TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - As part of our continuing commitment to our KGUN 9 On Your Side Project Red, White, and Blue, we are kicking off our coverage of the Congressional District 8 Special Election. We sat down with the four Republican candidates and asked them questions on the topics our viewers told us were the most important.
Here's what we learned about State Senator Frank Antenori:
Jennifer Waddell: Well, we're here today with Frank Antenori, one of the candidates in the Republican ace for congressional district eight. Frank, thanks for joining us today.
Frank Antenori: Thanks for having me.
JW: Glad to have you here. Well, let's just jump right into it. We want to learn a little bit more about you, a little bit more about your stance on the issues and going to feel some questions from our viewers. Let's start with you telling everyone a bit about yourself and why you're running for Congress.
FA: Well, I grew up in Pennsylvania, joined the military right after I graduated from high school. Spent twenty years in the army, most of those in the special forces. I served two and a half years in combat, most of that in the Middle East: Iraq, Afghanistan, Desert Storm. While in the military I met my wife Lesley who was also a paratrooper. We have two sons: Frank and Brody. We've been married now for 20 years. Just had our anniversary two weeks ago. When I retired from the military after 20 years I came here to Tucson for a job opportunity. I work with a major aerospace defense contractor here in town. I'm a program manager. I develop hybrid un-man ground vehicles, robots for the military. I've been there about eight years. I ran for the legislature in 2008. Got elected to the State House and then subsequently was elected to the State Senate in 2010. I've been serving the people of Southern Arizona for four years working hard to keep our state financial situation stable, and balancing budgets, and cutting spending, and reducing the size of government and keeping the government in check.
JW So why make a run for the U.S. House?
FA: Well because when I was elected for the Arizona Legislature we had a governor and a legislature at the time that had spent money that the people of the state just didn't have. We had a three billion dollar budget deficit and the mindset was we had to raise taxes, raise taxes, raise taxes to deal with the deficit and the people of Arizona said, "no". Our government has gotten too big. It had doubled in size practically in the last 10 years. And they said we wanted to keep it in check. So they sent guys like me, fiscal conservatives, up there that reduce the size of government, reduce spending and balance the budget without having to jack taxes up. And now we're facing the same critical financial situation from the United States. Where we've had a Congress, both Republican and Democrat, and presidents that have run the budget through the roof, have borrowed money, were borrowing money, fifty thousand dollars a second in this country to pay our bills. And it's to the point where we can't afford it anymore. And I want to go to Washington and deliver the same fiscal conservative message to D.C. that we deliver here in Arizona - That you can cut spending, you can reduce the size of government and you can balance the budget.
JW: Alright, a couple of things that set you apart from the other candidates.
FA: he biggest is experience. You know, everybody has got a resume. If you were going in for a job what you would look at, and you see okay these guys have this nice resume but oh this guy's got four years of job experience. You know none of these others have job experience, you know they claim little experience here, little experience there. But it's a whole different story in the legislative process and dealing with politics in the dynamics of the political environment. And you got to have somebody who has been on the ground a while, understands all the parliamentary parlor tricks that are played, the games that lobbyists play, the arm twisting that occurs in the political environment. And can deal with that, and represent the people of Arizona from day one.. Unlike previous elections where you have a two month period to get your feet on the ground to get your staff together. Whoever wins this election is sworn in right afterwards. They don't have time to learn. There's no learning curve. It's hit the ground running, ready to go, and I'm the only guy in this race with that experience. I've been doing it for four years. I've been very successful in the legislature and one of the most effective in the legislator on the senate majority whip right now. And I got in that position in less than three years, in the legislator. So I know how to operate in that environment and be successful. And I look forward to doing that for the people of Southern Arizona.
JW: When you think about the people of Southern Arizona and the issues that are most critical for us here, if you had to choose two, what would you say would be the most important?
FA: Number one of course is the economy. People want to work. And we've had an environment in this country that is purely anti-business. We've also had that issue here in Southern Arizona. We've got to get out of that mindset. We've got to understand that entrepreneurs create jobs. Government does not create jobs. The private sector creates jobs. Government gets in the way of creating jobs. By getting government out of the way, you can create jobs. We have to understand that simple concept. That's the number one issue. And we have to reduce government, reduce regulation, reduce taxes and make it profitable. And worthwhile to invest and grow business in this country again, particularly in Southern Arizona. The second thing of course, because of our proximity with the border and the fact that having been in the legislature and the issues that we've been dealing with the last four years, illegal immigration of border security are the next biggest issues. So economics and border security.
JW: If you get elected to this spot, to the district eight spot, what would be your priority? You don't have a whole lot of time to work with, but what would you do?
FA: "Whoever is going to get there is going to get there right in the middle of the federal budget cycle. They have to have the budget done by October first. You have to have somebody that understands how budgets are built, how budgets are negotiated and how budgets are passed. And again, the only guy in this race that has done that and has the experience is me. Last year I was on the Senate budget team. I was one of four Senators that helped craft the Arizona budget last year. I fundamentally, I will tell you, did not quite understand the process until I got involved and actually we had to build a budget. It is not as easy as people think. There's a lot of things that can be snuck in. A lot of things that people don't know to look for will get by them. And you got to have somebody who knows how to do that. When you get up there, whoever is up there in June, July, September, October - as they are working on that budget continuing resolutions since the U.S. Senate will likely not support a Republican budget out of the house, they have to make sure it is a budget that sustains those key areas of national security, and the main functions of government and doesn't continue to spend money we don't have. And we've got to have somebody who knows how to do that."
JW: Let's talk a little bit about border security. You mentioned that as being your second biggest priority before us. Do you have a plan that you think will secure our border?
FA: You know, I have endorsed the ROB Plan. The "Restore Our Border" plan named after Rob Krentz, the rancher that was murdered out in Cochise County. I've met with dozens of ranchers. I've been involved with border security for the last four years. Unlike some of my opponents who went down to the border for the first time ever during this campaign. I've been out there quite frequently, including after Rob Krentz's murder. Meeting with ranchers and hearing their concerns and understanding the key issues. If crafted a plan, an eighteen point plan that is pretty in depth and pretty articulate on what really needs to be done to bring that security to our border and whether it's bringing National Guard in temporary means until we can build the remainder of the border security fence. Beef up the number of border patrol agents. Forward station those border patrol agents down near the border so we got eyes and feet on every inch of that border to make sure anybody come across are apprehended. Once we have that border secure, then we can start working on the rest of the problem, which is dealing with illegal immigration.
JW: Speaking of, what would you do to reform change or otherwise update out current immigration laws?
FA: It's actually easier to break in the back door than it is to come in through the front door in this country and it's sad. My grandparents were all immigrants. They came to this country thought Italy. They came through Ellis Island and signed the guest book and then went out and tried to become Americans and assimilate into this great culture that we have. And we have to encourage that. But by creating a bureaucracy that costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time and discouraging people that want to come here legally from doing so and making it so easy for them to come here illegally, we're sending the wrong message. We've got to reform the current immigration system. We've got to slim it down to make it more efficient, do the background checks, do the health screenings, do the necessity to assess if they have a skill or job that this country needs and allow them to immigrate here. And do it without a lot of cost to the individual. I had an Air Force officer in my district who had married a German citizen, and it took him 10 thousand dollars and almost four years to get her, her citizenship and that's just ridiculous. So I think we need to expand our ports of entry, make it easier for people to come across but make sure we have a way to track everybody that comes across. Make sure they all come though the front door legally. They sign the guest book. And they don't break in the back door and raid the refrigerator. And that's been the biggest problem Americans have had. They don't mind immigrants. You know that's what built this country. What they don't like is people breaking the law and breaking into the country and taking advantage of all the blessings that we have.
JW: Let's shift gears a little bit and talk about education. Just a few questions. We want to start with the restrictions that were placed on the Mexican-American studies program within TUSD and the resulting stamp of this is over on that program. What's your position on how that went down and the ending of it?
FA: Well I voted for the bill that of course made the program that you call Mexican-American studies, but I would tell you it was not done in a history mindset, it done, from the evidence that we've seen, and I actually went over and toured Cholla High School while this was going on and saw a lot of it myself. And I don't think anyone minds in the context of normal history lessons, allowing kids in school to be taught about their heritage. You know when I grew up in Pennsylvania in history class, I learned a little bit about Italian heritage but I wasn't taught that the United States hates Italians. I wasn't taught that I was being oppressed by the United States, and I wasn't taught people should accommodate me by becoming bilingual to speak Italian or mandate the Italian studies we taught. When I was in high school, we were taught American history, we were taught world history, we were taught a little about our cultural history, but we were taught the Americans. We were told about the great things this country did. And the offerings this country had. Not the somewhat anti-American hateful stuff that was being taught in TUSD. And that's why I voted in the way with that program. And I like what the school board is doing now to bring the cultural aspects and the historical aspects in with that program into a regular history class, rather than a separate segregated, and again, segregated classroom, where Hispanic kids were separated. And taught a separate sort of history lesson that was somewhat, in some ways was wrong, so I'm glad that program is gone.
JW: We have a viewer question. This is from Sally Chandler, Sally says "I'm sick and tired of our children graduating from high school without knowing basic skills. No Child Left Behind, if anything, has made things worse. Do you have plans for changing this and how would you pay for it?
FA: I think you're seeing a movement. To reel in and limit the federal involvement in the education system. No Child Left Behind has been a failure. It's a mandate on the state of Arizona that has costing us a lot of money and having little results. The federal government should not be in the education business. We spend somewhere upwards from $62 billion a year on The Department of Education. There are five thousand bureaucrats in Washington D.C. that are in that department. Imagine what we could do if we took that money, that $62 billion, and leave it here in Arizona and put that money directly into the classrooms. I think it would be far better to allow local school districts and governments to do the education policy in this country. We have fifty states that do things differently, fifty petri dishes where we can experiment. Florida has done some remarkable things. Arizona for school choice has done some remarkable things, Texas. I think that's the spirit of the United States and those systems that our founders set up. Federalism was really meant to be. And the federal government taking over the education system, when it was started back in 1980 after Jimmy Carter got it passed by Congress. It was supposed to improve student achievement. And it has done the opposite. Our student achievement declined. And instead we're spending $62 billion a year for sub-par result. We might as well say, look, cut our losses, eliminate The Department of Education. Rebate that money back to the states. And allow the states to put that money in the classroom with our kids. I think that's the best way to deal with it.
JW: One more question for you on the education topic. As I'm sure you're well aware, there have been four suicides in Tucson, just this school year. Not within TUSD in particular, but in the city of Tucson. Those suicides were a result of bullying. How do you feel about the problem of bullying and what do you think should be done about it?
FA: You know, it's a problem. I mean, you know when I was in school everyone dealt with bullies. I think the dynamic has changed a little bit now. Again, these issues are best dealt with locally by parents. By the school board, you know by churches and what not. Teaching kids how to deal with bullies is probably something that needs to be done. It's also an issue of the teachers being involved and understanding their kids and the parents knowing and understanding their kids. But I don't think government needs to start dictating down from the federal level of how to deal with the problem like that. I think again, it's best on a local level. Tailored to the specific needs of the community and the school district or the kids that are involved, and not some bureaucrat 2000 miles away coming up with another expensive program that may not have the results that everyone wants. And takes those resources away that could be best used locally to deal with the problem.
JW: Let's talk a little bit about the economy. Your number one issue for Southern Arizona, if you had to list maybe three things that you think would jump start the economy or get it back to where it should be?
FA: When I got elected to the Arizona Legislature, we put a moratorium on rule and regulatory making. And it's worked rather well. A lot of the problems you have with these large federal agencies, is they get in this mindset that they have to create regulations to justify their existence. And what that does for businesses is it keeps moving the goal post. And you have businesses spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to comply with regulations and write reports that really no body even reads in any case. We've got to do something about the regulation. That compliance tax to comply with those regulations is an unbelievable burden on business. We have to reel those regulations back. The next thing we have to do is reduce the corporate income tax. We now have the highest corporate tax in the world. Japan actually cut their corporate taxes to try and get their economy going. We have to do the same. And we have to provide an incentive for businesses to invest. Right now businesses are afraid. They don't know what the future holds. They're worried about Obamacare, they're worried about more tax increases. They are worried about all these changes the government wants to make. And instead of investing their money and putting it at risk by doing so, they would rather hold on to it. And that is causing stagnation. And it's not creating jobs. We have got to encourage investment by eliminating the R and D taxes that people pay when they try to do research and development and expanding their business. We should encourage business expansion. We should encourage research and development in technology. That's what creates high tech jobs, high wage jobs. And we're doing the exact opposite. We're making it so difficult for companies to do that, that many of them are leaving and going overseas. And we have to reverse that trend or our country will not be able to survive economically.
JW: You mentioned Obamacare. Let's talk a little bit about healthcare now. How would you reform our healthcare system? What do you think we should do?
FA: I believe in free market. And you know look at your home insurance, your car insurance, your life insurance. There's government protection in there for consumer protection issues, but for the most part it's a free market. Insurance companies compete. You don't see a lot of healthcare insurance commercials on t.v. You see a lot of car insurance commercials all the time. "Oh our rates are better than their rates, oh, come to us, we'll show you our competitors rates, oh, come to us, we offer all these extra coverage bundle, we do this" and that's what we need with healthcare. We need to allow the insurance companies out there to offer different types of plans for different types of people. Large families might need a different plan than a single person. We need to allow across state lines competition where people in Arizona can buy insurance in North Dakota or South Carolina. And when you move from job to job to job, your insurance goes with you. So every time you move to a different state you don't have to get new health insurance. So that's some of the stuff we can do. We can do that to create competition and drive down costs. The other thing we have to do is put consumerism back in the healthcare decision. I have HSA, it is the most liberating thing you can ever imagine. Walking into a doctors office and they ask you for all this insurance stuff and you go "no", and you pull out your HSA credit card and say, "I'm paying with cash". I have a high deductible insurance and I have Tri-Care, if something terrible were to happen to me. But for all the routine medical visits, we use a credit card, my family and I. We just go in there. We don't have to get consults, referrals, we can just walk in and get our service. And while doing that I can say I want certain things and I'm willing to pay for this, but certain things I'm not willing to pay for because up until a certain point it's coming out of my pocket. So that allows me to create competition and I look for doctors that provide a service cheaper than other doctors or better than other doctors and it puts that consumerism back in. We don't have that now. People go in, they have a low deductible, or in some cases, no deductible at all and they just go in and let doctors run all these tests, they get all these extra procedures. They get all these extra things done, jacks up costs. Once you get the consumerism back in and people shop for health insurance, and use shopping for their healthcare like they do when buying a car and their car insurance, I think you'll see a dramatic decrease in the cost.
JW: Your position on the bill that's in our Legislature here in Arizona, that would allow employers to opt out of the birth control coverage based on specific reasons. Talk to us about that.
FA: That is being twisted by certain groups. This is a freedom issue. Government's role is to draw a line between your liberty and someone else's. As Thomas Jefferson says, "Your liberty ends where the other guys nose begins". You have two competing issues here. An employer who pays a significant amount of money for healthcare for his employees and he has a moral objection to certain things. Should the government force him to take money out of his pocket to do something he doesn't believe in? On the other side you have people who think they are entitled to certain health coverage. And do think the government should say okay you have this entitlement. That is the dilemma. I would tend to say that look, if an employer doesn't even want health insurance, I don't think the government should make him offer health insurance. If he wants to offer health insurance as an incentive to hire people to come and work for his business that's one thing. But to mandate them to do that, I think is wrong. That is not government's role. It should be up to the employer. If he wants to offer certain types of coverage, certain levels of coverage, certain categories of coverage, it should be up to the guy that's paying the bill for that coverage.
JW: The president's plan to take our troops out of Afghanistan by 2014. Obviously you have a lot of experience in our combat zone."
FA: I spent a lot of time in Afghanistan.
JW: So what do you think about one the announcement of the timeline and two about the plan to do it?
FA: Well, a little history here. I was involved in Afghanistan back in the 80s, during, what is now known as Charlie Wilson's war, I was part of the American advisors that were over there, training the Muja Hardin to fight the Soviet Union, and if you saw the movie Charlie Wilson, at the end there was this nice little quote about how they screwed up the end game by pulling out and not being there to create the stability, and anarchy ensued, the Taliban took control, they then brought in al-Qaeda, and they gave them safe harbor and then they launched attacks on the United States that killed 3,000 Americans. We have to be careful how our exit strategy is put into effect here. I'm all for pulling our troops out, as long as it doesn't create another unstable environment where the ISI from Pakistan can come back in, bring the Taliban back in and allow them once again to build bases of operations where they can export terror to the rest of the world. We can not allow that to happen. But I don't have any heartburn if the commanders on the ground and the military strategists have a plan and they say 'This is our plan for transitioning Afghanistan, and making sure it's stable and there aren't conditions that are going to allow the Taliban or al-Qaeda to come back in there. And then I would support it. But just to yank troops out with some artificial timeline, I think it's a mistake.
JW: Alright, now to some of our viewer questions. And we have several. A few questions regarding the budget. So, here we go. John Gorman, one of our viewers wants to know, "Would you have voted for the budget proposal that passed the House a little more than a week ago now, that would be the Ryan budget and how would you balance the budget?"
FA: I would have supported the Ryan budget. The Ryan budget is not as dramatic and as some people say 'radical.' They're trying to paint it as a radical budget. Again, what I think is radical is stealing from our children's and our grandchildren's future at $50,000 a second, that is radical. Borrowing that kind of money. Paul Ryan, in the budget that he proposed, would take 20 years to balance the budget. Twenty years. It isn't that big dramatic reduction in spending. In Arizona, we reduce spending 22% in three years. Paul Ryan's budget's about 2%. I don't think it's really that much to ask the government of this country to scale back its size by two percent and reduce its spending. It's a reasonable thing. It also has a scaled back simplification of the tax code component, where they create two tax brackets, which I also think is a good thing. Everybody that benefits from the liberty that this country provides, should be a shareholder in this country and everyone should pay taxes, based on a percentage of their income. And I think going to a flat-tax or even as Paul Ryan is trying to do, simplify the tax code, is the direction we need to go to. A low, broad tax, is the best thing for our country. Now this progressive tax code that pits winners and losers and producers versus consumers and I think it's wrong. I don't think the founding fathers ever intended that and that's why they put in our original Constitution a prohibition to the income tax because they saw what would likely be what we have today, and they didn't like that idea. And I think we need to go back to simplifying our tax code and Paul Ryan is going in the right direction. He is trying to put this country on the road to prosperity. It is clear that the President of the United States and the budget that he proposed, which no one in either party supported, was going to put this country on the road to ruin. And I would much rather be on the road to prosperity than the road to ruin.
JW: Alright. Richard Snow, another one of our viewers wants to know, "Are you in favor of bringing much needed federal funds for bridges and roads to Southern Arizona?"
FA: We pay a lot of money on the gasoline tax and you know 18 cents of every tank that fill up goes to the federal government. Another 18 cents goes to the state. I think that the federal government needs to re-look at its transportation funding formula for the interstate systems in this country. They've been divvying it up based on population, they should do it by road miles. Arizona has a lot of roads, except we have a small population, so we unfortunately aren't receiving in my opinion, a fair portion of those highway dollars to maintain miles and miles of roads that we have to maintain even though our population is small. A lot of people drive through Arizona from California going east and vice versa going to California and we should have a more fair system of disbursement of those funds, so yeah, I would support to try to ensure that we get transportation infrastructure funding so that Arizona is on par with the rest of the country.
JW: Alright, Donald Wooley says, "Would you be in favor of modifying the current medical, retirement and related benefit packages received by Congressional members and their staff and replacing those with Social Security and Health Care packages that are similar to those provided by small private employers?"
FA: Sure, I mean, you know, putting the members of Congress into the same boat as everyone else is a great idea. Here in Arizona, we have a citizen's legislature, and the reason they have that is so when I leave phoenix and I go back to work at my day job and I have to work with the constituents that I've represented for the past four months, they let me know if I did something right or did something wrong. I have to work in the environment that I created. I have work with people that have been impacted by the decisions I've made and I think it's a very effective tool to make sure I stay grounded when I go back to Phoenix in the next session. By putting Congress on the same par as everyone else, there's tons of Health Care plans, they don't need a special Health Care plan, they can get a health insurance plan, they can get a HSA like I have. And they can get a 401K. I think we should do away with it all together, and allow them to put a portion into a 401K like a lot of businesses offer today and get the government out of the pension business and out of the Health Care business all together and I would support it 100%.
JW:. On to politics now. Virginia Cornell says, "Citizens are tired of partisan gridlock in Washington. What will you do to work with your opponents to get laws and appointments passed?"
FA: Well, there's this perception created, and in some part by the media, that you know partisanship is bad. And in many cases, it's not. If you look at what we had here in Arizona. We had a bi-partisan budget in 2007 and a bi-partisan budget in 2008, signed by a governor that was a democrat and you had a republican legislature and it was both republican and democrat votes and then eventually the democratic governor that signed that budget got us a $3 million hole in our budget. We had bi-partisanship in Washington, both republicans and democrats, spending money that this country could not afford and look what it's gotten us now. Almost a $16 trillion debt. We have got to get people up there of either party, that are fiscally conservative and can curtail and contain the spending and if it means getting all republicans up there or fiscally conservative democrats, I don't mind working with fiscally conservative democrats. I've worked with democrats in the legislature on a whole variety of bills. There are things we agree on, and then there are things that we disagree on and those fundamental differences are what make this country so great, I guess you could say, because we work those differences out through the electoral process. So, if you get enough fiscal conservatives up there, we can get a budget passed, we can break this gridlock by winning elections and getting people up there that want to save this country financially, and want to balance the budget and want to cut spending.
JW: Alright, last question is from Roger Score, he says, "This election is to represent Southern Arizona. How well connected are you with current mayors, sheriffs and the state legislature?
FA: Well, I know them all. There are some I know better and have relationships better than others. Again, the political dynamic in Southern Arizona is very unique. I have a lot of support from my colleagues in the state legislature for this run. I'm looking forward to unifying local, county, state and federal offices where we can all work together as one big team. And fighting for Arizona at every level is something that I look forward to. We really haven't had that over the last couple of years. It would be nice to have someone in Washington that would work with our state officials, work with our county guys and work with our local guys to do good things for the people of Southern Arizona. And I know them well. The mayor's in my district as well as the sheriffs and I've talked to several of them and some of them and I have had spirited discussions but that's the beauty of the system. But I look forward to working with all of them and representing them well and again representing Southern Arizona as an elected team.