GOP hopefuls retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally, small-business owner Shelley Kais and retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Chuck Wooten agreed in principle on a number of subjects in a debate Saturday afternoon.

Each pledged to secure the border, strengthen the United States’ role in international relations and all said they would have refused to sign on to the Senate Gang of Eight’s proposal for immigration reform last year.

The devil may be in the details, however, as the three differed on the specifics of the reforms they would support in terms of federal immigration policies.

Wooten said early in his remarks that he would spend the entire 90-minute debate offering solutions to the questions posed by the panel.

“I didn’t come here to recite my résumé to you, I didn’t come here to regurgitate facts off the Internet and I didn’t come here to tug at your heartstrings with emotional stories,” Wooten told the standing-room-only crowd in Green Valley.

Securing the border would be his top priority, but Wooten told the crowd that he had no interest in getting involved in reforming existing immigration laws.

Additionally, he said he supports deporting undocumented immigrants, estimated to number in the millions, currently living in the United States.

“I don’t stand for illegal anybody getting automatic citizenship,” he said.

When a moderator noted that Arizona Sen. John McCain has said the Republicans can’t take back the White House without comprehensive immigration reform, Wooten was unfazed.

“I don’t agree with much Senator McCain says,” Wooten said, eliciting a roar from the crowd.

McSally said there is a need for immigration reform, pointing out there is no system for immigrants with legal temporary visas who overstay their visas. She also questioned the limit placed on the number of H1-B visas issued annually, saying the U.S. is turning away highly educated workers.

McSally said there is a need to reform the federal system so it is more responsive to the needs of the economy.

“In the first week of April, we turned away 95,000 people who were willing to come here to jobs that were going to help the economy,” she said.

Kais said the Democrats are slowly changing immigration policy piece by piece and the Republicans need a watchdog to keep a close eye on those changes.

“They are ‘fixing’ it and we need to be able to move quick,” Kais warned the crowd.

Kais has stated for several weeks that she found funding inside the federal budget — dating to 2010 — that meant some federal officials were anticipating a massive wave of immigrants being caught at the border.

Debt ceiling

The trio were also asked to take a hypothetical stance on whether they would have voted for the debt ceiling if they had been in Congress last year.

McSally said she would never have let the events unfold that temporarily shut down the government. Asked if she would have voted to increase the debt ceiling, she prefaced her answer by saying the shutdown should have been avoided in the first place.

“We shouldn’t have been in that situation and I wasn’t there,” McSally said. “So we want to lose full faith and credit in the United States? I don’t think so. So we’ve got to pay our bills but moving forward we have to get our spending under control.”

Wooten compared federal spending to an addiction and said it has to stop, vowing never to vote to increase the debt ceiling.

“Think of the most addicted person to alcohol or drugs you can think of and you take that and multiply that by a million and that is our federal government when it comes to spending,” Wooten said.

Kais also said she would not have voted to increase the debt ceiling.

“We cannot sustain the debt we have,” Kais said. “We are spending money like a madman.”

Cuts to federal government

Asked how they would make cuts to the federal government, each offered their program:

  • McSally noted the feds have 47 job-training programs, saying money would be better spent in block grants for local programs.
  • Wooten said he would cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 80 percent, noting each state already has its own environmental agency.
  • Kais said she would reduce funding for a federal program that helps immigrants with resettlement costs.

The winner of the GOP primary on Aug. 26 will face Democrat Ron Barber, who is seeking a second term.

Early ballots will be mailed on Thursday.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4346. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFerguson