He's polling more than 30% above his opponent and many analysts believe the May 20 primary will be an easy victory for Arkansas House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, who is fighting a challenge from political newcomer Tommy Moll in the Republican primary for 4th District congressman. But he is not taking anything for granted.
Westerman has criss-crossed the expansive district in recent weeks, most recently appearing at a candidate forum in Hot Springs Monday (May 12) before hitting the road and appearing at another candidate forum Tuesday (May 13) in Fort Smith – a region now on the edge of the newly-redrawn 4th District.
And for anyone who does not know Westerman, it does not take long for the Hot Springs native to explain his conservative values and Baptist beliefs. He shares his belief in limited government, low taxes, balanced budgets, limited government assistance and the evils of the Affordable Care Act.
Regarding the ACA, Westerman immediately took aim at his opponent for a television ad that asserts that Westerman supported Obamacare. According to a Moll campaign website, Westerman twice supported legislation that would have expanded Medicaid coverage in Arkansas.
Westerman said not only did he not support Obamacare during his time in the General Assembly, but he said many of his legislative colleagues have come to his defense, including House Minority Leader Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, who defended Westerman in a recent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article in spite of the fact that both men generally fall on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum.
"They started chirping about this last year, so we wrote a letter from my campaign that not only says I was opposed to Medicaid expansion and Obamacare, but I was the leading opponent of it in the legislature and I had 19 legislators — House and Senate — sign it and could have gotten 20 or 30 more if I wanted to spend the time going around trying to get them to sign it. Apparently the only people who believe I supported Obamacare are Tommy Moll and his campaign team."
In an e-mail, Peter Somerville, Moll's campaign manager, reasserted the campaign's position that Westerman had introduced legislation to implement Obamacare at the state level.
"The public record is clear: Bruce Westerman has sponsored two different bills that would implement ObamaCare in Arkansas. To this day, he has not withdrawn his support for a bill that would implement ObamaCare by adding about 250,000 Arkansans to government-subsidized health insurance (House Bill 1965). Only one candidate has always opposed ObamaCare: Tommy Moll."
Westerman also took time to discuss the May 9 ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza that overturned Arkansas' ban on gay marriage, saying it was likely time for an amendment to the United States Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman, versus the invalidated Defense of Marriage Act passed during the Bush administration that the U.S. Supreme Court said was unconstitutional. He said a federal Constitutional amendment was the only way to limit a move of the U.S. Supreme Court, which could affirm Piazza's ruling or any of the other rulings across the United States that have overturned statewide gay marriage bans.
"Again, we've got an overreaching federal government that wants to take that out of control of the states…so I would support a federal marriage amendment. I wish the federal government would just stay out of it and just let each state decide that, but that's obviously not what's happening. We saw where one judge overturned the will of 75% of the voters in this state and it wasn't even a federal judge. So yeah, I would support a federal marriage amendment if we need to do that."
He said a firmed up marriage definition was necessary to prevent possible future attempts to expand marriage definitions in the eyes of the government and society.
"You're opening up Pandora's box when you start redefining marriage as anything you want to call it," Westerman said. "Is that two men? Two women? Is it three men and four women? I've been reading where people have been trying to marry their animals now. You know, marriage was ordained long before the United States government was established and we need to protect the sanctity of that, which also protects families in this country."
The Farm Bill is another issue Westerman touched on, saying U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle — who is not seeking re-election in the 4th District in order to challenge U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., in his Senate re-election — was justified in voting against the final version of the bill that passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama.
"The problem with the current Farm Bill is it is a food stamp bill with a little bit of farm policy in it. And Tom was justified in saying we need to break the Farm Bill apart, vote on the food stamp program and vote on the ag policy separately."
Asked whether he would vote for the current version of the Farm Bill, Westerman declined to give specifics and instead said he would work to create a better Farm Bill should he win the general election in November.
"I want to work for solutions. Now I don't know what will be in the Farm Bill the first time I have to look at it, but I know I've got the courage to do what's right and vote on what's going to be best for the 4th District of Arkansas. And I can analyze the data and make an informed decision on what's in the Farm Bill at the time I'm presented with it."
The winner of Tuesday's (May 20) primary will face former Federal Emergency Management Director James Lee Witt in the November general election.