PHOENIX — Congressional candidates Debbie Lesko and Hiral Tipirneni faced off in their first televised debate Sunday, locking horns on issues ranging from immigration to health care to tax reform.
Lesko, a Republican, was the first to speak. She introduced herself to viewers by highlighting her bipartisan record in the state legislature.
“I have a long history — 20 years — of being involved in the West Valley, and I have a strong track record of working with both Republicans and Democrats to get things done,” she said.
Tipirneni, a Democrat, meanwhile, painted herself as an outsider who can fix the problems facing Washington, D.C.
Both candidates were asked — in different ways — about their support (or lack thereof) for President Donald Trump. Lesko told the host that, while she doesn’t agree with everything that the president does or says, “our economy is doing good” and “consumers are very confident” under the new administration.
“I do think he’s followed through on his promises to the American people and he’s doing a good job,” Lesko said.
One of the promises she cited was the tax reform package that the president signed into law in 2017.
“A lot of our businesses have given raises to their employees, and I think that’s a really good thing,” Lesko said, adding that “businesses are booming” across Arizona as a result.
Tipirneni called the tax reform package “a Trojan horse” and disagreed with Lesko’s assessment that middle-class families benefited from the resulting tax relief and pay increases.
“If you have $1,200 back a year, that’s about $100 a month — and, with the increase in premiums and child care costs that most middle-class families are struggling with, that’s not going to cover anything.”
Many observers criticized Tipirneni’s dismissive claim — that $1,200 is “not going to cover anything” for families — as out-of-touch, citing her family’s significant wealth. The Democrat’s mountainside home, estimated to be worth more than $1 million, is outfitted with solar panels, a swimming pool, and a personal tennis court.
Others compared the gaffe to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s characterization of workers’ $1,000-plus tax-reform bonuses as “crumbs.”
Asked whether she is a progressive Democrat or a moderate Democrat, Tipirneni responded that she is the latter. She described her position on immigration as being close to that of Senator John McCain but doubled-down on her opposition to the construction of a border wall between the United State and Mexico. She has called a border wall “not the answer.”
“The wall — although the idea makes us feel safe — we know that it’s not legitimately going to make us any safer,” the Democrat said during Sunday’s debate.
Lesko also criticized Tipirneni’s health care proposal, which she characterized as “a Bernie Sanders Medicare-for-all plan that both sides said would cost enormous amounts of money.”
“More government bureaucracy — really radical,” Lesko concluded. “Not a fit for this district at all.”