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Things got lively between state representative candidates Brian Linder and Wanda Crupper Hammons during the Oct. 11 candidates forum sponsored by the Grant County News and Grant County Chamber of Commerce.
Hammons and Linder, who are looking to replace the retiring Royce Adams, were the final candidates at the forum at Williamstown High School.
While the debate began smoothly with discussions about pension reform, right to work and education, the talk heated up when it turned to whether or not either candidate was endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA.)
In the days leading up to the forum, criticisms surfaced about Hammons’ large campaign signs touting her as “NRA Member, NRA Endorsed.”
The signs feature a small disclaimer explaining that she was the only candidate endorsed by the NRA for the primary race.
“I was the only candidate to be endorsed by the NRA April 17, 2012,” Hammons said at the forum. “(The sign) says the only candidate to receive the endorsement April 17, 2012. I received the endorsement from the NRA. Mr. Linder has not.”
Linder, who dubbed the controversy NRAgate, has not claimed he has received an endorsement from the NRA rather he said both candidates have received an AQ rating, the highest grade a candidate without a voting record can receive, from the organization.
“You don’t have to listen to me,” Linder said to the forum audience. “You don’t have to listen to Mrs. Hammons. Call the NRA. Go to their Website. What you will find is that we have received the same rating for this race. An endorsement is not an endorsement for life. She was endorsed in her primary. In my primary, I ran against a very strong pro-2nd amendment candidate in Scott Bruce. We both had AQ ratings. In this race, go to their Website or call the NRA, you’ll find the truth.”
The debate continued with a rebuttal by Hammons.
“In March, I got the endorsement papers and the questionnaire and I filled it out,” she said. “He had the very same opportunity and he did not. So, around August and September, he’s decided I need an endorsement. You can’t get an endorsement for two people, only one person, and Wanda got it. So, they decided to send us both a letter saying we’re just going to rate you both because Wanda already received the endorsement. Wanda received the endorsement, the only candidate to receive the endorsement. I am a NRA member. I have my hunting and fishing license and my permit to carry license.”
Linder said Hammons’ assertion that he did not fill out his NRA survey is false.
While Linder agrees that Hammons’ signs are correct, he said they are misleading.
“I am not a candidate that you need to read the small print on,” Linder said to scattered applause.
After the forum, the NRA Political Victory Fund sent out an e-mail to clear up any confusion by clarifying the organization’s stance for the race for state representative in the 61st district.
“Due to the strong questionnaire responses received from both candidates for the general election, the NRA has not endorsed either candidate and has assigned AQ ratings to their respective campaigns.”
The e-mail, which wishes both Linder and Hammons good luck, explains that the AQ rating should be viewed “very favorably” by voters.
At the forum, the tension continued after the NRA debate in the closing statements by the candidates as Hammons criticized Linder for allegedly not showing up for fiscal court budget meetings and missing a recent Owen County Farm Bureau meeting.
“I was just at a meeting the other day in Owen County and they kept saying, ‘Mr. Linder is on his way. He’s on his way.’ We lingered on and gave door prizes,” Hammons said. “He never showed up until the very minute he did show up and he chewed out the Farm Bureau gentleman. Let me tell you, his magistrate record shows it. His attendance record is very poor and we don’t need someone in
Frankfort like that. We have a (Sen.) David Williams and we don’t need another one.”
Linder responded by saying he missed the meeting in Owen County because he was at a Grant County Fiscal Court meeting in his capacity as magistrate.
“I have a duty to the current taxpayers who elected me two years ago,” Linder said.
In Hammons’ final words of the night, she expressed her disappointment in Linder, which received a gasp over the audience and several boos.
“I’m very disappointed in you, Brian Linder,” she said. “I never thought you would be like that. I thought you were of a Christian faith.”
Linder did not respond to Hammons’ comments in his closing statement, opting to tell voters why wants their vote.
“Our state, this economy is broken,” he said. “There needs to be a fundamental change to the size, efficiency and the reach of government.”