Three candidates are competing in the Democratic primary election for Arizona’s new Ninth Congressional District. Meet two of those candidates, State Senator David Schapira and former director of the State Democratic Party, Andrei Cherny, as they debate the issues. The third candidate, Kyrsten Sinema, has chosen not to participate in the debate.
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to this special vote 2012 edition of "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Tonight's show is a debate. We'll hear from candidates competing in the Democratic primary for Arizona's 9th Congressional District. As with all of "Arizona Horizon's" debates, this is not a formal exercise. It's an open exchange of ideas, an opportunity for give and take between candidates for one of the state's most important offices. As such, interjections and interruptions are allowed provided all sides get a fair shake. We'll do our best to see that happens. CD-9 is a new congressional district located in Maricopa County including Tempe, Ahwatukee and parts of Phoenix, Chandler, Mesa, Scottsdale and Paradise Valley. Three candidates are competing in the CD-9 Democratic primary. We will hear from two of those candidates tonight: Andrei Cherny, former chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, and Arizona State Senator David Schapira. Former state senator Kyrsten Sinema was supposed to be here, but last week her campaign told us that Sinema would not be participating in this debate due to a scheduling mix-up. Tonight each candidate will have one minute for opening and closing statements. Earlier we drew numbers to see who goes first. The honor goes to Andrei Cherny.
Andrei Cherny: Thanks for having me and I appreciate a chance to talk about this race. I am running for this office because this district is my home and I love this country, this state. My parents came to this country 40 years ago this summer. I was born a couple years later to a family that really struggled. I lived in a small apartment and watched my parents work incredibly hard. Because of public schools and public libraries and public schoolteachers I was able to go from a kid who didn't speak much English to working in the White House for the President in the White House, working for President Clinton, serving as Assistant Attorney General here in Arizona. Right now I see a Washington that's not working for the middle class. It's been captured by lobbyists and for special interests. I'm running because this is a time where we have to change it, save the middle class and to have the right to work for the people again.
Ted Simons: Thank you, Andrei. We now turn to David Schapira.
David Schapira: Hi, I'm David Schapira I'm the leader of the Democrats in the State Senate. I was born and raised in the Valley and I've lived in Congressional District 9 for much of my life. My dad was even born in Congressional District 9. I started my career serving our community as a public high school teacher. I became very frustrated with the status of public education in the state, and so I decided to do something about it. I ran for the state legislature. I ran against a 10-year incumbent and was able to win the race and represent our community at the State Capitol. I've served there for six years, the last two as the leader of the State Senate. I was the only candidate to stand up against Russell Pearce actively in the recall. I'm running for Congress because I want to be the one of 535 members who will make education a national priority.
Ted Simons: All right, thank you both. Let's get to the conversation here. I want to know why you, and why not the other Democratic candidates for this office.
Andrei Cherny: Well, look, we have three Democrats running. But there are some real differences here in terms of our approach. What I bring to the table that is unique in this field is a record of actually getting real results for the middle class. When I worked with President Clinton in the White House it was an era of real tough partisanship, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLaye. We were able to balance the budget for the only time in the past 50 years of our country's history. We were able to start paying down the debt, create the children's health care program, expand college aid, even work with Republican partisans. I partnered years back with Elizabeth Warren, who was almost an unknown law professor at the time, starting the fight for the consumer watchdog agency. That is in stark contrast to what we've seen from the Democrats in the legislature. Some of them have fought hard, but when we've really had to count on them, they have let us down. We need people who are going to get real results.
Ted Simons: Why you and not the others?
David Schapira: Well, this is actually my home. I was actually born here, six months ago, neither of my opponents have lived in this district. I have represented this community for six years. I have the support of Harry Mitchell and the Arizona Republic because they believe we deserve someone who is deeply rooted in this district. I also think as I mentioned in my opening statement, I think out of 535 members of Congress, the people of this country deserve at least one member who's going to make education their top priority. I think for too long we've gone without that. We deserve that kind of community-based representation that's going to fight for us in Washington for the issues that are important in our community.
Ted Simons: We heard the idea that Democrats in the state legislature really haven't accomplished all that much, and that may be a bad thing with folks with that kind of experience running for this office. How do you respond?
David Schapira: I and my caucus members would take a lot of exception to that. I was the leader of the smallest Democratic caucus in Arizona history. Even with those diminished numbers we stopped the most damaging anti-immigrant bills that have ever been proposed in this country in last year's legislative session. The voters in Russell Pearce's district decided to send him packing back to Mesa. We have worked very hard at the capitol to represent the values of our constituents, and I think that we've done a great job. I don't like that the former chairman is denigrating the experience and hard work of so many solid Democrats at the State Capitol.
Andrei Cherny: Well, I don't denigrate anybody. I applaud what you did and your efforts, but the fact of the matter is, look what's going on in the state. To say that we're doing a great job as Democrats just doesn't compute with what's going on. 1070 passed. Look at what happened with the huge steps back on education and on jobs and on all of the things that we believe are going to move Arizona forward. It's not that some of these folks haven't tried, it's that we haven't gotten results. I don't question intentions or where their heart is. I question whether they've been able to move the ball forward. It's the ability to move the ball forward. David spoke about education, and he and others like myself believe that is at the bedrock of what we need to do to move this country forward. There was a vote on private school vouchers. David voted for private school vouchers. I give him the benefit of the doubt it was accidentally. We need people who are workhorses, who are going to get the job done, not just talk about it on TV.
David Schapira: I don't know what being a workhorse has to do with that bill. It was well known at the time what happened. The assistant minority leader and myself, who sit in the front row in the state Senate, we were voting on an innocuous education bill that had nothing to do with school vouchers. They added an amendment and did not update the computer system to show that had been added. Both of us looked and made sure what we were voting on and we voted in the right way. We asked the Senate President to correct the mistake and he did not do that. To say it has something to do with being a workhorse or not, it's just a silly point.
Andrei Cherny: You have to get things done. People were telling you, guys, pay attention to what's going on, you guys are voting the wrong way.
David Schapira: And the guy in the front row last.
Andrei Cherny: I let you finish, please give me the same courtesy. People were calling them out on it, and it didn't get fixed. This is just one example. There was a vote on how to actually make sure we are going to give immigration enforcement powers to Sheriff Arpaio. David, as well as Kyrsten Sinema, made a mistake and voted the wrong way. It's not about trying to attack anybody. It's saying what I bring to the table is experience at getting results and moving the ball forward. Whether you're going against the folks at the state legislature or the Tea Party Congress, we need to move the ball forward.
Ted Simons: Define moving the ball forward, A, when you are in the minority. And B, when a lot of people say they want to see some cooperation, they are tired of the left and the right and the black and the white going on there. How do you move that particular ball forward?
Andrei Cherny: I think that is about forging compromise and some of those positive ways of working together that frankly we haven't seen in our state legislature on the big issues. Other than those kind of tiny tinkers that people kind of throw out there. What I bring to the table is saying, we can get things done even when you're in the minority. I mentioned the example about what happened with the Clinton White House and the balanced budget, with Elizabeth Warren with the consumer protection bureau. Even with a Republican dominated Congress, even when you have special interests from Wall Street spending millions and millions of dollars against you, you can get things done and you should be held accountable for that.
Davdi Schapira: I think voters are really sick and tired of this kind of rhetoric. I think voters are really sick and tired of people who go out and have no good ideas of their own, and instead run extremely negative and vitriolic campaigns like the one Mr. Cherny is running. Frankly Kyrsten Sinema is not here tonight, but the campaign has been far more negative against her than against me, frankly. I don't blame her for not being here considering the last time we appeared on television, the ways Mr. Cherny went after her and attacked her during that debate. He talks a lot about the things that have nothing to do with the future of our community or the future of our country. He talks about the accomplishments of other people. We haven't heard from him at all his vision for the future and what he wants to accomplish. I hoped for the rest of this debate tonight to talk about the future and what we want to do.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about the constituents of CD-9 and the idea of furthering the economy. Do you believe that further stimulation of the economy, government intervention, however you want to describe it -- is that a good thing to help kick-start the economy?
Andrei Cherny: Absolutely, I've put forward a jobs plan, and a whole set of ideas at its heart we need to figure out how to start to build the economy of the future. What we're not doing in the country right now is investing in the future, investing in people. Number one, it starts with improving our education system has to be the building block of everything we do. Number two, think about how we're going to create the jobs that help drive our economy. In Arizona especially it's things like solar. We should be the solar state. We have more sunlight here than any other place in the planet. That's one of the reasons Al Gore has stepped into the race and endorsed me because of my leadership on this kind of issue. We need to make sure we're stimulating small businesses.
Ted Simons: Further stimulation? Because some folks weren't happy with the first go-around.
David Schapira: What we need government to take its appropriate role, investment in infrastructure. Right now we have a crumbling interstate highway system. School buildings are crumbling. We had a roof collapse at an elementary school. We have buildings that are schools that are over 100 years old. The benefit of the infrastructure is that if we invest in infrastructure, it goes into an ailing industry in Arizona. It gets folks back to work in the construction industry. That'll put money back in the hands of people who will then spend it and get others back to work by giving a shot in the arm that our economy needs.
Ted Simons: Ancillary question: Should more government programs be run like business?
David Schapira: It depends on what kind of business. We have a lot of people at the state legislature that say education should be run like a business. We have people arguing all the time that financially, we should structure it more like a business. What business offers $24,000 to some starting employees who have a college education, and expects to attract and retain the best people? If I ran a business like that, it would fail immediately. We don't offer respect to our educators and we don't attract and retain the best educators enough to make sure our kids go to school every day and get the best education they can.
Ted Simons: It takes a village, if you will, to run a business and be successful in a business. If no one does it on their own, they do it with the cooperation of others and society in general.
Andrei Cherny: I'm not sure that's exactly how he would have phrased it. I don't think it takes a village to run a business. We need to be helping those folks at the policy area. I've worked on them for many years and proposed some real ideas and something called the Steve Jobs Act. For the person running the business to be successful, they need customers, people walking through the door that are going to be able to spend in their business. They need roads so people can get to their business. They need an educated workforce. They need government investment in ways that made this country great, whether it's the transcontinental railroad or the highway system. Those are the roles of government. Without that kind of leadership we won't have a successful private sector. The proof is in the pudding of what we've seen over the past decade. When we as a country stopped making those investments and stopped thinking about how to actually build America, we need to get back to the values that made America great over the long term.
Ted Simons: Again the idea that Elizabeth Warren and President Obama mentioned, that no one really succeeds entirely on their own. You succeed because society puts the roads there and the whole nine yards. Do you agree with that?
David Schapira: Yeah, I don't think Andrei is right that one person by themselves can succeed. We have to have an education system that puts them in a position where they can do it. We have to have an infrastructure in place to help them to succeed. I agree with the President, but I don't think he worded it in the best way. But the fact of the matter is, I know from experience, having run businesses, that you have to have a lot of people who want you to succeed. One of the interesting things we've heard from Republicans in recent years, they think the way to get businesses to succeed is to give them subsidies, tax credits, to have all these giveaways in government and businesses. There is one thing we need far more of as businesses. That is we need customers far more than subsidies. We need people to purchase our goods. Middle class purchasing power is where that starts. Trickle down economics has been tried and failed. We have to put money into the hands of the middle class so that our businesses can succeed.
Ted Simons: Yes or no: This is the best time if you need to raise taxes.
David Schapira: I don't think there's ever a great time to raise taxes. I would say right now, we certainly have infrastructure needs. You know, if this were a time, if there were ever a time we needed some investment, I support the quality of education, jobs, the one cent sales tax on the ballot this November.
Andrei Cherny: I'll give you a straight answer. When it comes to raising taxes on the wealthiest folks in this country, the answer is yes. We have seen a small group of people do incredibly well while the other 80% of the population has stayed flat or actually gone down, for one of the longest periods in American history. I don't begrudge those top people for their success. But, it's time that we have people that are willing to stand up, be honest and say they need to pay their fair share.
Ted Simons: The next question: Climate change. Is global warming real? Is manmade global warming real; and if so, what are we going to do about it?
Andrei Cherny: It is, unfortunately it is very, very real. It's no longer something that's going happen in the future. Right now the majority of counties in the United States of America are experiencing a drought. We have seen incredible weather conditions over the course of a summer throughout this country, and that is directly tied to climate change, as a number of scientists have pointed out. As I mentioned before I worked for Vice President Al Gore back in the 90's at a time when talking about climate change was not seen as something people should do. I sat there with him and the smartest Democrats, strategists would say you need to stop talking about this. You are going to hurt yourself when you're running for president. You are going to lose votes in West Virginia or Ohio or places like that. He kept at it. That, to me, is the lesson I got in political courage. We need people to step forward and say this is an incredible crisis our country and planet is facing.
Ted Simons: Manmade global warming: Is it real?
David Schapira: We need to stop having this discussion. We have got to get past the argument of whether or not it's real. Every scientifically reviewed study on this subject says climate change is real and it's manmade. We have to accept the fact that it's true and stop just talking about, let's argue the science of it. We have to get to solutions. The biggest solution is also a great economic solution for this country. For decades the federal government has subsidized to the tune of billions of dollars, the oil industry in this country, fossil fuels. Today Republicans argue we can't subsidize alternative energy because we need free market principles. When you subsidize one and not another, that is not a free market. We have to end oil subsidies, make sure our alternative energy research, frankly the energy source we're going to use hasn't even been invented yet. We have to restore the 1603 grants, the investment tax credit for wind and solar. We have solutions, we have to act on it now. Talking about whether or not it's manmade is not the argument at this point.
Ted Simons: What do you think about that particular argument, ending oil subsidies and the like?
Andrei Cherny: It's something I've been pushing for, for many years. Right now, we are invested billions of taxpayer dollars subsidizing oil companies that are making record profits. Not just record profits for oil companies, but any corporation in the history of the planet earth. As I said earlier, I really believe we should be the solar state here in Arizona. We have more concentrated sunlight than any other place on the planet. Right now Germany, which has the sunlight of Anchorage, Alaska, is getting half of their energy from solar and renewable energy some days this summer. That doesn't make sense for energy, in some ways it doesn't even make sense for jobs. By becoming the solar state, we could attract jobs from all over the world. We could be to solar what the motor city is to cars, what Silicon Valley is to computer chips. You actually need to invest, build a smart grid the same way we have built things in this country before. We need to have a national renewable energy standard so the government is not picking winners and losers, but letting the private sector compete to fix this problem.
Ted Simons: How should gun violence in the United States be addressed?
David Schapira: Well, I think we've seen too many examples of the failures of Congress on this issue in the last couple years. We in Arizona have felt it very close to home with the tragedy in Tucson. We have to recognize as a country that the kind of assault weapon that was used in Aurora, Colorado, is not used for hunting or for self-defense. There is not an appropriate use for that kind of weapon. I would be a supporter in the federal government to ban the private sale and purchase of those kinds of weapons.
Ted Simons: Gun violence in America, how do you address it?
Andrei Cherny: I think you need a multipronged approach. I think common sense gun legislation is part of it, enforcing laws that right now are not getting enforced is part of it. More police on the streets is part of it, as well. There's no one single solution out there but you have to do all of the above.
Ted Simons: Is banning automatic weapons one of those prongs?
Andrei Cherny: That's something I believe is overdue, once again.
Ted Simons: How much should the United States police the world?
Andrei Cherny: The job of the United States is not to be the world's policeman. We can't go out there and try to find enemies to overcome. But we have a responsibility to ourselves, to our people and to the world to stand up for our values and interests. That's why after 9/11, shortly after, I signed up to serve in the United States Navy as an intelligence officer. Because I thought that was really an important moment in our country's history. It's why I've worked on issues like nuclear proliferation and the damage and danger that presents to us here at home. If it's not the United States of America standing up there and helping to lead the world, work with other nations, then a lot of these problems won't get solved. But it can't be on our shoulders alone. Right now, we are spending more on our military budget than any other country in the world combined. We need to offer leadership that combines our military power and moral power, not just one or the other.
Ted Simons: Policing the world, what do you think?
David Schapira: We as a country cannot engage in wars of choice. We cannot afford the loss of life or treasure we have seen in the last few years. We cannot do these things unilaterally. Nation building has to begin at home. We have spent so much abroad building up other countries that we have decided to engage with wars of choice, that money has to be spent here at home investing in our own infrastructure, instead of the infrastructure in Iraq.
Ted Simons: Last question, and we got to make this quick. Critics have mentioned the primary race on the Democratic side has turned "ugly." Valid criticism? Unfortunately as you heard today from David, it is. People are throwing out all kinds of really ugly rhetoric. We have said in our campaign we are not going to engage in character attacks and not talk about unsubstantiated allegations and things like that. When there are legitimate differences with people's vote, track records, policy positions, that's something we should be talking about. That's something the voters want to hear about. And that's what we have been talking about.
Ted Simons: Make it quick here, has it turned ugly? Valid criticism?
David Schapira: It has absolutely turned ugly. That's why Kyrsten Sinema and myself had a press conference and I had a press conference to call on Mr. Cherny to stop the negative campaigning. He said we are unfit to serve in Congress. He's running a scorch the earth strategy. The voters frankly just don't like it.
Ted Simons: Quickly --
Andrei Cherny: -- because that is putting words into my mouth. I never said that, a Phoenix City Council person Michael Nowokowsky said that. After he asked us to send that out. The person who responded was Attorney General Terry Goddard, the most respected Democrat in Arizona, who said what you and Sinema were doing was absolutely wrong.
Ted Simons: Thank you very much. Each candidate will give a one-minute closing statement. In reverse order, we start with David Schapira.
David Schapira: I think the district deserves a Congressman that's going to go to Washington and work on solutions, and end this vitriolic environment that's going to prevail in politics, not just in Washington but here at home. I got involved in this race to fight on the national level for my community, and to ensure that education becomes a national priority. But I also got involved for selfish reasons. I have two young daughters. I want to make sure the next generation of children have the opportunities afforded them that I had growing up in this community. Please, look for more information at davidforaz.com.
Ted Simons: All right. Thank you very much, and now, Andrei Cherny
Andrei Cherny: This is a really important race for the future, not just of this district and this county. But really this country, what we are seeing here is really a chance of whether we're going to start to save the middle class. To me that's not just a slogan, it's been the work of my life. Whether working with President Clinton in the White House, whether serving as assistant Attorney General working with Terry Goddard, the other kinds of things we have put forward in this campaign, ideas to start taking back our politics from the lobbyists that dominate our state legislature as well as Congress. I've challenged my opponents and will challenge members of Congress to say we need to disclose meetings with lobbyists, we need a ban on gifts and junkets. That is the kind of leadership we need, people who aren't going to Washington to get along and go along but people making a real difference. I ask for your support and vote on August 28th.
Ted Simons: Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you both for joining us tonight, and thank you for joining us tonight. You have a great evening.
In this segment:
David Schapira:State Senator; Andrei Cherny:Former Director, State Democratic Party;
STAY in touch
Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: