Three of the four major Republican gubernatorial candidates faced off Friday night in a debate hosted by the grassroots group, America Pack. Trump-endorsed Kari Lake, Matt Salmon, and Steve Gaynor participated. Karrin Taylor-Robson, after indicating she would attend, canceled.
Longtime radio talk show host Mike Broomhead emceed the event, which was set up by Valerie-Grosso Turley, the founder and head of America Pack. He asked the candidates about their position on the incomplete border wall. Both Lake and Salmon said they would finish the wall, saying the situation on the border has gotten so bad it constitutes an invasion which allows the state the constitutional authority to take action. Gaynor disagreed, saying due to the amount of federal land and Indian reservations along the border, he would instead recruit an army of volunteers to deal with illegal immigration, and make trespassing a felony.
Next, the candidates were asked what they would do regarding election integrity. Lake discussed a lawsuit she just filed against Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to stop the use of Dominion voting machines in the 2022 election. Gaynor declared that the governor can’t make laws. Salmon said he supported paper ballots and hand counting, but said it would be tough to get the legislature to pass laws implementing them.
The third question asked what the candidates would do if there was another public health emergency like COVID-19. Gaynor said he would have run drug trials in Arizona for ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. Salmon called Dr. Anthony Fauci “a damn fool” and said he should be in prison. Lake said it was unacceptable that Gov. Doug Ducey shut down churches and schools, and said drugs like ivermectin should be available over the counter so we don’t have to go around feeling like drug dealers just to get them. She said an Arizona sheriff should put an arrest warrant out for Fauci for keeping away treatments that would have saved lives.
Broomhead asked the candidates what to do about the surge in crime. Salmon said it wasn’t right for the federal government to come in and tell the Phoenix Police what to do, “We don’t have a national police force.” Lake said we need to fully fund the police and give them raises; there are waitresses — she used to be one — who make more than police officers. Gaynor said there needs to be legislation that stops counties and cities from defunding law enforcement.
The fifth question addressed Arizona’s poor educational scores. Lake said the voters need to get rid of lawmakers who supported COVID-19 restrictions and mandates that hurt children, and stated that Robson supported mask mandates at ASU as a regent. Gaynor said he would bring the free market to education. Salmon said his solution is local control and giving parents control.
Next, Broomhead asked the three about what distinguishes them from the other candidates. Gaynor said he is the best prepared because his career has been in business, including becoming a CEO. Salmon downplayed his political career, pointing out he worked 30 years in the private sector. Lake took a shot at Salmon, saying “it’s not the year for the political insider, recycled politician” and “I don’t have a lot of baggage from being a lobbyist.” She also took a jab at previous election losses by both Salmon and Gaynor (Salmon lost the governor’s race to Janet Napolitano in 2002 and Gaynor lost the Secretary of State’s race to Hobbs in 2018). “We can’t have people who already lost before.”
The next round of questions addressed criticisms of each candidate and allowed the candidates to respond to all of them. Broomhead brought up Salmon’s work for ASU’s Confucius Institute, due to its ties to China. There was loud booing from the crowd. However, Salmon surprised the crowd when he explained that he ended up deciding it was a bad program and asked the school to shut it down, which they did. Lake pointed out that he only discovered two years ago that CCP is bad, which is “disqualifying” and shows “bad judgment.”
Lake was asked to address criticism that she would send the National Guard to the border since the federal government owns much of the land. Lake said her border plan to create an interstate compact among the states would address the issue, and the materials to build the wall are just sitting there deserted by the federal government, so she would ask the Supreme Court to rule that the Constitution backs up the state taking action. Gaynor criticized Lake, saying the federal government has sovereignty over the border, not Arizona. Salmon agreed with Lake, “show the feds who’s boss.”
Gaynor was put on the hot seat over having businesses outside of Arizona since he has a large business in California. He explained that no one wanted to buy his business so he couldn’t move it to Arizona, and the other candidates didn’t have much to say other than Lake referring to California as a “zombie apocalypse.”
Salmon was asked another contentious question, why is running for governor this year any better than when he unsuccessfully ran 20 years ago. He explained that 2002 was a bad year for Republicans, but this year is different since “Biden awakened the sleeping giant.”
Lake was quizzed on her donation to Barack Obama several years ago before she entered politics, including walking door to door for him. She said the latter was a false rumor; if she had really walked door to door, it would have come out a long time before now. She asked if anyone in the audience had ever voted for a Democrat, and if so, raise their hand. Many people in the audience raised their hands and the crowd cheered. She said, “I’ll take your vote.”
Lake asked Broomhead if the candidates could address the questions that were to be asked to Robson, and the crowd roared. She said it was only fair since “We have the courage to be here.” However, the organizers decided to move on.
Gaynor was asked the self-funding of his campaign. He portrayed it as a good thing since he wouldn’t owe anyone back in return. “No goodies from Steve,” Gaynor said.
He added that 90% of the donations to Robson are from out of state, and they called some of her donors and discovered they didn’t even know who Robson was. Lake said one of the donors was an elderly woman who had no idea she’d even contributed. In contrast, the vast majority of Lake’s donors are first-time contributors.
The candidates concluded their remarks with key points of their platforms. Salmon said the Tenth Amendment was important to him; state and local action nullifying the federal government. Lake said we are in the 11th hour to save our state and country, and she has the name ID and relationship with the people of Arizona. Gaynor said all three candidates have very similar views, but he is the one fit for the job.
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