The Skinny


Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Republican challenger Jesse Kelly finally met head-on in three debates last week, giving Congressional District 8 voters a chance to see the candidates face off ahead of the election this Tuesday, Nov. 2.

The Sierra Vista debate, where Libertarian Steve Stoltz was not onstage, showed off the starkest contrast between the two candidates, particularly when the future of Fort Huachuca came up. Giffords showed that she understood details about the fort’s needs, including the importance of protecting the San Pedro River, which is one of Southern Arizona’s vital waterways.

Kelly, on the other hand, said that the fort needed to be protected “at all costs,” but he didn’t get into the details—because he just doesn’t know them.

And that’s Kelly in a nutshell: Most of the time, he has no idea what he’s talking about, but the man can spew more bullshit than all of the cattle in Cochise County.

For a political rookie, Kelly has run one hell of a campaign. He won a tough primary fight, and he just might come out on top next week, if enough voters swallow his one-liners about freedom and liberty and the evils of Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama and how big-government liberalism and out-of-control spending is destroying the country.

He swears he won’t ask for earmarks for Southern Arizona’s military bases, universities or domestic-violence shelters—yet he cashes paychecks that come from a family business that takes tens of millions of dollars from government contracts that are funded with federal dollars, including earmarks and stimulus spending.

We sure wish we could get little bit of that tyranny in our lives.

Despite all of that angry bluster, Jesse Kelly is a polite and friendly guy, even if he’s reluctant to actually talk to us anymore except via e-mail.

We suppose that’s because when he does talk to us, we report what he says, like he’d like to get Medicare recipients “off the public dole.” He’d “love to privatize” Social Security. He’d deny victims of rape and incest the right to terminate their pregnancies. He really does think a 23 percent national sales tax on all goods and services is a swell idea, if that’s what a voter wants to hear.

But for all his campaign charm, Kelly has no clue what the federal government actually does—which is why he comes up with crazy notions like the idea that the average citizen can do a better job of ensuring that our food is free of poisonous bacteria than any government inspector or regulator.

In all our years of reporting, we have rarely heard anyone deliver such nonsense with so much confidence.

Here’s an example: You’ve probably heard Kelly say that he supports a 10 percent flat income tax for all Americans, because “if 10 percent was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for the federal government.”

During last week’s Arizona Illustrated debate, moderator Bill Buckmaster pointed out that no member of Congress supports the idea of a 10 percent flat tax and asked Kelly how much money he thought such a tax would raise.

Kelly claimed that economist Arthur Laffer—the Reagan administration credited with the Laffer Curve—has said that a 10 percent flat income tax would bring in the same $2.1 trillion that the federal government now collects.

We can’t find any evidence that Laffer has said any such thing. (A call to Laffer himself had not been returned as of press time.) When we asked Camp Kelly if they could back up this assertion, they said they’d have to get back to us on that one.

There are people who have promoted flat income taxes, like Steve Forbes, who advocated a 17 percent flat tax back in ‘96. But those plans don’t go anywhere, because most politicians realize it’s a bad idea to shift the tax burden away from America’s wealthiest families and transfer it to the middle class.

We did find a clip of Fox News’ Glenn Beck interviewing Laffer a few months back. In that exchange, Laffer said that an 11 percent flat tax, combined with an 11 percent value-added tax on goods (which, for the non-wonks out there, is essentially a sales tax) could bring in as much revenue as the government currently collects.

But at the same forum where Kelly first explained his faith-based 10 percent income tax to us, he also announced that he would not support a value-added tax, proclaiming: “It’s a terrible idea.” So it sounds like Kelly opposes a pretty crucial element of the Laffer plan.

Even Kelly himself, in a rare moment of candor while talking to some voters in September, admitted that a 10 percent flat income tax was only possible “in a perfect world.”

In that exchange, he said he supported a plan put forth by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan that calls for a 10 percent flat income tax, but only on individuals earning up to $50,000 and couples earning up to $100,000. All income above that would be taxed at 25 percent—and even then, the country would need to institute a national sales tax of 8.9 percent to raise enough money to pay the government’s bills.

We reported Kelly’s remarks supporting this plan, including the 8.9 percent national sales tax. And the next day, he was right back to promising voters a 10 percent income tax.

We tried to get some clarity on his position, but he’d only say over e-mail: “I support a low flat tax where each person has a small stake in their government, with an exclusion for incomes below the federal poverty level.”

When we scoured the Web in search of someone who seriously believes that a 10 percent flat tax would support the federal government, we found one person to back Kelly up: Humorist and country singer Ray Stevens, who wrote a little ditty a few years back called “If 10 Percent Is Good Enough for Jesus (It Ought to Be Good Enough for Uncle Sam).”

Yes, that’s right: The architect of the Kelly campaign’s economic plan is the guy who recorded “The Streak” way back in ‘74. No serious economist thinks a 10 percent flat tax would bring in as much money as the government now collects.

There’s a reason that Republicans such as former lawmakers Jennifer Burns (who campaigned for Giffords’ opponent two years ago) and Pete Hershberger, Sierra Vista Mayor Bob Strain and Sahuarita Mayor Lynne Skelton have endorsed Giffords. There’s a reason that she’s got the endorsements of veterans such as John Wickham, a retired general who served as U.S. Army Chief of Staff under President Ronald Reagan. There’s a reason that she’s got the endorsement of the Arizona Conference of Police and Sheriffs.

Gabrielle Giffords has fought for Southern Arizona, while Jesse Kelly makes a bunch of promises that he will never, ever be able to keep.

Kelly likes to say that people lie about his plans, but here’s the truth: He doesn’t have any plans. He just tells you what you want to hear.

He says he can magically protect Social Security while diverting the tax dollars that now pay for it. He busts on Giffords for reducing the future costs of Medicare, but then says he wants to get rid of the program altogether and let elderly people buy private insurance. He’s going to balance the budget while he spends billions on a double-layer border fence along the entire border.

That’s not good enough? Then he’ll do a triple-layer fence—and bring 10,000 National Guard troops down here, too.

Sorry, Jesse, but we’re just gonna have to call bullshit on you.

Follow the Skinny scribe on Twitter: @nintzel

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