At a debate in Las Cruces between the two major-party candidates for U.S. Senate on Wednesday, Democrat Martin Heinrich criticized Republican Heather Wilson for her opposition to an anti-bullying bill, while Wilson used an unusual source to attack Heinrich's position on the coal industry -- President Barack Obama.
This was the second debate between the the two, who are running to replace 30-year Senate veteran Jeff Bingaman, who decided not to seek re-election.
The discussion about bullying came up during a question about legalizing same-sex marriage. Wilson said she's opposed. "I believe marriage is the union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and I will stand up and defend that in the United States Senate."
Heinrich responded that he believes same-sex marriage should be legal. "I believe in the eyes of the Constitution and in the eyes of the government everyone has equal rights." Heinrich said he was proud to have voted for the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" law, an action that allowed gay people to serve openly in the military.
Then he brought up a statement by Wilson during the Republican primary earlier this year in a debate with her GOP opponent, Greg Sowards. At that debate, Wilson spoke against Senate Bill 555, which was introduced in 2011 by Al Franken, D-Minn. Heinrich said the bill, called the "Student Non-Discrimination Act," is aimed at "the epidemic of teasing" that has led to the suicides of teens who are gay or accused of being gay by other students.
Franken's bill would prohibit bullying in public schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
On a video of the Sowards debate, which is posted on YouTube, Wilson said, "It basically makes federal funding dependent on school board policies that will not tolerate bullying of people based on their sexual orientation or, you know, even when kids are below puberty. ... That particular act is so broad it would actually punish children and say that it's prohibited to express an opinion with respect to homosexuality in the schools. I just think that's wrong and it's a violation of the First Amendment."
Proponents of the bill say it would not create any new criminal offense and that it's modeled on existing civil rights laws that outlaw discrimination based on race, gender, religion, disabilities and other factors.
At Wednesday's debate, Wilson defended her position. She said she's against cutting funds for schools where bullying exists. "I think it's much better to handle it here locally," she said. "Like you, I'm a parent and we've had to deal with issues in schools. We don't want to have to turn to Washington to solve those problems."
Earlier in the debate, Wilson agreed with Obama for stating his support of the coal industry in the Tuesday presidential debate: "He said we now have clean-coal technology, and it should be part of out future energy mix. I agree with him. We've got a 300-year supply of coal in this country." Then she asked, "Do you still disagree with President Obama and myself and think that coal is a 'fuel of the past?' "
Heinrich answered that both his father and grandfather were miners and said, "It's good, hard, honest work." But he said, "When it comes to policy, I'm going to be looking at polices that create the most jobs in the future." He said that today, there are five times as many people working directly in renewable energy than those working for the coal industry.
Actually, the correct number is closer to four times as many people employed in renewal energy compared with coal. According to a 2011 Green Jobs Report by the state Department of Workforce Solutions, there were 5,410 people employed in renewable energy in the state. A 2010 report by the federal Energy Information Administration says 1,269 people were employed by the coal industry in the state.
Heinrich and Wilson will debate again Sunday, Oct. 21, in Albuquerque.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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