LORAIN — Republican congressional candidate Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, better known as “Joe the Plumber,” made a rare public appearance with his opponent, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, on Wednesday at the candidate night put on by the Coalition for Hispanic/Latino Issues and Progress.
Wurzelbacher skipped a debate with Kaptur, D-Toledo, last week at the Cleveland City Club and said in an interview before the CHIP event that he never received a call from the City Club inviting him to the debate. A City Club spokesman has said Wurzelbacher never responded to multiple attempts to get in touch with him.
Wurzelbacher also has largely avoided the media and said he prefers to go door-to-door to meet with voters in person. He said he wants to avoid being misunderstood or misquoted by reporters.
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He said voters know him as someone who speaks his mind.
“I haven’t sold out. I haven’t been bought,” Wurzelbacher said before the debate. “And if I do get elected, I’ll be the most honest candidate they’ve had.”
The first question the two candidates were asked was whether or not Puerto Rico should become a state.
Wurzelbacher said he would welcome Puerto Rico as a state if that’s the consensus of the residents there, but only if it wasn’t part of a political agenda by Republicans or Democrats.
“I want them to understand that, you know, coming into the American (system) they’ve got to follow, you know, our Constitution, the rules, laws that we live by and have the patriotism and love of country that each and everyone of us feels,” he said.
Kaptur scored points with the audience at St. Joseph Community Center with her response.
“Puerto Ricans are already Americans,” she said before she was cut off by applause. “… The preference would be for the people of Puerto Rico to decide their own status, so I am neutral on that. I believe in their self-determination.”
Kaptur also said she is a sponsor of a new version of the DREAM Act, which opens a path toward permanent residency and even citizenship for illegal immigrants under certain circumstances. Kaptur previously voted against what she later called a compromise version of the DREAM ACT that she argued didn’t truly deal with the issue because she said she wants comprehensive immigration reform.
In order for the nation to fix what she called its broken immigration system, Kaptur said the United States needs to re-examine trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement to better protect workers from being exploited.
“I really believe that to solve the immigration problem is going to require the renegotiation of NAFTA so that the workers of this continent are treated like human beings,” Kaptur said.
Wurzelbacher, who was famously recorded earlier this year saying in Arizona that he wanted to put up a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border and shoot those trying to cross, said he worries about the dangers of children crossing the dangerous deserts along the drug-cartel-infested border and complained about the cost of illegal immigrants on the American system.
“Anything that incentivizes illegal transfer over borders is just a bad idea,” he said. “The American taxpayers suffer for it and our whole point here is to make sure that you guys have the opportunity to succeed in this country.”
Before the debate, Wurzelbacher said his comments about shooting people crossing the border weren’t seen for what they truly were.
“When I said put up a fence and start shooting, part of it was a joke and part of it was serious,” he said.
Wurzelbacher pointed to the security surrounding American military bases as an example of what a fence and armed guards would accomplish. People wouldn’t try to climb a fence where they thought someone might shoot them, which is what would happen at a military base, he said.
Throughout the debate, Wurzelbacher talked up his service in the U.S. Air Force and his love of his country and family. He also promised that he would ignore the partisan divide that has led to gridlock in Washington.
“I believe in working from right and wrong, not right and left,” he said.
Kaptur said she’s done her best to bring money back to her district during her time in Washington and has worked to create jobs. She said the seemingly never-ending political campaigns have led to a partisan culture in which working across the aisle is punished, but she added that she tries to bridge the gap whenever possible.
“What I do personally is I try to find Republicans that I can work with on issues before the country,” she said.
Wurzelbacher said after the debate that he intends to square off against Kaptur next week during a televised debate in Toledo.
Wurzelbacher was the only Republican congressional candidate vying to represent Lorain County who showed up at Wednesday’s event. Incumbent congressmen Bob Gibbs and Jim Jordan were absent, allowing the respective Democratic challengers, Joyce Healy-Abrams and Jim Slone to have the stage to themselves.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.