Immigration, abortion take center stage in 4th Congressional District GOP debate

Kalena Bruce calls for more migrant workers, path to immigration while foes oppose relaxing rules for entry, deportation of undocumented

By: - July 15, 2022 8:28 am

Candidates in the 4th Congressional District debate July 14 at KMOS studios in Warrensburg. From left, they are Mark Alford, state Sen. Rick Brattin, Kalena Bruce and Taylor Burks. (Screenshot from broadcast)

Migrants seeking entry into the United States need easier access to temporary work permits, and long-term residents need a path to citizenship, Stockton farmer Kalena Bruce said Thursday in 4th Congressional District Republican debate.

Bruce, who said farmers and ranchers need a dependable labor force, also called for greater controls at the border. But her position set her apart from the three other GOP hopefuls on stage in Warrensburg.

Bruce is one of seven candidates in the Aug. 2 Republican primary for the nomination to replace U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler. The seat is open because Hartzler is running in the primary for U.S. Senate.

The 4th District runs from central Missouri west to the Kansas border along and mainly south of the Missouri River.

The debate was sponsored by the Missouri Times and KMBC and broadcast from KMOS, the PBS station in Warrensburg. It will be rebroadcast at 11:30 a.m. Sunday on KCPT in Kansas City.

Along with Bruce, the candidates participating were state Sen. Rick Brattin of Harrisonville, former Boone County Clerk Taylor Burks and retired Kansas City anchorman Mark Alford.

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Bruce made her remarks about immigration when KWOS radio host Austin Petersen asked whether additional migrant workers would help solve both labor shortage and inflation problems.

The problem, Bruce said, is inaction because “immigration reform has been kicked down the road by Congress after Congress.”

With labor shortages both in farming and other sectors, the key is regulated entry, she said.

“We need an H2A and H2B program that has less red tape,” Bruce said. “We need folks that have been in our country for generations, they need a path to citizenship, but at the end of the day, we have to close the borders.”

Others on the stage were adamant that nothing be done to increase immigration.

Brattin blamed inflation on federal deficit spending.

“I hardly think an influx and a pouring of illegal immigrants into our country is the answer,” he said.

Burks also said he supports securing the border and agreed with Brattin that deficit spending was the problem. But he laid down a challenge to Brattin and Bruce when he said he was the “only candidate who hadn’t taken federal handouts” during the COVID pandemic.

Brattin’s company, Brattin Construction, received a $9,330 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the federal government. Bruce’s accounting firm, Integrity Squared in Bolivar, received a PPP loan of $40,400.

“People can talk a big game while they’re standing up here or in Jefferson City or in front of cameras,” Burks said. “We need people who have proven that they will fight for the things that we care about.”

Bruce bristled at the idea she took a “handout.”

“It kept small businesses afloat,” she said. “It kept those employees at work, and I think that that program was essential.”

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Alford stayed out of the fray, and said the only way to understand the issues along the border is to go there. He called for restarting construction of the border wall started under President Donald Trump.

“We must deport illegal aliens,” Alford said. “And no, we have enough jobs here in America for Americans to fill.”

The hour-long debate hit on several other topics, including which candidate in the hotly contested Senate primary they would support. Alford and Brattin deferred, saying they were focused on their own primary.

Bruce gave a whole-hearted endorsement to Hartzler, who is leading polls along with Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and former Gov. Eric Greitens.

“We need somebody who understands farming, ranching and the rural way of life,” she said.

Burks, who was appointed by Greitens to serve as Boone County Clerk in 2017, said he had not decided between Hartzler and Schmitt and lamented that the trio of frontrunners had not debated.

The story of a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio who had to travel to Indiana for an abortion wasn’t mentioned, but it did provide the backdrop for a question of whether Congress should penalize people who cross state lines to obtain abortions.

In June, the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade decision recognizing the right to an abortion. In Missouri, abortion became illegal a few minutes after the ruling was announced.

Brattin, who said he tried to get a bill passed allowing lawsuits against anyone helping a woman obtain an abortion that was illegal in Missouri, said he would “absolutely” support a bill to make it a federal crime for a doctor to provide an abortion to someone from another state.

Bruce said she would support such a law, while Alford said he could not take a stand until he knew the particulars.

Burks said the goal of overturning Roe v Wade was to get decision-making on abortion back into the hands of elected state officials.

“The federal government has no role in regulating who crosses state lines, issues like that,” he said.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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