Bacon, Vargas talk of climate, nukes in final 2nd District debate

Oct. 17, 2022, 6 a.m. ·

Tony Vargas and Don Bacon headshots
State Sen. Tony Vargas and U.S. Rep. Don Bacon are competing to represent Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District. (Courtesy photos)

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In their final debate before Election Day, candidates in Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District found some common ground while insisting they had voters' best interests at heart.

Incumbent Rep. Don Bacon and his Democratic Party opponent Tony Vargas found much to disagree about when discussing helping the American middle class, the usefulness of federal COVID relief aid and climate change. KETV in Omaha hosted and broadcast Sunday night.

Moderator Julie Cornell of KETV asked if recent extreme weather, like Nebraska's drought, should be attributed to a change in the earth's climate or if these are normal cycles in the weather.

"We need to make sure that we are being honest," Vargas said. "Climate change is real."

Bacon was more guarded. "There are some cyclical impacts, and there was clearly some climate change, as well," he said. "It's a combination."

Both candidates felt some government responses to the human components of a warming planet are appropriate.

Bacon said he believed "in the 'all-of-the-above' energy approach," noting his support for fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas, nuclear, geothermal, solar and wind.

Vargas rebuked Bacon, saying it was important to send someone to Congress who would have "a better answer than saying we have 'some' climate change" rather than "actually definitively saying climate change is real."

Tony Vargas, Democratic candidate for 2nd District Congress, gestures during a televised debate.
Tony Vargas, gestures during the KETV debate. (Photo: KETV)

The Congressman boasted he was "the leader on the Republican side for getting the solar tax credit and the wind tax credit put back into the tax reform bill." Bacon said he was opposed to his party's effort to block that effort. "I thought it was wrong," he said.

Vargas shared few specific policy options. "It makes me want to make sure that we're investing in the type of energy solutions that are both renewable and reforming some of our existing solutions," he said.

When questioned about the need to strengthen America's response to cyberattacks on business interests, the candidates found room for agreement.

Bacon advocated for United States national security and cyber-defense agencies to be allowed to work more closely with the nation's business and local governments.

"Right now, our infrastructure, our private companies do not have the ability to defend themselves against Russia or China," Bacon said.

Looking toward a long-term approach, Vargas called for greater investment in educating a new generation of cyber-security professionals through programs like the one at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

"We only can get better if we have the type of recruitment and the type of pathways for individuals to get into the right jobs and get the right training," he said.

Recent alarming talk from Russia's Vladimir Putin on deploying nuclear weapons brought shared concern from both candidates.

When asked about an appropriate response to the provocative statements, Vargas suggested continuing to take a tough stand against Putin's war in Ukraine is "the only way that U.S. could respond to squash the threat. Vargas said he wants to ensure Ukraine has the resources it needs.

"The most important thing we need right now is deterrence," said Bacon, a former U.S. Air Force Wing Commander.

Rep. Don Bacon, Republican, appears on KETV during a campaign debate.
Rep. Don Bacon during the KETV debate. (Photo: KETV)

He cautioned that aging military infrastructure must be addressed because multiple presidential administrations have been late funding intercontinental ballistic missiles –or ICBMs. "Seventy of the ICBMs are in western Nebraska (and) are 50 years old," he said, adding their service cannot be extended any further.

The two also split on whether the last round of COVID relief funds helped Americans in this difficult economy.

Bacon, allowing the first four COVID bills passed by Congress were needed, said this year's inflation was a direct result of relief checks distributed by the Biden Administration.

"We should have heeded the advice of (the) two Democrats who said don't do it, but the Democratic leadership did not listen to them," Bacon said.

Vargas, not directly answering the question, pointed to his efforts to find tax relief in his role as a member of the state legislature.

He claims the legislation he supported provided "historic tax relief" that targeted low-income families and senior citizens. "We did it because people are going through a really tough time," the Democrat said.

The opponents shook hands as the broadcast ended, knowing this would be the last debate voters would see in the newly redesigned 2nd Congressional District.

While still largely anchored in Omaha, the boundary was moved westward, including voters in Saunders County for the first time and cutting out much of suburban Sarpy County.