Ron Barber and Martha McSally, opponents in the race for the open seat in Arizona's new Congressional District 2, met last night in Sierra Vista, in the first of two debates between the two. We have this account from reporter Bill Hess, of our sister publication, the Sierra Vista Herald.
Check out the story, as well as information regarding the second debate between Barber and McSally scheduled for Oct. 23 at the University of Arizona, below the jump.
SIERRA VISTA — At their first face-to-face forum Wednesday night, Republican congressional candidate Martha McSally was the first to go on the offensive, questioning her Democratic rival’s personal stands.
While Democratic incumbent Ron Barber was temporarily pushed into a defensive role, he found an opening and soon took an offensive against her.
The forum, which is one of just two scheduled between the two candidates for Arizona’s Congressional District 2 seat, required the candidates respond to 10 questions prepared by the Sierra Vista Area Chamber of Commerce and one question from the respective opponent.
The finger pointing between the two became especially heated when McSally asked Barber if he will apologize for an ad questioning her integrity, paid for by the Democratic House leadership.
“Will you not apologize to me? Right now?,” the GOP candidate asked.
Barber started to respond he would not apologize because he did not release the ad, saying it is not something he would have done.
However, McSally kept interrupting him, as he tried to explain his reasons.
Finally an exasperated Barber said “Can I finish, please?”
He went on to say, “I will apologize for something I did, but not what I didn’t do.”
Having the final word for the evening, which was listened to by about 600 people at the Buena High School Performing Arts Center, McSally again said Barber’s refusal to apologize is an embarrassment and shows Barber lacks moral courage.
That comment elicited loud boos from some in the audience, primarily in the area where many Democrats sat.
During his closing statement, prior to McSally’s, Barber outlined what he said were successes of his less than six months in office. The Democrat was elected too fill the unexpired term of Congressional District 8 Democratic, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was critically wounded after being shot in the head in 2010 at an event in Tucson. Giffords continues to recuperate.
With redistricting required because Arizona was given an extra congressional seat after the 2010 census, CD8 became CD2 in the redistricting process.
The first question focused on border security and went to Barber. While he said “... we have made progress, there still is a long way to go,” to include putting more Border Patrol and Drug Enforcement Agents on the border.
McSally said, “the federal government has failed” in stopping the movement of illegal immigrants and drugs across the border. There has to be an increase of manpower “at the border” not away from it, she said. In the first of several references to her military career as an Air Force woman fighter pilot, McSally said her 26 years military career taught her how to address manpower problems.
“This is not rocket science,” the Republican said.
McSally's referrals to her military career began to tire the audience, with audible groans when she made the statements.
In rebuttal, Barber said while “illegal immigration is on the wane,” he agrees the federal government under many administrations have failed to address the border issue.
In the forum rules, a candidate asked a question had two minutes to respond, followed by two minutes for the opponent to respond and the candidates, on alternating basis, had a 30-second rebuttal time.
On the question concerning the importance of the defense industry to the state’s economy and the potential impact sequestration could have locally, meaning Fort Huachuca, McSally answered first.
“This is another failure of Congress,” she said. McSally said it will be a $1.2 trillion hit because Congress failed to come up with a plan to not allow sequestration to happen.
“Mr. Barber aid says he is against sequestration” but he voted for the bill which would have eliminated sequestration, she said.
Her Democratic opponent voted with Nancy Pelosi on the issue, McSally said.
Barber noted the bill put forward by the GOP-controlled House was not supported by the Administration or the Secretary of Defense, but more importantly, by none of the military’s senior uniformed leaders. Barber called the GOP bill “a terrible, irresponsible move.”
In her rebuttal, McSally questioned if Barber had really read the bill.
The third question had to do with continuing the extension of Republican President George W. Bush’s tax cuts.
Barber said while there must be cuts, extending the Bush plan means “millionaires and billionaires” will continue to be help more than the middle class, who will continue to suffer, which is a national campaign view held by the Democratic leadership.
The reference to 'millionaires and billionaires' led to some boos from the audience.
McSally agreed the middle class is suffering but noted rich Americans should not be penalized which led to some boos because it reflects the national Republican position.
”We need to reform the tax code,” McSally added.
In his rebuttal, Barber said the Republican-proposed tax bill will cause more harm than help. Ensuring a balanced budget led to the first of several testy exchanges between the two candidates. McSally said the national debt of more than $16 trillion, has the United States on the path to become another Greece.
There is no fiscal discipline, she said, noting she supports a balanced budget.
The government, like the people of the United States should not spend more than it takes in, McSally said.
Barber said her position follows that of GOP congressman and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.
Saying he would like to see the corporate tax rate reduced from 35 percent to 28 percent, the Democrat said the best way to answer the growing deficit is to end the many tax loop holes benefiting the rich. McSally refuted Ryan’s balanced budget approach would harm the fiscal integrity of the country during her rebuttal.
As for whether the federal government should managed private enterprise and bail out companies deemed to big to fail, the two candidates had different views. Barber said it has been proven in some cases the federal government should intervene to protect the financial well being of the nation. The auto bail out did not end up killing the American business rather it saved it, Barber said.
“There are times the federal government to step in,” he said.
McSally said government should not be involved in the business of American businesses.
“I don’t believe the government should be intervening,” she said.
Then she claimed Barber has been at attacking her personally.
“Stop calling me and extremist Mr. Barber. Stop with the extremist nonsense,” she said.
She went on to contend he questions her service to the nation as a member of the Air Force.
Taken aback, Barber said, “I certainly respect your service,” but said he has differences on how he sees the role a U.S. representative has, and that is where he disagrees with her, Barber said in his rebuttal.
When it came to the Affordable Healthcare Act question, the two again differed.
McSally said the act is not affordable “and has to be repealed and replaced.”
Barber said while the act is far from perfect it should be refined especially in the area of over payments.
McSally’s rebuttal said the opposite is true, with providers being underpaid.
As for the potential for an increase in fees, co-pays and deductibles for those on the military’s TRICARE health care system, both candidates said they will not support any such proposal.
Barber said, “I have voted no. I will vote no every time it comes up.”
McSally said putting more fees on those who are serving or have served is wrong.
Both recognized some federal agencies, such as the EPA and some acts like the Endangered Species Act, have been misused to the detriment o f the people.
As for the Environmental Protection Agency, the ninth question asked Barber said the organization has overstepped its bounds on many occasions and has to be monitored more closely.
McSally said her opponent voted against the Stop the War Against Coal, a proposal to use more coal in the United States, again noting he voted as Pelosi wanted.
Barber said in is rebuttal it was he, along with Arizona Republican Congressman Jeff Flake, who sent a letter to the EPA demanding a public meeting for people to talk about the agency’s goal of requiring more stringent environmental constraints of coal using generation plant in Cochise County, which was done.
The final question was another environmental issue, concerning how groups are targeting Fort Huachuca and threatening its missions and the local economy. And further, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management claiming it has senior water rights when it comes to the San Pedro River.
McSally said the actions are more examples of the federal government becoming involved in issues which should be handled locally, Barber said he EPA rules have allowed some environmental groups more access to the federal agency than to the people living in an area and it must be rectified.
Barber said he has worked on the fort and river issues for more than six years, starting when he was Giffords’ district director.
“I know this issue,” he said, adding protection of the fort and the river is a priority to him.
The second debate is set to take place in Tucson on Oct. 23, at the University of Arizona Student Union Memorial Center's Grand Ballroom—more details can be found here.