- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Three candidates for a U.S. House seat in southern Arkansas differed during a debate Tuesday on how to address an Ebola threat.

James Lee Witt, a Democrat who headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency for eight years under President Bill Clinton, said he would work to ensure the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments were properly equipped to control the virus.

“I think our hospitals and doctors and nurses need the right training and the right equipment to be able to control this. All it takes is one tiny mistake to be infected by this,” said Witt.

Libertarian Ken Hamilton said Americans “should be concerned about it but we should not panic” and said the government should develop appropriate protocols for health care workers. Republican Bruce Westerman, a state representative, said he would ask “tough questions” to make sure the Obama administration is working to protect the country.

“That disease is about five hours away in Dallas. That’s close to home,” he said, referring to a man who died of the disease in Dallas six days ago. A nurse who treated him has been infected.

“As your congressman I would be calling for hearings,” Westerman said.

The three candidates vying to replace Rep. Tom Cotton, who is running for the Senate, appeared in an hourlong debate that was being broadcast Tuesday night on the Arkansas Educational Television Network. A live stream of the debate was monitored in Little Rock as the network recorded it.

Westerman and Witt differed with Hamilton on the legalization of marijuana, even for medical uses. The major-party candidates opposed legalization in all forms, contrary to Hamilton.

“God created the marijuana plant and we should utilize it properly,” Hamilton said.

Westerman and Witt agreed on the further development of Interstate 49 in western Arkansas; its southern and northern segments are largely complete - from Texarkana southward and from Fort Smith northward - but a gap remains between the cities.

“I believe that will draw jobs to the 4th District,” Westerman said. He said it would be an appropriate use of federal dollars to build a highway for Arkansas residents, who pay federal taxes.

Hamilton said current highways should be maintained, and projects in progress completed, but that the country needed to find other ways to build its infrastructure. He said he feared such projects would lead to more deficit spending and perhaps harm the economy.

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