”
Ringo, a longtime state representative from Moscow and a retired math teacher, said state-by-state decisions about allowing same-sex marriage are “awkward” and unpractical.
“We certainly can’t put ourselves in a situation where the vote of the people overrides the Constitution.”
Ringo also pointed to the case of Madelynn Lee Taylor, the Idaho veteran whose request to be buried with her same-sex partner at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery was denied because of Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Labrador said that’s a case where the state shouldn’t even be involved.
“Why should the state decide who should be buried in that plot?” he asked. “That’s something we should actually start considering as policymakers, is whether we should have all these benefits based on marriage status. Maybe the state should back off a little bit and decide that maybe we shouldn’t be involved at all in marriage.”
On federal spending, Labrador said the nation’s debt must be addressed and that he’s open to cuts to all parts of government, including the military, entitlement programs like Medicare or Social Security – and even the Idaho National Laboratory, the major employer in southeastern Idaho.
“I absolutely am willing to touch everything across the board,” Labrador said. “What has ruined nations in the past has not been military conquest, it has been their inability to actually pay for government.”
Ringo said she favors a combination of careful cuts along with closing tax loopholes and other moves to increase revenue. She also supports programs that would boost pay and employment to generate more revenue overall. When asked specifically where she’d be willing to cut, Ringo pointed to military spending, and noted its rise since the Iraq war.
“His approach is just slash across the board indiscriminately regardless of who would be hurt by those cuts,” she said
Labrador also supports closing tax loopholes but said the revenue should be used to lower taxes.
“She wasn’t willing to mention a single thing that she would cut except for the military – so the one thing that the Constitution provides for,” Labrador said. “She talks about tax reform which in her lingo actually means tax increases.”
Ringo called for raising the minimum wage – Idaho is still at the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
“Now that is not an amount of money that anybody can support a family on, that anybody can live on, and to me that makes it immoral,” she said.
Labrador opposes increases to the minimum wage.
“What we need to do is actually give people the opportunity to get better jobs,” Labrador said. “We can raise that minimum wage all that we want,” but if workers don’t move up to better jobs they’ll never be able to support their families.
Labrador said he’s helped bring about big changes to Washington, D.C.
“In the last four years we have spent less money, we have actually brought the unemployment rate down,” he said. “And we have done the things that we needed to do to make sure that Washington, D.C., becomes a place where we can work. There’s much more to be done, and that’s why I want to go back.”
Ringo said Congress should reform immigration and invest more in Head Start, college grants and road and bridge infrastructure.
“We need to invest in people and help them prosper,” Ringo said. “Congressman Labrador is not willing to make those investments.”
The debate between Idaho State Treasurer Ron Crane and challenger Deborah Silver, which was supposed to air live on Idaho Public TV Thursday night, has been rescheduled because Crane lost his voice. It’s now set to air next Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
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