Candidates Offer Surprises as 300+ Democrats Flock to CD2 Congressional Candidate Forum

CD2 Candidates at May 3, 2018 forum

Left to right: Mary Matiella, Billy Kovacs, Matt Heinz, Bruce Wheeler, Barbara Sherry and Yahya Yuksel.

Some 300 people packed Catalina High School yesterday night for the CD2 Congressional Democratic candidate forum held May 3, 2018, by the Represent Me AZ grassroots PAC. Here are the high points:

  • This forum showed what democracy looks like: an open, public and free event, as contrasted with GOP candidate forums which are closed, secretly announced and cost money to attend.
  • Yahya Yuksel

    Yahya Yuksel

    New candidate Yahya Yuksel, an attorney, stole the show with his articulate, quotable and confident presence. Born and raised in Tucson he has worked for Democratic campaigns since he was a teenager, including Gabby Giffords and Mayor Karin Uhlich. “I’m a young Democrat. I’m running because we see a broken Congress, we see constant war, and we see the economy not working for everybody. We need new ideas, not yesterday’s answers,” he says.

  • The candidates seethed with resentment for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) which has offended local Democrats by picking candidates so early in the primary. “It is shameful that the DCCC has taken the task, before you have had a chance to vote to endorse a candidate,” Bruce Wheeler said to loud applause. “The outside interference is something that needs to be countered.”
  • Mary Matiella zinged Matt Heinz with the question, “What are you doing different this time to make sure you win?” In 2016 Heinz lost in his run for Congress in CD2 by 44,000 votes in a race where he relied mostly on TV ads.
  • Ann Kirkpatrick made a mistake by not attending. The forum was an opportunity to capture support and deflect criticism. She leads in fundraising, winning important endorsements, and getting the DCCC support that the other candidates, not surprisingly, begrudge.
  • Heinz zinged the absent Kirkpatrick when asked if he would endorse Kirkpatrick if she wins the primary. “It is important that the Democrats nominate a Democrat, he said to loud applause. “As soon as I hear that, I will absolutely endorse them,” he says. Heinz is the leading attacker of Kirkpatrick, criticizing her northern Arizona origin and long-ago top rating from the NRA. Kirkpatrick lives in Tucson and has a “D” rating from the NRA now.
  • Veteran legislator Bruce Wheeler is apparently running a one-man campaign. He says he personally collected 95% of his signatures to get on the ballot. Wheeler has only $8,686 on hand, so he is not raising funds effectively.
  • After a one-year campaign, Mary Matiella still stumbles over her words and has a hard time making herself clear. In a bizarre argument, she said the EEOC [U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] had been disbanded and should be brought back. This is not true — because the EEOC is still actively litigating discrimination charges and enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.
  • Bill Kovacs boldly called for de-funding of ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which is breaking up undocumented families captured at the border. He also says that marijuana should be removed from the forbidden Schedule 1 list of drugs. His says his mother has chronic Crohn’s disease and is a marijuana patient. “When you look at what marijuana and CBD [Cannabidiol] can do for chronic pain, it is a lifeline for America, he says. 
  • Barbara “Chemtrails” Sherry has become a fringe candidate who currently does not have the 1,274 signatures needed to get on the ballot by the May 30 filing date. She bitterly and incoherently criticized front-runner Kirkpatrick.


March 3, 2018 forum audience


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Like at other forums, all the candidates had similar platforms and support the same progressive policies, including Medicare for All, gun safety, a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, increasing taxes on high-income individuals, fighting the opioid epidemic, and opposing Trump’s border wall.

Yuksel stands out

Yuksel, however, stood out and brought an enthusiastic contingent of supporters in orange T-shirts. Regarding the opioid epidemic, he says, “The war on drugs has gotten us nowhere. Where is the war on Big Pharma?” He added, “One life lost to opioids is an indictment of ourselves. What we do as a nation will be there for generations to come. Do we lock up opioid users into prison or care for them and say it’s a social health problem and rally behind it. It is a problem. It’s our failure if we don’t address it.”

He called for campaign finance reform, starting with filling two vacant seats on the Federal Election Commission. “There is a systemic problem in Congress, and it’s campaign finance. Both parties complicit in it. This government is not responsive to the electorate — it’s the special elite that controls the economy. Until we change campaign finance, candidates will have ulterior motives that they’re shackled to. You don’t want Congress members spending all their time fundraising and attending cocktail parties.”

Yuksel entered the race only a month ago but said he already had half the signatures he needs to get on the ballot. “Getting signatures is not the hard part of our campaign. We’ve been in the race for almost a month and we’ll get it done,” he said to loud applause.

Regarding immigration, he says, “The wall won’t solve the problem. The problem is not the border. The problem is economic despair and suppressed civil rights in countries to the south of us. If we can solve that problem we won’t need the drones or checkpoints. I’m the son of immigrants. My mother came here because an Ayatollah took over their government. The only difference between you and me and the Dreamers is a piece of paper — and that’s Congress’ fault.”

Yuksel says his heritage is Persian, Turkish and Kurdish. He has a law degree from UA and a Masters in Chinese law from China’s top University. 

“I bring that local and international experience back here. China is pivoting with its One Belt-One Road initiative,” connecting it to Europe, Southeast Asia, and Russia. “We have similar opportunities and squandered them. We need people who know China. Why can’t we have high-speed rail? Let’s get it done. We’ve got to increase solar energy production. We bring a new generation, new ideas, and we’re ready to do this together.”

Improving the Southern AZ economy

Bruce Wheeler was the audience favorite at the xxx candidates forum, according to a survey by Represent Me AZ.

Bruce Wheeler was the audience favorite at the May 3 candidates forum, according to a survey by Represent Me AZ.

Wheeler called for eliminating fossil fuel subsidies. “In this state, we don’t have any subsidy for solar. I’d also invest in infrastructure. We don’t have a longer-term economic plan that addresses jobs and infrastructure. Trump gets elected and tried to dismantle everything we’ve done progressively.”

Kovacs emphasized supporting small business. “We need to take older buildings and communities and pull them out of poverty with non-gentrification measures. I’m in four working groups to make sure it’s done. I want to restore the Main Street of this economy, and bring back small business to southern Arizona because that builds our economy.”

Matiella called for restoring the recent 25% cut in funding for the Small Business Administration. “I would push to fund the Small Business Administration so it can provide a backup to small businesses. Most small businesses are women-owned. It is important to support this social element and encourage women to be business owners. We also need to support research and development through federal subsidies, tax breaks or tax credits.”

Kovacs called for expanding small business loans through the USDA. “We employ 15 people in our vineyard in Sierra Vista. We can create more jobs if we expand that industry.” He added, “medical marijuana companies are buying  defunct property down there and building hydroponic grow houses. If you want to be like Colorado and get $60 million in taxes, that’s how you get into [the marijuana] industry.”

Heinz echoed the call to build solar energy generation. “We have amazing talent at UA. By harnessing that innovation, we should be able to enough photovoltaics to run most of the state and most of North America. New Jersey actually beats Arizona in the portion of energy it generates from the sun, and so does Germany. These are both cloudy places — and we’re behind them.”

To learn more, read:

Ann Kirkpatrick is Front Runner at Candidates Forum for Tucson’s Congressman

400 Turn Out to Hear Democratic Congressional Candidates

26 responses to “Candidates Offer Surprises as 300+ Democrats Flock to CD2 Congressional Candidate Forum

  1. Carolyn Classen

    Just published audience survey results of audience’s “grading system” at this forum. Bruce Wheeler was the favorite.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/3mtbubx16vjiy0p/Results%20May%203%20Survey.pdf?dl=0

  2. Do people who get their politics largely through social media even make it to the polls? They didn’t last time, at least not the Democrats. Of course, the Clinton campaign was one of the worst-managed re social media, compounded by Clinton’s own email faux pas (which were not trivial).

  3. Gretchen Wagenseller

    Some comments–The moderator asked “If you can, name one issue you’re willing to break with your party over to represent the interest of CD-2 residents.” This is taking a stance that is out of line with the either (#1) the party platform, (#2) the majority of the other House Democrats, and/or (#3) with the sentiments of the party “base” (e.g., the May 3 forum audience) because you believe the majority of your district views this issue differently than either #1, #2, and/or #3. Heinz at least gave an example where he did this in the past. No one else answered this question as posed. Later in the forum, Yuksel essentially gave an answer to this in indicating that if agreeing to an immigration plan that (finally) addressed the needs of the DREAMers/DACA recipients, he would be willing to agree to some funding for the wall. This is the kind of political courage and reasonableness that we need–the ability to balance priorities. When you get to Congress, you’re not going to get everything you want exactly the way you want it–you have to get at least 218 people to agree on a bill. We may win many seats in 2018 but possible not win back the House, and the new CD-2 rep will have to deal with that. If our rep is absolutist in “zero money for the wall”, then we may never be able to give the DREAMers what they desperately need, and they have waited too long and 80%+ of the public wants us to give the DREAMers a path to citizenship. Kudos to Yuksel for this response. It shows reasonable

  4. Gretchen Wagenseller

    The forum was helpful in that it gave voters a better idea of what the candidates viewed as the problems/issues. Definitely ridiculous that Kirkpatrick was not there and no reason given as to why she couldn’t unschedule 1 night in all of May and most of June to attend a forum that would be attended by or watched by some/most of the Democratic activists in CD-2–the ones who are going to be at least partly responsible for the GOTV–who want to know what does she actually stand for (particularly some of her previous votes). This implies that she doesn’t give a shit about them and is not accessible or open (no other public non-paying events in May or June for voters to attend for Q&A)?

  5. Thank you for bringing up Barbara Sherry chem trails thing. It was not brought up at forum and I spoke to several people that were impressed by her. I had to inform them what chem trails are and her belief. In any event, it seems we have a frontrunner with zero grass roots support. I have yet to meet anybody excited about thw Kirkpatrick candidacy. Not a good recipe to win in Nov.

  6. Charlene Mendoza

    I was at the CD2 Forum and had a different impression – no problem with that though…however, it is disrespectful to not spell candidates names correctly – Mary Matiella, not Marty. I thought the candidates all did a nice job representing themselves, being available to talk to constituents and helping us to understand how their positions are similar and different.

  7. I was at the forum, and this piece is a little odd in that you have positives and negatives for most of the other candidates, but only (hyperbolic) praise for Yuksel, and don’t even mention, say, that when he said he was okay with border checkpoints, the audience noticably responded and argued with him.

    He had his moments, but so did everyone else, and this piece reads as if it’s written by Yuksel’s PR team, not by an outside blogger or journalist.

    • Debbie Collazo

      Larry supports Ann Kirkpatrick, and it is to her benefit that he praise someone late to the race and not one of her serious contenders. Yahya Yuksel was asked directly why he entered the race late. He disregarded the question, only to answer that he would get the necessary signatures. If he runs again, he might want to offer more specifics about his background, such as what type of law he practices in Tucson and how long he has been a member of the Arizona bar. As of this morning, the Federal Elections Commission reports no financial data on Mr. Yuksel, and that begs the question, who are his supporters?

  8. There are a lot of tweets and pictures from the #CD2CandidateForum on Twitter.

    https://twitter.com/hashtag/CD2candidateforum?src=hash

  9. Debbie Collazo

    I am curious to know what Ann Kirkpatrick’s strategy is. Several weeks ago, her team said that she would not be able to fit a public forum into her schedule until the end of June! Is she aware that a major issue in CD 2 is disgust with Rep. Martha McSally for hiding from her constituents?

    • From what I’ve observed her strategy is to be the DCCC candidate, focus on the least controversial issues such as education, veterans, infrastructure, protecting Medicare and SS, etc…, be as general and vague as possible, and win because she has all the money, name recognition, and support of the party leadership.

      She plans to coast right in while the underfunded challengers have an uphill battle.

      But I’m glad that, according to Mr. Bodine, the candidates “seethed with resentment for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC)…” Many voters are seething with resentment as well.

      The DCCC has decided that Republican-Lite is a great fit for CD2 and a lot of us think they are wrong. With Fake Rep Martha gone, we have a real opportunity for a more progressive candidate, and if the DCCC hadn’t interfered, it would be a much more level playing field.

  10. Daniel Schmidt

    Ann Kirkpatrick got her A rating from the NRA in 2012. I wouldn’t say that was “long-ago”. Pretty biased reporting blog for arizona. Boo.

    • So when are you going to get over it? She’s endorsed by Gabby Giffords of the Giffords Law Center Against Gun Violence.

      • It would be interesting to know why Ann Kirkpatrick received that endorsement.

        Here’s Ann in 2010. Generally speaking, a leopard doesn’t change its spots. Perhaps she’s the exception. But I pray that before the Democratic primary some of this comes back to haunt her, her own words. Why, SB1070 wasn’t so bad according to Ann. And she touts her ‘A’ grade from the NRA.

        • She defends SB1070 @1:45.

          I’d like to hear this DCCC handpicked candidate speak to race related issues.

          • Debbie Collazo

            Few Democrats in southern Arizona would be able to find anything positive about SB1070 the way Ann Kirkpatrick does in that video. No wonder she is holding back from public forums. This article from the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff recounts what Ann Kirkpatrick’s office says she learned about protecting borders on an all expense paid trip to Israel with her husband, valued at $9,200 each. The article begins with the League of Conservation Voters pulling its support from Ann Kirkpatrick, an action that the League would not have taken lightly: http://azdailysun.com/news/local/kirkpatrick-counterattacks-enviros/article_6d5f1ca8-b41f-59e0-8336-e1868d37334d.html

          • Yeah, Ms. Kirkpatrick has been on the wrong side of quite a number of issues. Also, it appears that scrutiny of her voting record sometimes reveals that she spoke one way and voted another.

            I had that same thought about her avoiding the forum a couple of days ago. I wonder if it was tactical.

        • 04.02.2018
          Here’s Who the Democrats Want You to Vote for This November
          BY BRANKO MARCETIC

          It’s no secret that the Democrats are going for a repeat of 2006. All the elements are there: a deeply unpopular president; a host of districts seemingly ready to turn blue; and an aggressive push by the national party committees. Key to these efforts is the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” campaign, a list of Democratic candidates — sometimes recruited, sometimes not — in flippable districts who are singled out for extra help from the party.

          … the party’s picks in general — tends towards military veterans and former officials, particularly if they happen to be business owners, wealthy, and well-connected. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the more notable names on the list.

          Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-02).

          A deficit hawk and supporter of a balanced-budget amendment, Kirkpatrick nonetheless joined Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts, and railed against Wall Street greed while voting against the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill. Years later, she voted to weaken them.

          She’s also been an implacable foe of environmental regulations, opposing the EPA’s attempt to regulate greenhouse gases and supporting a controversial Arizona mining project that environmentalists fear would wreak havoc on the local environment. This year, Kirkpatrick came out against the project at a candidate forum, before immediately walking back her opposition after the event, claiming she had “misheard” the question. This was the same forum in which she puzzlingly called Medicare for All a “massive tax cut” for corporations.

          https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/04/democratic-party-red-to-blue-list-candidates

      • Daniel Schmidt

        I’m not sure I understand what there is to “get over”. We need a strong voice, someone who will not only fall in along party lines (not even sure yet if that’s the case here in terms of emphasis on austerity or disregard for the environment), but push ceaselessly to stop our kids from getting murdered in their schools. 2012 was post-Columbine, post- a lot, so when should it matter?

        • Daniel Schmidt

          And if you can’t answer that, then perhaps this whole piece is a demonstration of complacent cowardice on the part of the party.

          • For Sure Not Tom

            The DNCC tends to favor job security for their candidates and members over Democratic ideals.

            We want FDR Democrats, instead we get 1990’s-style Republicans claiming to be Dems, and when we question this policy, we get insults and blacklisted.

            #NoWileyBudNoPeace.

  11. Here’s how the CD2 candidates look on Twitter (in no particular order).

    Billy Kovacs (Joined on 4-2017)
    568 Tweets
    9,164 Followers

    Mary Matiella (6-2017)
    125 Tweets
    804 Followers

    Yahya Yuksel (2-2010)
    113 Tweets
    631 Followers

    Bruce Wheeler (6-2012)
    701 Tweets
    2513 Followers

    Barbara Sherry (2-2018)
    3 Tweets
    12 Followers

    Ann Kirkpatrick (3-2011)
    102 Tweets
    8099 Followers

    Dr. Matt Heinz (6-2009)
    322 Tweets
    1954 Followers