400 Democratic primary voters turned out at the candidate forum at Rincon High School.

400 Democratic primary voters turned out at the candidate forum at Rincon High School.

Illustrating the intense interest among Democrats in ousting Martha McSally from Congress, 400 people turned out to hear five Democratic congressional candidates at a forum organized by the progressive PAC Represent Me AZ.

A show of hands revealed that the audience was made up of primary voters. They showed up on a Thursday evening 10 months prior to the primary, looking for the candidate who can recapture the District 2 seat in Tucson.

And it may turn out that McSally will bail on re-election as she considers running for Flake’s Senate seat.

All the Democratic candidates supported a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, allowing women on Medicaid to use Planned Parenthood, restoring funding for the Affordable Care Act, requiring a background check for gun purchases, and opposing changes to boundaries of national monuments.

As a precinct committeeman, I listened for a candidate who would most interest voters on door-to-door visits. Here’s my take.

Candidates who have been elected to office

Bruce Wheeler is the candidate with the most-clearly expressed platform. He emphasized his support for Medicare for all. “Each one of us knows someone that’s on Medicare. It works, it’s efficient, and it’s cost-effective. It’s already covering the most expensive section of the population, and by making it universal we strengthen it,” he said.

Calling for action on climate change, Wheeler said, “it is an existential issue, a ticking time bomb. Every year we go backwards is robbing future generations of a healthy planet.”

A man who spoke Spanish growing up, he supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He attacked Trump efforts to build a border wall or impose a 20% trade tariff with Mexico.

He was a state representative for Tucson from 1975-1977, a Tucson City Council member from 1987-1995, and state representative again from 2011 to 2017. Admitting he hasn’t focused yet on campaign contributions, he has raised only $6,362 in donations.

Ann Kirkpatrick has garnered early support with an endorsement from former Rep. Gabby Giffords, and with donors who have contributed $337,852 to her campaign.

Yet there were catcalls and boos for Kirkpatrick when Mary Matiella asked about her 2015 vote against the Clean Power Plan. “We have to balance protecting the environment with keeping jobs,” Kirkpatrick said.

She called for an end to oil subsidies and for a national energy strategy to encourage wind power and electric cars. Kirkpatrick favors comprehensive immigration law that includes the Dream Act so that the Border Patrol can focus on criminal activities at the border. Citing her membership on the House homeland security and veterans affairs committees, she called for modernizing the military, yet also saving the antiquated A-10 mission for Davis Monthan Air Force Base.

Rebutting views that she is a Tucson outsider, she said: “I’m an Arizona Wildcat” who got her college and law degrees at the UofA, taught high school in Tucson, worked in the Pima County Attorney’s office and got married in Tucson.

Matt Heinz spoke the least of all the candidates. He must overcome his resounding loss by 43,933 votes to McSally in November 2016. “Losing is not fun,” he said. Prior to that he was an AZ state representative (2009-2013).

As a physician, he emphasized his work at the Tucson Medical Center, saying, “I’m uniquely able to interact with folks not just about heart attacks and strokes, but when their kid just lost his job.” 

He called for limiting the availability of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, refurbishing the electrical grid, and harnessing wind and solar energy.

Regarding the economy, he said, “We have a bottleneck at the Mexican border in terms of goods moving across. We don’t need more border agents, but customs agents to increase the number of jobs we have,” he said.

Heinz has raised $262,333 in campaign contributions.

Bill Kovacs, Mary Matiella, Matt Heintz, Ann Kirkpatrick and Bruce Wheeler.

Bill Kovacs, Mary Matiella, Matt Heintz, Ann Kirkpatrick and Bruce Wheeler.

Candidates who have not been elected to office

Mary Matiella has the longest government resume, serving as Assistant Secretary of the Army for financial management, appointed by President Obama, Assistant CFO at Housing and Urban Development and CFO for the US Forest Service. She has raised $93,143 in contributions.

Stumbling over her words, Matiella needs to work on her public-speaking skills. In supporting renewable energy, she said, “We have to definitely punish or put penalties on the use of fossil fuels. The main problem for the greenhouse effect is fossil fuels. It will be an unpopular thing to do because it’s a big industry with lobbyists. We have to be strong enough to fight the lobbyists.”

She favors Medicare for all, protecting the environment, background checks for gun purchases, tax credits for solar energy and electric cars.

She said the mission of Davis Monthan “requires the A-10” airplane, adding, “Davis Monthan will evolve, the boneyard can get bigger and they can do drone support.”

She decried the border wall as “a really stupid idea. It doesn’t work. What does work is good border security and hiring more agents. We can have drones checking to see who’s coming across the border.” She added, “I resent the fact that President Trump represented Mexicans as criminals and rapists. People who come from Mexico have contributed to this country.”

Billy Kovacs positions himself as the pro-business candidate who likes to avoid party labels. At age 30 he manages the Congress Hotel and owns the Prep & Pastry restaurant.

Saying the congressional district “is not a Democratic or Republican district,” he added, “I have a new vision of what the district should be,” without saying exactly what that was.

He disagreed with Matiella saying, “We don’t need to increase the number of border agents. We need to increase the amount of trade and commerce that comes from Mexico.”

He called for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. “We are Hungarian immigrants. We have a vineyard named after my grandfather who was a Hungarian freedom fighter,” he said.

He agreed with Matiella that the A-10 is vital for close air support, but said, “the future of war is cyber warfare. It won’t be on the ground  anymore.” He called for ending overspending on military subcontractors and ensuring that soldiers are paid a living wage.

He has raised $20,282 in campaign contributions.