Five of the declared Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison met in Waco on Saturday night for a wide-ranging forum notable for the absence of the frontrunner, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
The forum, held after a day of seminars and training for political activists hosted by the Waco Tea Party, was held in front of more than 100 Tea Party members at the Waco Hilton convention center.
On the issues, the candidates, from well-funded former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz to less probable aspirants like former Air Force Sgt. Andrew Castanuela, had much more in common than not. All supported sending more federal agents and troops to secure the Mexican border, repealing “Obamacare,” defunding many federal agencies, reforming entitlement programs and protecting the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Below is a short synopsis of each of the candidate's remarks at the forum.
Pittenger, a full-time caregiver from Hays County, who called herself a “constitutional conservative, pro-life Christian woman,” told the mostly older crowd that she wanted to be the only U.S. senator under the age of 40, and to help represent a younger generation as they face what she called “the largest debt in the history of the country."
On the subject of the Obama administration's controversial health care plan, Pittenger emphasized her experience as a caregiver and decried so-called "death panels" some believe the legislation calls for.
“We know that this administration got into office via ‘Yes, we can,” she said. “What we found out after Obamacare was that they were finishing the statement with, ‘pull the plug!’”
Pittenger said she had signed Jim DeMint’s "Cut, Cap, and Balance" pledge, and said she wanted to dramatically roll back the power of the federal government.
“I believe in repealing most of the agencies that we currently have,” she said. “If we get them back to what they’re actually supposed to be doing, which is defense and immigration, then our budget would be dramatically cut."
When the subject turned to the health of the economy, Pittenger said the key to recovery was the elimination of the federal government’s regulatory power.
When asked — as all the candidates were — if she would resign if involved in a sex scandal, she went even further.
"I'm not so worried about what you will think, I’m worried about the fact that I will have to answer to the Lord Jesus Christ for having humiliated myself," she said. “If I embarrass him, as well as my husband, I deserve a beating in addition to the recognition!”
Elizabeth Ames Jones
Ames Jones, the first chairwoman of the Railroad Commission, emphasized her reputation as an efficient administrator and family woman.
“After being a budget-cutter, a wife and a mother, and a staunch conservative, steeped in the principles of Texas culture,” she said, “I’m looking forward to the privilege of serving you in the Senate.”
On immigration, she said that “once we have some economic security, we must send more boots down to South Texas to secure the border.”
She said the solution to illegal immigration lies partly in guest worker programs, adding that previous programs had faced fierce criticism from unions.
“If a labor union is against something, I’m for it,” she said.
She generated applause when she lauded “Rick Perry, our next United States president” for balancing the budget in Texas.
When asked what she would do as Senator to create jobs, Ames Jones attacked federal regulations.
On national security, she said, “I don’t think America should be the world’s cop.”
Addison, a businessman from Magnolia, said he was running for Senate because he was gravely concerned about the country.
“I’m an independent Republican conservative who likes tea," Addison said. "What I don’t like is the elites telling me how to vote or what to think.”
Addison said he was against amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and he proposed amending the Posse Comitatus Act to allow the military to detain illegal immigrants within a mile of the border.
He said that labor provided by illegal immigrants wasn’t cheap, because their families drain resources from schools and hospitals.
When asked what he would do to create jobs, he called for lowering the corporate income tax, saying that “we have to retrain the American public that corporations are our friends. They're not demons.”
He said that he wanted to post an eviction notice on the United Nations building, adding that “that building is filled with people who hate America.”
The former Texas solicitor general attacked President Obama repeatedly, and was also the only one of his fellow candidates to criticize Dewhurst, the favored Republican in the race.
“Barack Obama is the most radical president this country has ever seen,” Cruz said.
Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, said he strongly opposes illegal immigration and would triple the size of the U.S. Border Patrol. “I categorically oppose amnesty, and I strongly support legal immigration,” he said.
Cruz said that Dewhurst's absence at the event was an affront to the Tea Party.
"There is an establishment incumbent candidate, who is a gazillionaire, in this race, who didnt see fit to join you," Cruz said. "He’s skipped every tea party forum so far. He's going to spend $20 million saturating the airwaves with ads that portray him as a mix of Ronald Reagan and the Marlboro Man."
"Virtually every major statewide conservative leader has endorsed my campaign," he added.
In his concluding statement, Cruz again took aim at Obama, calling him "an unmitigated socialist."
Castanuela, a former Air Force sergeant, said that his “campaign belonged to a higher power.” Running for Senate, he said, was what God wanted him to do.
“It’s going to get nasty, but I’m not here to play games,” he said. “I want to restore your faith back into our system of government."
He echoed other candidates' calls for more border police, but cautioned the attendees.
“You can't have immigration reform without a Hispanic at the table," he said, noting the millions of Texas Hispanic voters. "I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is.”
He said that he supported the balanced budget amendment, “as long as you cap spending,” and he attacked complacency among the political class in Washington.
He cited his experience with the Air Force health care fueled his disdain of "Obamacare," saying that the program was inefficient and low quality. Like the other candidates, Castanuela said he would make repealing the health care act a priority.