GOP candidates square off in Richland forum

The eight Republican candidates to replace Rep. Doc Hastings in Congress squared off for two hours Wednesday evening, in a forum as notable for what wasn't discussed as what was.

Candidates varied in their positions on gun control and veterans issues before the audience of about 300 at the Richland High School auditorium.

Gun control was recently raised in the campaign because of a gun giveaway that Eltopia farmer and former pro football player Clint Didier is sponsoring.

State Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, the only person now holding elected office of the 12 in the 4th District race, said she has worked to stop gun control expansion in the Legislature.

"Anyone can talk about expanding your Second Amendment rights," she said. "I've actually done it."

But Kennewick attorney George Cicotte took on some of the "far right" candidates who want no restrictions on gun sales, saying he favors background checks to keep mentally ill people from buying guns.

"I think all of you in this room would be happy if no one came in and started shooting us," he said.

Didier drew applause when telling the audience that he won Super Bowls playing for the Washington Redskins. He later called for reducing the Department of Veterans Affairs from 320,000 employees to 5,000, and allowing veterans to use a voucher system for health care.

"If you think the VA's bad, wait for Obamacare," he said. "The government has no place in health care."

Glen R. Stockwell of Ritzville used the veterans question to call for the impeachment of President Obama.

"He's an illegal alien and he's a fraud," said Stockwell, who has compared Obama to Adolf Hitler.

All candidates agreed that more needs to be done to investigate the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four American officials.

"We have people stationed around the world in very similar situations," said Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside, former state agriculture director. "We need to do everything we can do to make sure it never happens again."

Newhouse, Cicotte, Didier and Holmquist's campaigns received a boost Wednesday when the National Republican Congressional Committee put them on their "on the radar list." NRCC spokesman Tyler Houlton said that means they have shown they can put together winning campaigns.

But that didn't stop some of the other candidates from trying to make their names known.

Gavin Seim, an Ephrata artist, mocked Cicotte's "Contract with Eastern Washington" by saying his contract with voters is the Constitution.

"America is broken and our federal government exemplifies that in so many ways," he said.

Gordon Allen Pross, an organic farmer who lives near Ellensburg, mocked the idea of corporations being people when discussing election reform.

"When Texas executes one, I'll believe it," he said.

None of the candidates discussed the future of Hanford in their two minute opening or closing statements.

Only Kevin Midbust, a Richland retail worker, brought it up during the forum, while talking about his opposition to the Yakima River Basin Enhancement Project.

"The government's done so well with Hanford, why start another project?" he said.

A Hanford question was submitted to the moderator, state Sen. Mike Hewitt, but not asked.

"We just didn't have enough time," said Chuck Monasmith, Benton County Republican Party chairman.

Cicotte won a straw poll taken after the forum, with 126 people turning in paper ballots supporting him.

Holmquist and Newhouse tied for second with 33 votes each, followed by Didier with 30 votes.

The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 5 primary, no matter what their party, will face off in the November general election.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom