HOOKSETT, N.H. -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) spoke at a nonpartisan forum on the heroin epidemic at Emmanuel Baptist Church Thursday, where he shared his family's experiences with addiction, emphasized the importance of faith and took some shots at the Democratic Party.
What he did not do is explain how he, as president, would address the crisis -- other than by promising to secure the border so that traffickers have a harder time getting into the country.
"The solution to this is going to come at the state and local level. It's going to come from the church, it's going to come from charities, it's going to come from friends and families and loved ones stepping forward," Cruz said.
"But it's also going to come from the federal government that actually does its job and secures the borders," he went on. "And I'll tell you this: If I'm elected president, you'll have my solemn commitment. We will secure the borders."
Immigration policy wasn't enough for Holly Cekala, a recovery advocate who runs the nonprofit Hope for NH. During a panel after Cruz's remarks, she pressed the senator on whether he believes the federal government has an additional role to play in the epidemic. He briefly said there is a role, but that it would primarily need to involve the people on the ground.
Cekala is still undecided about whom she will vote for Thursday. She said Cruz's answers didn't demonstrate enough of a "cultural competency" about the need for prevention, treatment and recovery.
"He talked about [the] border. Well, that's a piece of a larger issue, I guess, that does contribute somewhat to it," she said after the event. "But did you really address the issue?"
Cekala also noted that Cruz "highlighted faith-based programs -- which are not covered by insurance."
After Cruz blamed the drug crisis on an insecure border, he blamed the insecure border on the Democrats, and some "cynical" Republicans, who favor immigration reform. He accused them of having base political motives for not doing more on the issue.
"As a political matter, the Democratic Party does not want to solve this problem. And as a political matter, far too many Republicans don't either," he said. "Sadly, stopping the drug traffic gets de-emphasized, because their policy view instead is to open the borders to illegal immigration."
"On the Democratic side, I think an awful lot of folks view the people coming across as new voters. New Democratic voters," Cruz went on. "You know, there's a politically correct term now for illegal immigrants. It's called 'undocumented Democrats.'" The line got some chuckles.
The senator decried what he called Republicans who "listen to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who listen to Wall Street, who listen to the lobbyists in Washington."
"All of [them] view illegal immigration as cheap labor," Cruz said. "They think it's fabulous."
Cruz also told the audience about his half-sister, Mariam, who lost her battle with drug addiction, and about his father, who Cruz said was able to overcome his alcoholism by focusing on his Christian faith.
Cruz was the only presidential candidate at the forum, although other campaigns sent surrogates. Vermont Gov. Pete Shumlin (D), who is backing Democrat Hillary Clinton, spoke first -- offering remarks that differed significantly from Cruz's.
Shumlin, who has been one of the country's most innovative governors in his approach to addressing the epidemic, emphasized that addiction should not be treated any differently from diseases like lung cancer. He touted Clinton's proposal that states should receive federal funds for their programs that are already working, rather than being told how to address the crisis.
Cekala thinks Shumlin is great -- "The governor from Vermont? I love that guy!" -- because, she said, he has supported the advocates on the ground in his state and taken the time to get to know them. But she's still not backing Clinton, despite the governor's endorsement.
"Not yet," she said.
This story has been updated to include more of Cruz's remarks.
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