On the Record: House GOP candidate Danny Tarkanian on the economy, health care and immigration
After losing several bids for office in the past two decades, and finally winning a seat on the Douglas County Commission in 2020, Danny Tarkanian is now challenging longtime incumbent Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) in a primary for Nevada’s only safe Republican congressional district on the basis that during his time as congressman, Amodei has not done enough for District 2.
As Amodei’s most well-known contender, Tarkanian has criticized many of the incumbent’s votes, especially his support of the most recent $1.5 trillion omnibus bill, which included preserving funding for Planned Parenthood as part of reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act, $13.6 billion for Ukraine and nearly $11.5 million for 10 Nevada-based projects.
Tarkanian, who sat down with The Nevada Independent last week for a wide-ranging interview, said that in just over a year as county commissioner, constituents have praised him, even stating that “nobody's ever [stood up for them] before in the county commission.”
And while Tarkanian strongly identifies with former President Donald Trump’s “America First” ideals, he said he does believe in working across the aisle, quoting late Sen. Harry Reid that “politics is the art of compromise.”
“It's about persuasion and that's how you get things done,” he said. “You don't get that done by calling people names and demeaning them and going on down on national TV and trying to say the worst things about somebody.”
The District 2 Republican primary will be between Amodei, Tarkanian and Brian Nadell, a professional poker player who previously ran for District 3 in Southern Nevada. Tarkanian filed for candidacy on the last day of the filing period in March, which gave him just two weeks to fundraise. He raised nearly $132,000 in the first three months of the year — just $20,000 less than Amodei raised in the first quarter of 2022 — but Amodei still has a significant fundraising advantage over Tarkanian.
During the interview, Tarkanian weighed in on everything from rapid inflation and the economy and health care to immigration. Below are highlights from the discussion:
On running for Congress
Asked why he deserved to be elected over Amodei, Tarkanian suggested that Amodei had been “anything but a conservative voice” for the “very conservative” District 2.
In describing his candidacy as one based off “America First principles,” Tarkanian also criticized votes from Amodei that included support for an immigration compromise that involved a path to citizenship for DREAMers; support for border security money for the Middle Eastern country of Jordan, and his initial support for a House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump (though Amodei later opposed the actual articles of impeachment).
“The thing about Mark is, he's a likable guy, and I like Mark — he's a fun guy to be around,” Tarkanian said. “But his votes aren't representative of the people and CD2, and I believe very strongly in these types of conservative principles.”
However, Tarkanian said his descriptions of Amodei’s voting record did not amount to criticism of that record, and said instead that he was making a distinction between himself and his opponent.
“I'm not criticizing him, I'm exposing his votes, informing the voters of his votes compared to mine,” Tarkanian said. “I’ve not one time said anything personal about Mark. I like Mark as a person.”
As the war in Ukraine drags on — and American financial and military support to Ukraine has ramped up — Tarkanian said he did not agree with the Biden administration’s strategy “at all,” adding that he believed the White House should have taken “a harder stance against Russia.”
“I don't believe Russia's threats of using nuclear force against us if we came out and supported Ukraine … helping to provide them with the military aircraft that they so desperately needed, [and that] was going to cause some type of nuclear crisis,” he said.
Still, he would “absolutely not” support the deployment of American troops to Ukraine as the war continues. The deployment of troops to Ukraine remains broadly unpopular among Nevadans, with a plurality, 44 percent, opposing the idea, according to an April poll from The Nevada Independent and OH Predictive Insights.
Tarkanian also pushed back on a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine passed by Congress earlier this month, arguing both that not enough of the money went toward military support and that much of that spending could have been used domestically instead.
He also suggested that other Western countries, especially the largest economies in Europe, were not doing enough to provide Ukraine with financial and military assistance, and that the largest burden should not be left to the U.S.
“I'm all for being the world leader, and trying to get other countries to come together and do the right thing,” Tarkanian said. “But we shouldn't be the world's police officer, and we shouldn't be the world's bank.”
Amid surging inflation — from the ongoing effects of massive pandemic stimulus under both the Trump and Biden White Houses, to supply chain disruptions to the war in Ukraine — Tarkanian said that the early federal stimulus was not worth the inflationary pressure now hitting the economy.
“When you start talking about what they did to ‘save the economy,’ there's been hundreds of billions of dollars they've identified as waste and abuse from the COVID handouts that were done,” Tarkanian said.
Tarkanian specifically pointed to issues in the Paycheck Protection Program, designed to give federal loans to small businesses forced to close because of COVID and later plagued by fraud or loans given to large businesses.
There, he said, the federal government should have been “more selective” about which businesses received PPP checks. A basketball gym owned by Tarkanian also received nearly $94,000 across two PPP loans in 2020 and 2021.
Editor's Note: In 2020, The Nevada Independent applied for and received PPP loans.
On the subject of how quickly the Federal Reserve should act on interest rates as a means to tame inflation, Tarkanian deferred, calling it “a decision for the Fed.”
“Let's talk about what has caused this inflation, [the] out-of-control spending by both Republicans and Democrats that have raised our debt to unsustainable levels,” he said, specifically referencing votes in favor of federal budget bills by Amodei.
As for sharply rising gas prices, Tarkanian downplayed the role of the war in Ukraine on energy and echoed a common refrain among Republicans, criticizing the Biden administration’s environmental policies as “a war on gas and oil and so forth.”
“When we were energy independent [under Trump], where we produced enough energy for ourselves, we didn't rely on Middle East oil, our prices went down,” Tarkanian said.
Tarkanian added that he was “all for these other alternative sources of energy,” referencing renewable energy, but also that “we can’t destroy our country's economy and allow China to far surpass us” by reducing oil and gas leases in the U.S.
As the price of a gallon of gas has creeped toward the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, Tarkanian said he had not looked at the issue closely enough to suggest a precise number for a new minimum, saying instead that he believed “you need to pay people more than they are going to get not working.”
“I think if you want to encourage people to work, you need to make sure they can get paid a decent enough salary, that would be better than receiving unemployment,” he said.
Tarkanian also said that not all people earning the minimum wage are the same, and that teenage employees differ from an employee with a family.
“If you're talking about somebody who's trying to take care of a family … $12 an hour isn't very much,” Tarkanian said. “And what they're going to do is they're going to stop working and to go on a federal handout, and it's going to cost us more money. So maybe there has to be a tiered system.”
Amid record-breaking rents and affordable housing shortages in Nevada, Tarkanian — who used to work in real estate — said that raising interest rates should slow down the hike and reduce the cost of housing.
“I believe we're going to be heading into recession,” he said. “When that recession hits, home prices are going to drop.”
Tarkanian does not believe that the Fed can do much more, and it’s a matter of supply and demand.
Tarkanian, who has four children, said he is “all for funding education” but it should be done the “right way” through the U.S. Department of Education.
He said more school choice and competition would improve the education system because, as it stands now, wealthier families are the ones able to afford private school.
“And I hear the arguments they say, ‘Well, you're going to take money out of the school system,’ but when you take money out of the school system, you’re reducing the size of the classrooms, too,” Tarkanian argued.
On his website, he states that Critical Race Theory should be banned from schools and the military.
Tarkanian’s website states that he would never vote to “give” citizenship to undocumented people, including recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which he doubled down on during the interview. But he also criticized Congress for not being able to agree on immigration reform for “people that want to come here and they have jobs that are needed.”
“I think we could solve these problems if we had people in Washington who really want to solve those problems,” he said. “I'm not in favor of going out door to door and trying to find people that are here illegally and deporting them … I'm also not in favor of giving citizenship to people who came here illegally under any circumstances.”
Tarkanian has been outspoken about his position on amnesty, which he defines as “crossing into a country and someone grants you citizenship." He added that providing a path to citizenship for undocumented people would be a “reward” for coming into the U.S. illegally.
Tarkanian also said Congress is not doing enough to secure the country’s borders and coming up with a system that can handle the amount of people seeking asylum.
As a Catholic, Tarkanian said he believes life starts at conception and does not support abortion unless the mother’s life is at risk, but his faith shouldn’t “govern what laws are imposed.”
And although he believes it is the states’ job to come up with abortion laws and not the federal government, he said there should be a general consensus abortion policy — otherwise people would cross state lines to terminate pregnancies.
He argued that when Roe v. Wade was first handed down, the Supreme Court agreed that a baby could live outside the womb after the second trimester, but with the development of modern medicine, pre-term babies have been able to survive outside the womb earlier.
“I believe that if we say that someone dies when the heartbeat ends, then we should say, life starts when the heartbeat starts,” he said. “And that's what I would push if there was federal legislation.”
Tarkanian acknowledged that Nevadans voted to codify a law allowing for legal abortions up to 24 weeks in 1990 and he can’t do much about it.
Tarkanian also said he is opposed to taxpayer money going toward Planned Parenthood.
Tarkanian sharply criticized the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — often referred to as Obamacare — saying that “there’s been no act that has made our health care affordable.”
Citing his own experience of monthly costs that have increased more than six-fold since the passage of the ACA, Tarkanian said the health law “penalized the people that were paying for [private] insurance themselves.”
In its place, he said, should be a system that “creates competition” within the healthcare industry.
“If everybody has health insurance, and it's provided for them, either through their employer or through the government or whatever else … [hospitals and doctors] don't care how much they brought [prices] up,” he said. “So there's gotta be some type of way to have some skin in the game where they're having to pay for these costs.”
Tarkanian also expressed support for a system modeled more on health savings accounts, and said that pre-existing conditions ought to be covered under a government-subsidized “high risk account.” And though he cautioned that Medicaid and Medicare are “not for everybody,” he said that “we need to be able to help provide for people who can’t afford it themselves.”
Regulating ‘Big Tech’
Tarkanian said federal antitrust laws should be used to break up some of the largest technology companies, in part to generate more competition in the industry.
“We’ve got the greatest economy the world's ever seen based upon competition, and when you create just one or two businesses, you don't have that competition,” Tarkanian said.
Tarkanian did not give a specific position on Section 230 — a provision of federal communications law that governs large swaths of the internet and allows social media sites to operate as platforms, rather than publishers — but he did call for people to be “held responsible” for what they post online and “face consequences” for lies.
“People don't have the courage to put their name behind what they're saying, and then they say it, and it's complete lies, and they hide under the immunity provisions,” he said. “No, I don't think that's right.”
When asked how he would like to see the issue addressed, Tarkanian suggested rolling back anonymity, saying instead that “you should have your name out there, you should have your information, you should be verified, that you’re a real person.”
“And then you should be responsible for what you’re posting,” he said.
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