Three candidates are vying to represent Arkansas' 3rd Congressional District in the state's northwest corner.
It has been a Republican stronghold since 1967, when John Paul Hammerschmidt was first elected to Congress.
The 3rd District includes five counties -- Benton, Carroll, Crawford, Madison and Washington -- along with the northern part of Sebastian County.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack is the incumbent in the race. He has held the congressional seat since 2011.
Womack, 65, is a former Rogers mayor and retired Arkansas Army National Guard colonel.
He's being challenged this year by Lauren Mallett-Hays, 36, a speech language pathologist from Farmington, and Michael Kalagias, 53, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Benton County.
Mallett-Hays is the Democratic Party nominee. Kalagias is the nominee from the Libertarian Party.
It's Kalagias' third time running against Womack. Kalagias got 3.9% of the vote in 2020 and 2.6% in 2018. Womack swept those races with 64% in 2020 and 65% in 2018.
Womack said immigration didn't really come up in a recent debate televised by Arkansas PBS, but it's an important issue.
"Right now, it's just come one, come all," he said during a telephone interview Monday with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "We've had 2 million people this year cross into this country illegally, and they are somewhere in this country. We can't possibly continue down this path."
President Joe Biden campaigned on overturning almost all of his predecessor's immigration policies. In its first few months, his administration took dozens of actions, but his efforts collided with a dramatic rise in migration to the southern U.S. border, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent, nonpartisan think tank.
"Biden's steps to undo Trump-era policies have included reducing immigration enforcement inside the United States, ending the travel bans, lifting the suspension of green card processing, and halting construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border," according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Womack said the U.S. has to close the border.
"The first thing you've got to do is you have to have a resolve that we're going to have a secure border, and I don't think the other side, my friends on the left, really believe in a secure border," he said. "I don't think liberal Democrats want to close the border because they see an opportunity to bring a lot of people into this country to pursue the American dream, albeit in an illegal way, and that they will recruit as their voters because they're going to give them everything. Welcome them into the country, give them benefits ... and they believe they'll become their voters.
"Let's do whatever it takes to make sure they don't cross into this country unless they're doing it within the constraints of our legal system," said Womack. "This is the most welcoming, generous country on the planet. But we're 330 million people. There are 7 billion people that share this planet with us and most of them want to come to America. We can't possibly do that, so we have to have a coherent program, a coherent policy as to how many we can take and for what purposes, and if you can't come under those circumstances, you don't belong here."
"He continues to use scare tactics about the border but those 2 million were apprehended/arrested, so it sounds to me like our border patrol is doing their job," Mallett-Hays said. "That's the difference I guess between career politicians and leaders that actually want to represent the U.S. with compassion and with a goal to improve things for every citizen in their district. I support keeping our borders open safely because at the end of the day, if I was in the situation a lot of these families are in, I would hope there were kind and compassionate people there to help me get through all the red tape.
"But I do agree that we need immigration reform that expands options for obtaining citizenship and also we need to add workers to help knock out the ridiculous amount of backlog we have for those that are trying to come here the correct way," she said. "If we didn't have such a long wait time, we likely would see more people using the process."
Kalagias also disagreed with Womack on immigration.
"We need to get rid of the quotas that make legal immigration and naturalization nearly impossible for so many folks," said Kalagias. "Most of the illegal aliens in this country came in legally but had their visas expire. We need to fix the process, not make the process even more onerous.
"Any folks wanting to come to the USA to pursue the American dream should be free to do so just as the majority of our ancestors did," he said. "Pass a background check to ensure they aren't part of a criminal enterprise or threat to national security and then welcome them with open arms. We have a lot of employers in this country looking for workers, and a lot of immigrants looking for work. Instead of putting the immigrants in cages or bussing them across the country at great taxpayer expense, we should be letting them work and take care of their own expenses.
"Instead of closing our borders to isolate ourselves from our neighbors, we should be opening up trade even further so we aren't enriching and so dependent on an increasingly hostile and oppressive China to supply most of our goods from across the Pacific," said Kalagias.
Mallett-Hays said she started thinking about running for office in 2020, as the covid-19 pandemic spread.
People were getting conflicting information about a deadly disease because of conspiracy theories and disinformation, she said.
As a health-care worker for Washington Regional Medical Center, Mallett-Hays said patients were coming in who didn't know anything about quarantine rules or when they could return to work. And that was during the middle of the pandemic.
"I was just so discouraged with what we were seeing and watching our leaders not take control of that," she said.
Mallett-Hays said she looked into Womack's record.
"He didn't do enough during the pandemic," she said. "He didn't talk enough about our quarantine restrictions and things like that. ... It wasn't just him. It was all our federal leaders."
"That's what my Democrat friends want: They want government to control it," said Womack. "That is a huge difference between the thought process of the liberal left and what I believe. I don't think we need to be having Big Brother telling us every move we need to make. She does, obviously. I try to lead by example. I was vaccinated. I was boosted. I wore my mask where I was supposed to wear my mask. But at the end of the day, it was my decision as a thought leader in our country."
Womack said inflation is the main thing voters are concerned about at the moment.
"I personally think that the single biggest issue facing the American voter in this election is more related to the kitchen table issues, inflation and high energy prices, the cost of everything," he said.
Womack said the inflation is related to government policies during the covid-19 the pandemic, "and the amount of money that the federal government was throwing at the problem."
He said energy costs are "baked into the inflation spirals that everyone is suffering from right now."
"On the energy front, I think it was simply a matter of the Biden administration kowtowing to the liberal left in declaring war on the fossils and deciding that we're going to change American behavior by taking the fossil fuels out of the mix and replacing them with all their sustainable ideas, which are really not all that sustainable when you think about it," said Womack. "Its certainly not doable overnight."
"Womack is once again referencing the GOP talking points as a fear tactic," said Mallett-Hays. "Honestly it's old, redundant and a slap in the face to our constituents in the 3rd District.
"The reality is the fossil-fuel industry took a hit in 2020," she said. "At the same time the pandemic and lockdowns were occurring, Saudi Arabia and Russia were in a dispute about cutting oil production. Because they didn't cut production and we had significantly decreased global demand, we ended up with a massive surplus that sent prices spiraling and eventually into the negatives when looking at price per barrel. This significantly affected the small producers here in the United States and led to President Trump negotiating a deal that would cut global production by 10% for two years.
"Prior to the pandemic we had about 700 rigs in the U.S. drilling for oil. By May 2020 or June 2020 we were down to about 200 rigs," said Mallett-Hays. "The significant price drops led to a lot of our smaller operations filing for bankruptcy. We have yet to recover all of those lost rigs from 2020, but we are getting closer. As a result, we now have not yet been able to meet pre-pandemic production levels in the U.S. None of those things occurred due to any Biden executive orders."
The reality is if the U.S. had started shifting some of its energy production to alternatives such as electric, solar, wind and nuclear, it might not have been as affected during the pandemic and directly afterwards, said Mallett-Hays.
"No one is suggesting that we quit using fossil fuels cold turkey," she said. "But we have to start making the effort to switch from one power source to the other because our main source of fossil fuels is not only nonrenewable, it is significantly affecting our climate crisis."
Kalagias said the United States government has a spending problem, and part of that problem is because of the military.
If elected, Kalagias said he'd work to cut military spending by about $200 billion a year. It's currently close to $800 billion a year.
Kalagias said waste could be trimmed from the budget.
"Spend the money on our troops and what they need and not on the military industrial complex," he said, referring to defense contractors.
Kalagias said the U.S. doesn't need to fund Ukraine's war against Russia.
"We can't afford it," he said. "I realize Ukraine is definitely the victim here. I would urge people to support Ukraine as much as they can, but the government doesn't have the money to do it. We're broke."
He was referring to the U.S.' $31 trillion national debt.
Womack said Kalagias' comment about cutting the military was "a foolish statement."
"Obviously, he's not paying attention to what Putin's doing in Ukraine, what he did in Crimea and what he'd like to do in a lot of other places," said Womack.
Mallett-Hays said she agreed with Womack that the U.S. should be helping Ukraine in its war against Russia.
Mallett-Hays said she's also a proponent of commuter rail for Northwest Arkansas, which is projected to have 1 million people by 2046.
"I think it's going to be so instrumental, not only in our growth ... but also in reducing our pollution footprint here in Northwest Arkansas," she said.
"I think we have the density now," she said. "Definitely, we're going to have the density in the future."
Kalagias and Womack said Northwest Arkansas isn't ready for commuter rail.
U.S. House elections occur every other year. Members of Congress are paid $174,000 per year. The general election is Nov. 8.
U.S. Congress District 3
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Arkansas Tech University
Public service experience: Congressman since 2011; Mayor of Rogers, 1999-2010
Occupation: Speech language pathologist
Education: Bachelor’s degree, business administration, University of Central Arkansas; master’s degree, communication disorders, University of North Texas
Public service experience: Work as a healthcare professional and in education; volunteer work at Boys and Girls Club; volunteer work in homeless shelters
Education: Bachelor of Science, Wayland Baptist University
Public service experience: U.S. Navy 1992-97; Board of Directors Benton County Water District #1, 2014-2017; Board of Directors Avoca Volunteer Fire Department