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The Great CD8 Debate

A not-quite liveblog of the Giffords-Bee forum on Saturday, Sept. 13

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7 p.m.: Moderator Christopher Conover introduces Democrat Gabrielle Giffords and Republican Tim Bee, who both get rousing applause from their fans in the audience.

Giffords explains she's a third-generation Arizonan, a product of public schools and a former business owner. She mentions her committee assignments (Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Science and Technology). She talks about challenges facing the nation: wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, record debt, rising prices for food and gasoline, and stagnant wages. She reaches out to the political middle by saying she's worked with Democrats, Republicans and independents on issues such as securing the border, fighting the proposed Rosemont mine in the Santa Rita Mountains and improving mental-health services for veterans.

"I am an optimist, and I am a fighter," Giffords says.

Bee says he's also a third-generation Arizonan. He talks about growing up on a small farm as the child of a public school teacher and a homemaker. He talks about how he started his own printing business until he was elected to the Arizona Senate. He ticks off his accomplishments: supporting public education, reducing taxes and securing the border. He boasts about "cleaning the place up" once he was elected Senate president, including his decision to fire some longtime staffers who were too close to lobbyists, and his efforts to work with Democrats.

7:06 p.m.: The candidates are asked about energy policy. Bee says the country is too reliant on foreign sources of oil: "We need to drill wherever there are resources here in our country." He also calls for alternative energy sources that are supported by the free market.

Giffords says the House of Representatives is ready to vote on a compromise energy bill that includes more offshore drilling and the development of alternative energy sources such as solar power. She busts on the Bush administration for selling out to big oil companies.

Bee says the Democrat-controlled Congress should have done something about energy a long time ago. He complains that Giffords voted in favor of taking a break rather than resolving the nation's energy crisis earlier this summer.

Giffords says that the House of Representatives has voted four times to pass energy reforms, but those efforts have been stalled in the Senate and do not have support from the White House. She complains that Bee failed to get a solar-energy bill out of the state Legislature this year.

7:12 p.m.: A question about earmarks. Giffords says the earmark process is an "abomination" and that Arizona doesn't get its fair share, while Alaska gets too much. She stands up for her own earmarks, however, saying it's a way to bring money back to domestic-violence shelters, military projects and university programs. She says the Democrats passed major earmark reform.

Bee says funding should be done through the appropriation process. He points out that newspapers had to pressure Giffords to release her list of requested earmarks.

7:17 p.m.: The candidates are asked about their top priority. Giffords says the nation "needs to put its fiscal house in order," because Congress is spending too much money while giving tax breaks to the wealthy.

Bee says doing away with the Bush tax cuts will cost the average taxpayer $3,000. He says the federal government should be required to balance the budget every year.

Giffords says that 68 percent of the Bush tax cuts went to families making more than $200,000. She says she supports maintaining the tax cuts for middle-class taxpayers and would allow them to expire for higher earners.

7:23 p.m.: Giffords says the country needs comprehensive immigration reform, including a guest-worker program and more law enforcement at the border. She points out that Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl have supported a similar package in the past. "Building a wall across the entire expanse of the U.S.-Mexico border is not going to solve the problem," Giffords says, adding that she supports fences in some areas. She says she also supports a program that brings people in the country illegally out of hiding, although she says they should not be eligible for citizenship unless they go to the "back of the line."

Bee says the federal government has failed to secure the border. He talks about passing legislation that cracks down on criminals who smuggle illegal immigrants into the country and punishes employers who hire illegal workers. Bee says he also supports a guest-worker program, although he doesn't say what should happen to illegal immigrants now in the country.

7:32 p.m.: Both candidates agree that they would try to find ways to prevent the proposed Rosemont mine in the Santa Rita Mountains.

7:38 p.m.: Blake Morlock of the Tucson Citizen asks the money question: Since Bee supports cutting taxes and balancing the budget, what federal programs would he cut?

Bee says all government agencies "can trim their fat." He wants cutbacks on earmarks and increased efficiency. However, he does not name a government program that could be eliminated.

Morlock moves on to Giffords, asking her how she'd provide more education and health-care funding while balancing the budget. Giffords says that children should get health-care coverage. She suggests that the money could come from paying health-insurance companies less, or taking away subsidies for big oil companies. She adds that there is fat to be trimmed.

7:54 p.m.: Closing statements! Giffords goes first. She says the Democratic Congress is just getting started. She goes back to her themes of supporting solar power, helping combat veterans, protecting the environment and improving the economy.

Bee says he believes in America, but that the country is facing big challenges that we must come together to solve. He complains that there is too much partisan bickering. He calls for more investment in education, cutting waste in spending, increasing domestic oil production, securing the border and taking care of veterans. He says he has a record of working with Democrats to pass legislation.

"I'm very proud that our senator, John McCain, is going to be at the top of the ticket," Bee says. The crowd starts to applaud, until a louder group begins booing loudly.

Bee tries to continue, but the noise from the crowd makes it nearly impossible to hear what he has to say.

Conover brings the event to a close before Bee can reassert control.

"We've reached the end of our broadcast time," Conover says. "I hate to cut you off, but ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us."

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