On a beautiful day in January, retired Air Force Colonel Martha McSally, the elusive Arizona Republican Congresswoman from Tucson, who has incredibly not held a Town Hall in close to three years, stood in front of a small crowd of VIPs congregated in a private airplane hangar (east of Tucson) and declared her candidacy for Arizona Senate. Her rally was an over the top, hyper-nationalistic “barn burner” of an occasion, where McSally told the crowd that she was ready to – as they say in the Air Force: Fly, Fight and Win.
McSally dressed up in her old A-10 flight suit, awkwardly rattled off some sort of racist stuff about the Mexican-American border, Sharia Law, and Trump’s Wall – then hopped in the back seat of a shiny WWII T-6 vintage trainer plane. She was then flown, by another pilot to Phoenix and Prescott for further campaign rallies – it was over-the-top self-aggrandizement.
U.S. Rep Martha McSally, a two-term Republican from Tucson and a former Air Force combat pilot is running for the same Senate seat which U.S. Senator Jeff Flake will retire from following his fiery rebuke of President Trump’s fascist tendencies on the Senate floor. The three-candidate, dogfight of a primary pits McSally, (the clear choice of the GOP establishment), against pardoned Sheriff Arpaio of Fountain Hills and conspiracy theorist Kelli Ward, a former state senator from Lake Havasu City, both of whom will be battling to win the party’s conservative base. Just last week, McSally was endorsed by our state’s former governor, Jan Brewer.
Confusing and weird
In the digital ad that accompanied her “Fly, Fight, Win” campaign rallies, McSally walks among aircraft and bizarrely declares:
“I refused to bow down to Sharia Law, and like our president, I am tired of DC politicians and their BS excuses – I am a fighter pilot and I talk like one. That’s why I told Washington Republicans to grown a pair of ovaries and get the job done.”
Huh? Even among the hard right, the ad was received as confusing, weird, and ultra-Trumpian.
In this perplexing political ad, McSally is attempting to showcase an earlier episode which put her on the political map – when she sued the Pentagon to end its regulation that stated that all off-duty servicewomen must wear the abaya, the long robe demanded by Saudi religious Mullahs. Back then many women, myself included, thought she was making a feminist statement of equality, but in her recent campaign ad, she now seems has twisted that message to say: she is standing up against “Sharia Law” – an ideology loved by Christian Conservatives.
Because McSally has yet to hold a Town Hall in nearly three years, many Arizonans don’t know much about her. I know a lot about Martha McSally – as a combat veteran, former Army officer and native Tucsonan who received my Army Commission at the University of Arizona, I have been following Congresswoman McSally for more than a decade. I can confidently say she is the “swampiest” of politicians and has clearly chosen party over country. McSally is a NO GO for Arizona Veterans of any political stripe and Democrats for all of the obvious reasons – but even Republicans and Independents should steer clear of her in the Arizona 2018 midterms. This is why.
Early years and Sexual Assault: born and raised in Rhode Island, McSally attended an all-girls Catholic school, where tragically, she was sexually assaulted by her track coach during her senior year; an event she just recently shared with the Wall Street Journal. I wish to make crystal clear that I believe her account of the assault 100% and continue to stand for her right to seek equality and justice. McSally reports that her coach, over 20 years her senior, manipulated her into having sex with him many times. She even said that she would run, and run [long distances], to avoid having her menstrual cycle, in hopes of not getting pregnant. She stated: “I was freaking out that he would get me pregnant.” The track coach has, of course denied the assault, and McSally has declined to take the matter further saying:
“That’s difficult to prove the morning after, let alone 10 years after,” and that she believes she became “an endurance athlete and a fighter pilot because I was looking for ways to not be powerless.”
As someone who has spent the last decade trying to stop sexual harassment and assault in our nation’s military, I want to be clear: this criminal act by this man repulses me. But, I would be dishonest if I said I wasn’t epically disappointed in Congresswoman McSally. As women all across our country, to include female members of our military valiantly stand up – with great risk to themselves – for their right to human dignity – and as women across our nation call out the criminals who assaulted them, including very high-profile men like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and even President Trump – Congresswoman McSally sat silently.
I would have stood for her, as so many women would have stood for her dignity as an equal human being. But I guess she figured she was doing it right this whole time and the rest of us were doing it wrong – who knows. What I do know, is that she did not stand for other victims, when she could have, when she had this amazing platform to do so. Also, she shockingly has expressed no strong support for the #MeToo movement. For me, and so many other military veterans, this leadership failure on her part is close to unforgivable and heartbreakingly short-sighted.
McSally’s time at the U.S. Air Force Academy – What You Don’t Know. Only until recently, Rep. McSally, seemed rather moderate, or at least not as radicalized as many of the raving loons who currently occupy the GOP. Yet, lately, she is anything but moderate. How did she make such a hard turn to the right? Is it only to win her primary? I actually don’t think so. McSally has always embraced Christianity as her political guide (which usually is not a concern), but it is my belief that her faith, like many Air Force Cadets, was further evangelicalized during her time at the United States Air Force Academy.
What many Arizonans might not know, is something that most military officers of all service branches have known for some time; the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs produces the most Evangelical Christian military officers in our nation. Make no mistake, her formative years at the Air Force Academy, and its zealous Christian environment solidified most of McSally’s political and social ideology.
The location of the Air Force Academy is the dominant reason for its evangelical proselytizing; Colorado Springs hosts many mega-style Christian evangelical churches, such as James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, as well as New Life Church, an evangelical church founded by Pastor Ted Haggard. These churches all have very active youth movements and have shockingly, been given access by leaders at the Air Force Academy to cadet dorms and common areas. The Air Force has been afflicted with this controversy over religious intolerance and the promotion of evangelical Christian ideas and beliefs for over a decade. There have been multiple accusations of improper and sometimes illegal proselytizing on the Colorado Springs campus. In fact, so many complaints have been made, that 66 Congressional House Republicans sent a letter to the former Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, urging him to investigate the “USAF’s growing hostility toward religious freedom.”
Colonel McSally’s Years as an Air Force Fighter Pilot: McSally is the first woman to fly a fighter aircraft during combat operations, navigating into enemy territory during Operation Southern Watch (1992 operation to secure the Gulf). She is also the first woman to command a combat air squadron. I commend her for that accomplishment, and I know firsthand that in the 1990s that accomplishment was a heavy lift, by anyone’s standards. But let’s face it – her freedom to sit in that A-10 cockpit was won through the daunting and thankless work of “Liberal Feminists” and courageous military women serving before her, who had the guts to publicly demand the military treat them equally and allow them to sit in that cockpit. McSally, like many Republican women, seems to only care if SHE is allowed to do something she wants to do. She made and continues to make no public statements about the numerous female Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines currently fighting like hell, to attend Ranger School, join the Infantry, serve in special forces units, or even attend the same Boot Camp as male Marines; It seems that equality only matters to her.
One Trick Pony – McSally cares deeply about the preservation of the A-10 Warthog attack aircraft, and as a former Army Officer and native of Tucson, I appreciate her desire to retain this aircraft. I am fully aware that this aircraft employs many civilians at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, in Tucson. Nonetheless, McSally sadly does not have much more up her sleeve for Arizonans. She trots around in her old flight suit, takes off in vintage prop planes, and rattles on and on about how tough she is.
OK, we get it, but what in the hell are you actually going to do for the 97% of Arizonans who are not in the Air Force or who do not repair the A-10? Look – at the end of the day, I just don’t know how imperative the preservation of this very old aircraft matters to most Arizonans, as much as saying: making a living wage, not having to live next to an abhorrent border wall, or access to quality and affordable healthcare.
Guns: while McSally has not come out and directly attacked the teens of Parkland, like so many of her rabid colleagues in the GOP, she does not support gun reform legislation of any kind. Like so many of the current crop of Republicans, she is bought and controlled by the NRA. The NRA paid exactly $77,063.00 for the rights to dictate to Martha McSally, her position on guns. I can say it no plainer: our children’s lives are literally at risk of being shot and killed if she wins this Arizona Senate seat. I am a combat veteran and supporter of the 2nd Amendment, but I also support reform – reform on all levels of gun ownership. I am not alone – more and more veterans are speaking out on this issue every day. #VetsForGunReform, an online activist group of military veterans, has membership numbers in the thousands.
Trump’s BFF– There is this prevailing myth that Martha McSally is bipartisan, that she works across the aisle – I used to think that too. But facts are stubborn, and if she ever embraced bi-partisanship, she just doesn’t anymore. Five Thirty-Eight has determined that Rep. McSally has voted with President Trump 97% of the time. Shockingly in February 2017, she voted against a resolution that would have directed the House to request ten years of Trump’s tax returns, which would then have been reviewed by the House Ways and Means Committee in a closed session.
At the end of the day, it is clear; she has bet on Trump and decided to hitch her wagon to the Trump Train. Many say it’s just because she wants to win her primary, and after she does just that, she’ll return to her normal human self. Ok, I get that, I understand when candidates tack left or right to appease the base – but Trump is different –and her support for Trump shows us a lot about who she is – it shows us that maybe she doesn’t know who the hell she is.
Reproductive Rights – Martha McSally, who once feared that her criminal, sexually assaulting, track coach would impregnate her as a 17-year-old child, opposes abortion in all cases except rape and incest. When the 20-week abortion ban was up for a vote, she never really would say whether she opposed it, but in the end, like many of her veiled positions, she voted for it. Abortion and a woman’s access to reproductive care is something that McSally decided upon when, during her time at the Air Force Academy when she devoted her life to Christ. Her mind will not change on this issue.
Education – like most everything, McSally has not come out with a formal position on education in Arizona. Nearly six years ago, in one of her rare appearances in front of her constituents, she said:
“education for our kids should not be dictated by Washington bureaucrats but by local experts with parent involvement and rewards for excellence. Hard-earned middle-class-taxpayer money should not go to D.C. to strip funds off the top, then return to the states with conditions, paperwork and mandates resulting in cookie-cutter educational recipes.”
Wow! She is running for the U.S. Senate and that is the extent of her position on education – even in the midst of thousands of Arizona teachers upending their lives and marching in the streets in a struggle to attain a living wage and funding for our children’s schools. #RedforEd, like Parkland has, by anyone’s assessment changed the narrative on public education in Arizona, and she just didn’t get the memo. McSally attended a private Catholic school and then went onto an elite military academy, she has no children who attend public school. Maybe, just maybe its like equality in the military – if it doesn’t affect her she probably doesn’t care much.
Where McSally Grew Up Informs Her views on Immigration and DACA – for many Arizonans, who are not familiar with McSally, it is easy to think she is from Arizona – she is not. Congresswoman McSally was born and raised in Rhode Island. Her supporters say: well she has lived here a long time. But has she? Not really – Tucson just happened to be the last stop in her long Air Force career. McSally retired in Tucson, bought a home, and quickly ran for Tucson’s District 2 Congressional seat (she lost her first special election and then ran again and won).
McSally did not grow up on this border with Mexico, she did not attend public school in Arizona, alongside Mexican Americans, she does not cross the border as many of us do every day – to visit family, shop or go to the beach – she has not worked with the Mexican people in any significant way – it is completely possible that she has never even travelled to Mexico. McSally’s views on immigration and the Mexican-American border are typical of most Republicans from the East Coast– they are not founded in reality, sort of racist, and ill-informed.
McSally has sided with Trump and his supporters to shut down DACA, and yes – she really will support the building of that ridiculous and cruel wall. On Fox News she said: “The Border Wall absolutely needs to be built.” She also recently tweeted:
“I have always supported building a wall, but with @JerryBrownGov ’s liberal attitude on sanctuary cities, we might have to build a wall between Arizona and California to protect Arizonans.”
McSally has traveled a handful of times, to the border and for photo ops with Arizona ranchers who do have valid concerns about Narcos crossing through their land armed with AR-15 type weapons. But, like almost everything McSally does, there just isn’t much there besides a photo op, and some Trumpian line about immigrants, border security, anchor babies and caravans.
Environmental Policy and Climate Change: for a state at Ground Zero when it comes to climate change and renewable energy, McSally’s governing philosophy on this front is shockingly vague. I wish I had more to report – but in her six years as Tucson’s District 2 Congresswoman, she simply has not said much about climate change or the environment. Perhaps she, like her GOP colleagues, holds the medieval belief that climate change is fake news. SAD BIGLY!
Defense and Foreign policy – Like Senator John McCain, McSally is a Hawk, in fact in 2016 Politico described her as just that: Hawkish. Her position on the Iran Nuclear Deal is clear – she sides with Trump, saying:
“As someone who has deployed to this volatile region six times, I commend President Trump for comprehending what Obama never grasped: you don’t give a dangerous regime unilateral concessions in weakness, you stop them with strength. With Trump’s leadership, we will not cower from nuclear blackmail by rogue regimes. The United States is safer and stronger because of the President’s decision, and we urge our European allies to wake up to reality and join us.”
McSally seems to embrace in the Military Industrial Complex, and in that warm embrace, McSally has devoted a disproportionate amount of time and taxpayer resources in a fight to keep the A-10 aircraft she flew in combat from the chopping block (another example of only caring about things that affect her). During the House consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, McSally, fought to increase military spending, specifically on the Tomahawk missile and other programs of Raytheon Co, which, as we all know is one of the largest employers in Arizona. McSally supports the indefinite detentions at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and opposed President Obama’s efforts to close the camp.
Health Care and Getting “This Fucking Thing Done”– even though she enjoyed federalized or “universal” health care during her time as a military officer, and now as a military veteran, she opposes it for the rest of us. In May 2017, McSally voted to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) and voted to pass the Republican version of the American Health Care Act. Before she voted on the Bill, reporters asked for her position. Her response: “I’m not publicly sharing my position.” However, later that day, she had quite a lot to say. According the Associated Press, McSally rose during the GOP Conference on the day of the vote and declared: “Lets get this fucking thing done.” According to the Congressional Budget Office, this repeal that she voted for would strip 24 million Americans of their healthcare – but no mind, she really wanted to get that “fucking thing done.”
Is McSally Arizona’s Next John McCain: This is the part of the article where I refuse to insult John McCain, and I refuse to care if the reader doesn’t like that. I disagree with many of Sen McCain’s policy positions, but as a combat veteran who fought in Iraq McCain is a genuine American hero who literally sacrificed his entire physical body and soul for this nation – Arizona has been lucky to have him as our Senator and our nation will be less of a place when he leaves this Earth full stop.
Many have said that Martha McSally wants to be Arizona’s next John McCain and assume his position as Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. On paper, she certainly seems to have some of the qualities that would make that possible, but McSally is no John McCain. McSally, unlike McCain is literally unable to take a strong position on anything, she is vague, wishy-washy, a shell of a leader – a vessel for whatever the GOP wants to fill her with. Something John McCain never was and is not. Arizona has always had an independent streak, and Sen McCain has fulfilled this desire for western independence well – Congresswoman McSally has proven that she is unable to assume any political risk and will almost always tow the Republican line.
The Big Takeaway: McSally is the worst kind of politician, she is the kind of politician who thinks small -she is shortsighted and dogmatic in her ideology. During her years as a Congresswoman, McSally has failed to mature beyond “Merica” and the A-10 she flew in combat; I do not recall one instance in which McSally has stood in front of her Constituents as talked about big ideas, comforted the poor in her District, or calmed legitimate fears of her constituents – she doesn’t fly high, she shuffles along down in the weeds. McSally has not yet found the courage to speak her truth or help others speak their truth.
In many ways, McSally is a victim of the time she grew up in and the profession she chose – a time when demanding full equality was tricky. I get that – I absolutely do. But times have changed and young Arizonans (men and women) just do not accept this idea of compromise when it comes to equality – they are demanding it. Instead of obsessing over the A-10 fighter jet, perhaps she should sit down with the amazing young people of Arizona and try to understand that concept.
She sold her soul to sit in that cockpit, and then she sold her soul again when she became Trump’s biggest fan. Now she is running for the Senate seat in a state I love, filled with a diverse and beautiful people I love, near a dynamic Mexican border I love. She is running to lead Arizona teachers and children, who I love. She is running to form policy on the extraordinary desert environment and spiritual spaces, I love. She is running to lead all Arizonans into the 21st century, which is a little bit more complex than keeping the damn A-10 Warthog fighter jet. Arizona deserves more than a “One Trick Pony.” We deserve real independence, we deserve someone who truly loves this entire state, and ALL of its people, and ALL of its spaces, and ALL of its challenges, and ALL of its history, and ALL of its potential, and ALL of its future.
JD is an Iraq combat veteran, former Army officer and native Tucsonan. She has written for the New York Times, Arizona Republic, Task and Purpose, Stars and Stripes and many publications.