At a debate Tuesday in Post Falls between state Rep. Raul Labrador and Vaughn Ward, the two men hoping to secure the Republican nomination for Congress in the primary election set for May 25, eyebrows were raised following an audience member's question on whether or not Puerto Rico should become a state in the United States. Both Ward and Labrador agreed, in principle, that due to the struggling economy and high unemployment, it would not be proper for the nation to add another state and another set of problems.
However, Ward caused a stir in the local and national media when he referred to the small island, which is a territory of the United States, as a foreign country. Two days after the debate, in a report posted by a television station in Boise, Ward said he misspoke. If that's the case, it was the second time he misspoke on the issue, since he had insinuated that Puerto Rico is a foreign country at a debate held in Nampa earlier this month.
At that event, sponsored by the Canyon County Republican Women, both candidates gave essentially the same answers as they did Tuesday in Post Falls. Labrador said that if Puerto Rico can become a contributing member of the nation, the statehood idea is something that Congress should consider. Ward, at the beginning of the response to the question, gave a firm “no” to the crowd. He added that Puerto Rico, where Labrador was born, is already a welfare state, which would put an additional and unnecessary burden on the nation's treasury. While denouncing the idea, Ward then inferred that Puerto Rico is a foreign country. "That's foreign aid to me; I don't support doing that," he said about welfare dollars sent to the people there, who are born U.S. citizens, but cannot vote in presidential elections. The island is also represented by a non-voting member of Congress.
Labrador, who urged Ward to take a civics lesson after Tuesday's comment, told IdahoReporter.com that he is concerned about Ward's authenticity and knowledge of world issues. "I find it fascinating that a man who is running on foreign policy and his ability to deal with foreign nations has a deep misunderstanding about the relationship among the United States and our territories," Labrador said.
Ward spokesman Mike Tracy said that his candidate stands by the remark made at the Nampa debate.
Voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose between the two men. Whoever snags the nod from the electorate will move on to face freshman Congressman Walt Minnick, a Democrat, in November's general election.
Here is the video of the exchange between Ward and Labrador about Puerto Rico from Tuesday's debate in Post Falls:
(Disclaimer: The video was posted to the YouTube account of Collin Mansfield, son of Dennis Mansfield, Labrador's press secretary.