Republican congressional candidate Martha McSally is surprised to discover that she's getting a rap in the press as someone who isn't forthright about her positions.
McSally, who narrowly lost a 2012 race to U.S. Rep. Ron Barber in Southern Arizona's Congressional District 2 and hopes for a rematch in 2014, told the Weekly that she finds it "sort of frustrating to me that everybody is now making a big issue over 'McSally won't answer questions.'"
But McSally has frequently sidestepped questions about how she would vote on various bills in recent months. When she launched her long-expected campaign on Oct. 1, McSally declined to say whether she would have supported a "clean" continuing resolution that would have kept government open or whether she would support a path to citizenship for undocumented workers now in the United States as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package. And as the Weekly reported last week, she does not have a position on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed by the U.S. Senate this month.
In an interview with the Weekly earlier this month, McSally explained that she generally doesn't know enough about the details of legislation to make a good decision about how she would vote on it.
"I'm not in Congress, I don't have a staff, I don't have the briefings," McSally said. "I'm not going to spend all of my time making comments on legislation I haven't studied or been briefed on or have the same sort of opportunities that a member of Congress has. I'd be spending literally day and night if I'm going to comment on every single piece of legislation that comes up, and I'm not going to just willy-nilly go, 'Yeah, I would have voted for that or I wouldn't have voted for that' if I haven't really studied it."
McSally said sharing her general principles ought to be enough for voters, and that Southern Arizonans were not interested in how she would vote on legislation this year.
"The only people who are pushing me on this are the media," McSally said. "Not constituents. Not voters. Voters want to know what my philosophies are."
Rodd McLeod, a political strategist who is working on Barber's re-election campaign, said that "Southern Arizonans deserve straight answers, not the run-around."
"McSally is a three-time candidate who changed her positions many times in 2012, and people deserve honest answers," McLeod said via email. "For instance, we still don't have an answer as to where she stands on the bill that ended the government shutdown. Where does she stand? Does she really need a staff to tell her what she thinks? What kind of leadership is that?"
McSally's reluctance to stake out clear positions on legislation has been noted by the Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and left-leaning political commentators.
But the most stinging assessment came earlier this month from Stuart Rothenberg of the influential Rothenberg Political Report after McSally refused to answer his question about whether she would have voted in favor of the compromise deal that reopened the federal government in October. The legislation split Arizona Republicans, with Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake voting in favor of it and all the House Republicans opposing it.
Rothenberg said that McSally gave him "a lot of baloney about not wanting to look backward and only wanting to look ahead."
In his column, Rothenberg acknowledged that the question is "an awkward one for Republicans, since many in the party's grass roots opposed the deal and many moderate and swing voters favored it. Supporting the deal could cause problems for a candidate in a Republican primary but be an asset in the general election."
Rothenberg added: "This is one of those questions a candidate should not be allowed to duck, since the answer says something about the candidate's views and approach to the legislative process. ... If McSally is as much of a straight shooter as she says she is, she ought to answer the question about how she would have voted, even if she needs to add an explanation about her answer."