Recap: Arizona Congressional District 2 Forum

On October 26, 2017, Represent Me AZ hosted the second forum for Democratic candidates seeking to replace Martha McSally as the U.S. Representative for Arizona’s 2nd District. The forum was held at the (quite full) Rincon High School auditorium, and was moderated by Jim Nintzel of Tucson Weekly. The questions were collected online prior to the forum by Represent Me AZ. In alphabetic order, the candidates vying to replace Martha McSally are Matt Heinz, Ann Kirkpatrick, Billy Kovacs, Mary S. Matiella and Bruce Wheeler.

Indivisible Southern Arizona does not endorse candidates, but supports educating Southern Arizona voters about their choices for the 2018 Election. What follows is a summary of the forum.

Note: This is not a direct transcript; it is written in the style of a live blog, paraphrasing the key points of candidates’ responses. There were often cheers for candidates' statements, but they are not included here. Boos are noted, as are other significant audience reactions.

Bios of all candidates can be found at Represent Me AZ.

Arizona CD2 candidate forum, Oct. 26, 2017.

Opening statements

Each candidate made an opening statement. A summary of each candidate’s statement is included below, in the order in which they were given:

Wheeler: I’m anti-Trump. Served district in AZ House for 3 terms. Want to expand Medicare.

Kirkpatrick: Everything I care about—climate change, protecting the environment, and creating jobs—is on the chopping block. My new grandson spent time in the ICU and I feel strongly about healthcare.

Heinz: We’re all united in wanting to get rid of McSally. We’re here asking you for a job.

Matiella: We aren’t being represented by McSally. I will fight for us.

Kovacs: I have a new vision for what this district should be, neither Democrat nor Republican. I want both high-paying STEM jobs and ways to help blue collar workers transition to new jobs, and I believe in education.

Question and Answer

For the remainder of the forum, moderator Nintzel posed questions collected and selected by Represent Me AZ prior to the event. Each candidate had a limited number of cards they could "spend" to answer some of the questions.

What specific changes would you push for to improve the Affordable Care Act?

Kirkpatrick: Lower prescription drug costs. I have a health care working group in Tucson. We need to focus on prevention and allow people to buy into medicare.

Kovacs: Cross-state competitiveness in insurance markets. If I can go to Mexico or Canada for cheaper drugs, that’s a problem. We need to keep big business from meddling with prescription costs. I support Medicare for all.

Wheeler: Medicare for all. It already works, and we all know people on it. I want to strengthen it and make it more viable.

Do you support a federal gun registry?

Kovacs: Mass shootings are tragic, but we need to shift the conversation to domestic violence. I have to register cars and the government passes safety laws; we need the same thing for firearms. States don’t share gun registry info well; we need to improve that.

Matiella: You can’t have different policies for different states. We should require background checks, get assault rifles out of the hands of criminals and domestic abusers.

Wheeler: Mass shootings are a disgrace. There was once bipartisan support for background checks and banning bump stocks; I’d push for that.

Heinz: We can’t stop every mass shooting, but we can limit the availability of weapons of war, like assault weapons. I don’t think you need to have more than 10 bullets in a magazine.

How do you balance environmental regulations versus business needs?

Kirkpatrick: (Answering last question) I’d support Gabriel Giffords’ gun views; she endorsed me. Arizona should be the leader in solar energy, and we need to stop oil subsidies.

(As she answered, about five audience members held up “Repeal Oak Flat land grab now” signs and someone shouted about Oak Flat. Kirkpatrick offered the following in response: That was a Republican bill by McCain and others. I wanted to make sure the community was protected. People in that community valued the environment. Studies are going on right now; they want a copper mine but they want a clean community.)

Kovacs: Our monsoon seasons are getting shorter, and the world doesn’t have enough food globally. We need to make sure we’re the solar capital of the world. We need to transition blue-collar jobs to high-tech jobs to save the middle class. We need to protect our clean water, and stop the Rosemont copper mine.

Wheeler: McSally voted on the new tax bill this morning, which helps pave the way for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling. With Scott Pruitt at the EPA, the wolves are guarding the henhouse. If we can retake the House, we can put a brake on Trump’s plan to get out of the Paris Climate Accord.

What steps should the U.S. take to combat climate change?

Matiella: Encourage people to use renewable energy, and put penalties on fossil fuel use. That’s going to be tough because the fossil fuel industry is powerful. I'm in favor of aggressive legislation, by 2050, I hope we will have legislation out mandating we're all using electric cars.

Heinz: Refurbish our electric grid. A lot of our energy just bleeds out of the system. We should definitely be the solar capital of the world.

Kirkpatrick: We need a national strategy. I'd stop subsidies for the oil industry and redirect them to renewable energy. California is leading the way on this, so should we. We should be producing solar panels here in Arizona; solar should be affordable so people can put panels on their houses.

Do you support the repeal of the estate tax?

(Nintzel asks for show of hands; no one supports.)

Wheeler: No, it would only benefit a tiny portion of country. Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, knew we couldn’t keep wealth concentrated.

Do you support the border wall?

(Nintzel asks for show of hands; no one supports.)

How would you secure the border?

Kirkpatrick: We don’t want a wall. We need comprehensive immigration reform, and we need to pass the DREAM act. The border is too rugged for a wall. We need to protect DACA.

Matiella: Border wall is stupid; it doesn’t work. What does work is good border security, so hire more. (The audience boos at this.) My husband was born in Nogales—his family wasn't criminals and rapists like Trump said. We can solve problem with security at the border, or drones. Border wall is bad for the environment.

Kovacs: Make sure every undocumented person in country has pathway to citizenship. I don’t think we need more agents. I think we need more commerce with our partners, and improved easy crossing for border communities.

Do you support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants?

Wheeler: My father only spoke English, my mother only spoke Spanish. I do not have a birth certificate, and I challenge Republicans to make this an issue.

Heinz: We have to approach this with fairness, compassion and common sense. We need to make sure people get in line and get their green cards. We have a bottleneck at the border, and need customs officials, not border agents, to improve the flow of border commerce.

How would you support Davis-Monthan Air Force Base?

Wheeler: The A-10 is obsolete. It only has one purpose: it's perfect for close air support. They tried to create the F-35 to do anything. Now it has cost $1.1 trillion and it's 6 years late. We should be focusing on future of DM. We need better than the F-35.

Kirkpatrick: (Answering last question) I brought Dreamers (DACA recipients) to work on Capitol Hill to show them off. On DM: Ron Barber saved the A-10, not McSally, and she takes credit for it. I co-sponsored the legislation. I served on veterans services committee and we don’t pay the DM folks enough. Fort Huachuca is now a high-tech warfare center, we need programs like that at DM.

Matiella: I started working at DM when I was 16 years old. I’ll do everything I can to protect it. I have a different perspective on the A-10. I was at the Pentagon when it was up for cancellation. The Army and Marines love the A-10. Our current missions require the A-10. To say we don’t need the A-10 is theoretical—people need it. The Boneyard can get bigger, and we can start offering drone support. (Several crowd members respond with the military "Hoo-ah" salute.)

Kovacs: I've heard testimonials from the military that the A-10 is good. We need to look at the big picture, and other Arizona bases. Warfare is now high-tech, and we need to embrace that. We also need to fight wasteful military spending, and make sure subcontractors' dollars instead go to the people who need it most: those living and working on bases.

For this part of the forum, candidates asked each other questions.

Matiella (to Kirkpatrick): Why did you vote against Obama's clean power initiatives?

Kirkpatrick: I believe we need to balance taking care of the environment with jobs. We can lower emissions on existing coal-fired power plants. Paul Ryan refused to address this suggestion; it's the Republicans’ fault.

Kovacs (to Kirkpatrick): We’ve seen what the spotlight can do to candidates, like Hillary Clinton. Why stay in politics?

Kirkpatrick: I want to have a future for my grandchildren. I want to protect our government and ban Citizens United. There's too much dark money in politics, including $40 million spent against me in past years.

Kirkpatrick (to Kovacs): You’re young. How can we turn out the millennial vote?

Kovacs: Millennials won't vote for someone because they have a D next to their name. We want someone to stand for something. We need authenticity.

Heinz (to Kirkpatrick): During your Senate campaign, you advocated for term limits. Yet you're running for office again. How do you reconcile that?

Kirkpatrick: I signed on to a pledge for a constitutional amendment for term limits, and I still support that.

Next, Nintzel posed the final question.

How will you turn out voters?

Wheeler: We have to level with voters and not appear partisan. Rancor in the country is the worst since Civil War. I stand for universal medicare; that’s not a popular stance. Let’s be bold.

Kirkpatrick: This really is the most important election. I want to knock on doors and meet you where you are; you motivate me. People in Arizona are intelligent and knowledgeable about issues.

Heinz: We have to be present and show up, unlike McSally. My patients see me in the hospital and are concerned about Trump and our country.

Matiella: I’m going to be authentic. I’ll hear you out and then respond to you. Throughout this forum we haven’t talked about poverty. There are 25 million people who are poor, and I'll be fighting for them.

Kovacs: Most people here tonight are engaged, primary voters. We need to get our message out. We need to resonate with voters. We need to go out and fight the fight with the people who are fighting; not just paying lip service.

Closing statements:

Kovacs: I want everyone in the audience to focus on getting out the vote. We won’t win unless we stay united as Democrats.

Matiella: This district has already done a lot of good work getting people registered. I go out and visit the locals; I want to know how I can help people.

Heinz: We need to have someone who can connect with people. I spent 6 months working in hospital talking to patients and listening to their concerns. I hear from patients all over Southern Arizona and know what's worrying them besides heart attacks and strokes.

Kirkpatrick: We’re united in wanting McSally gone. I've lived in Tucson longer than McSally and I have deep ties to Tucson.

Wheeler: McSally listens to her donors like pharmaceutical and oil companies. She listens to her benefactors, not her constituents. We'll change that.