Five Republican candidates for Oklahoma’s First Congressional District spoke on a range of topics Thursday evening during a forum at Arvest Bank’s Bartlesville East Side Branch, covering concerning items such as immigration reform and the Affordable Care Act.


The forum was sponsored by the Washington County Republican Party and moderated by Charlie Taraboletti of Bartlesville Radio and the Examiner-Enterprise’s Nathan Thompson. Parts of Osage County are included in the First Congressional District.


The Republican candidates included Tim Harris of Tulsa, Kevin Hern of Tulsa, Danny Stockstill of Tulsa, Nathan Dahm of Broken Arrow and Andy Coleman of Owasso. Five Republicans and five Democrats are vying to fill the seat of U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., who is not running for re-election. Bridenstine was confirmed Thursday as the next NASA Administrator under the Trump Administration.


Immigration reform


Making changes to America’s immigration system and policy is a top concern for the five Republican candidates.


Stockstill said societal change needs to happen in the heart of the American people in order to fix illegal immigration.


“Currently, there is a huge demand for illegal immigrants. You could say there’s not, but they are getting jobs when they come to the United States,” Stockstill said. “A wall is not going to fix that. A moat around our entire country is not going to fix that, until we as Americans stand up and make the decision that we are going to protect our country and take a stand for who we are hiring, who we are employing in our country, there will always be a demand.”


Harris disagreed, saying that the United States must have a wall on the southern border and put massive reform into place to curb immigration problems, including a requirement for immigrants to speak English.


“Whether it’s a bricks a mortar wall, or a fence, or drones, or more border security — we have to secure the southern border,” Harris said. “We need a merit-based system where we look at the people that are coming in. Do you speak English? What is your educational background? What kind of job do you want to work? Education is very important.”


Dahm also agreed that the southern border must be secured, but American welfare reform must also take place.


“The one true thing that I think will have substantial long-term immigration effects… is welfare reform,” Dahm said. “We have people who are coming into this country illegally that then are on SNAP benefits, TANF benefits, they are getting food stamps, Medicaid. They are getting these benefits paid in cash. If we eliminate that incentive, tighten up those restrictions, if we make it where they cannot get those, it would be harder for them to come here illegally.”


Hern said the best thing America can do is build the wall, where we can.


“I’ve talked to the Border Patrol, I’ve talked to people who live down there and know many business people who live along the border. It’s really devastating along the cities where people can walk across the line and be hidden and gone in those cities,” Hern said. “The open space is a bit different because we can monitor that with drones.”


Coleman said there is not an easy answer to immigration because it is a comprehensive problem.


“If there was only one thing I could do, I would change the welfare system that rewards and incentivises people to come here illegally and benefit tremendously. You do that, and you cut out a big part of the problem,” Coleman said. “But this is a comprehensive problem, and it requires a comprehensive solution in that we also have to police our border, have that wall — that physical barrier to prevent people from being carted over deserts with predatory people.”


Affordable Care Act


While many in Congress have been elected to reform or repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act, legislators have been unable to proceed with plans, except for the repeal of the individual mandate.


Coleman said it’s time for a free-market approach to get the federal government out of healthcare.


“Obamacare really has hurt a lot of Oklahoma families,” Coleman said. “It’s hurt a lot of American families. The wheels are coming off. What I want to do is strip away every ounce of government possible between a patient and a provider.”


Stockstill said the Affordable Care Act has nothing to do with healthcare, it has everything to do with insurance and it needs to be repealed.


“I would like to see more transparency, more visibility on (medical) billing and then we can attack the idea of insurance versus healthcare from there,” Stockstill said.


Harris would like to see more competition for healthcare plans via interstate commerce and private purchasing co-ops.


“If we allow the free market that the (Constitutional) framers appreciated so much to run with this, it will lower the cost,” Harris said. “Secondly, we have to rein in Medicaid. Originally it was for the elderly and the unwed mothers. We have now expanded that so that it’s the tripartite leg of what could possibly bring us down. We cannot have the abuse in Medicaid that we have.”


Dahm said government needs to be out of the healthcare business, period.


“Government is interfering way too much in our personal affairs,” Dahm said. “We need to get government out of the medical sphere and return it to the private sector.”


Hern said he wants to adopt a plan from 2007 that former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., supported.


“Under the plan, you would be able to put as much money into your healthcare as you want when you are young and use it when you are older,” Kern said. “There would be no cap and you could let it grow so that you can use it and have a free market approach.”