Vote 2014: Congressional District Nine Debate

More from this show

Join us as candidates running for Arizona’s Congressional District Nine debate the issues.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to this special Vote 2014 edition of "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Tonight's show is a debate. We'll hear from candidates competing for Arizona's congressional district nine. As with all of "Horizon's" debates, not a formal exercise, it's an open exchange of ideas, an opportunity for give and take between candidates for one of state's most important offices. Interjecting, even interruptions are allowed provided all sides get a fair shake. We'll do our best to see that happens. Congressional district nine is Arizona's newest district, created after the 2010 census and covers much of the east valley along with areas of central and north central Phoenix. The candidates appearing tonight are in alphabetical order, libertarian Powell Gammill, a molecular biologist, and democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who currently represents district nine. The Republican candidate, Wendy Rogers, declined to appear tonight after repeated invitations to join us. Each candidate will have one minute for opening and closing statements. Earlier we drew numbers to see who goes first and that honor goes to Kyrsten Sinema.

Kyrsten Sinema: Thanks so much, Ted. It's an honor to be here. You know, I think Washington is broken. And I've been there for two years. Unfortunately Washington still doesn't get it. The folks who are there are more interested in partisan bickering and fighting than working across party lines to solve problems and get things done. But I'm different. I ran for Congress to change Washington. One of the first things I did when I got there was cosponsor, pass, and ultimately of course support a bill called no budget, no pay. Because if members of Congress don't pass a budget, they shouldn't get paid. I also voted against my own pay raise, because Arizonans across the state are struggling. And frankly, members of Congress don't need a pay raise while Arizonans are working just to make it every day. I've made the V.A. reform issue a top priority in this race. Partly because of my own family experiences, and supporting veterans. I hope this evening to be able to share with you the work we've done in Washington, and why I think I should go back. Thanks so much.

Ted Simons: Thank you very much. For the next opening statement, we turn to Powell Gammill.

Powell Gammill: Do you think your elected representatives are going to oppose wars or support more wars? Do you think your elected representatives are going to oppose debt or support more debt? Oppose spending or support more spending? Do you think your elected representatives are going to oppose taxation, or support more taxation? Do you think your elected representatives are going to oppose what you choose to put into your own body? Or support what you choose to put into your own body. Do you think your elected representatives will oppose more laws or support more laws? Do you think your elected representatives believe they're restrained by the constitution, or do they ignore the constitution? Honestly, has your vote ever changed anything in government for the better? If not, why are you still voting and lending your credibility to this corrupt process?

Ted Simons: All right. Thank you very much. Let's get a start. The district, what are the district's most pressing needs?

Kyrsten Sinema: I think first and foremost voters are concerned about the bread and butter issues. The economy hasn't recovered as quickly as many people expected. And so many folks in district nine are just worried about making sure they can pay the mortgage with or rent, take care of their kids and make sure their kids have a better life than they have that's why I've done a lot of work to support legislation on job growth and job creation. In fact, the first bill I introduced when I got to Congress is the legislation called the CMAC. It provides tax incentives and support to businesses that are growing and developing renewable energy sources. It's helped companies like Monarch Solar, monarch power is a company in south scale that's working to develop new and innovative solar energy construction right here in Arizona. But more work remains to be done. Because folks in Washington have spent so much time fighting with each other and bickering, we haven't been able to move forward on as many of the job growth and job creation proposals we still have to do.

Ted Simons: Most pressing needs of the district.

Powell Gammill: The most pressing need for district anywhere in this country is reducing the trillions of dollars in debt. That's not going to happen by their continued spending of the government credit card, and the increased taxes. They're proud of the fact they're taking in more taxes every quarter than they've taken in the history of this country. And they're spending at $2 for every dollar in taxes that come in, still. So they have no intention of stopping spending. And if I was to be elected, I would basically oppose any spending or any taxation that would be going on in Congress. Until the debt is paid off.

Ted Simons: Until the debt is paid off. No military spending, nothing.

Powell Gammill: Zero budget.

Ted Simons: Zero budget. OK. If you are elected, how would you fight for the district?

Powell Gammill: Well, I would just be one voice of 453, and I would not be able to do much as a freshman.

Ted Simons: Would you fight for the district?

Powell Gammill: Of course. I would fight for those issues of stop spending the money and stop taxing and stop regulating. You talk about job creation; the problem with job creation is regulations are just enormous. Anybody trying to start a new business has to pass not just state laws, which federal government has nothing to do with, but a myriad of federal job requirements.

Ted Simons: OK. As far as the district is concerned, how will you fight for your district, and what is fighting for the district mean when you go back to Washington?

Kyrsten Sinema: Well, Ted, that's something I've worked hard to do in Washington. Washington doesn't get it. And we can tell they don't care about Arizona. So I pledged when I first ran for Congress that if sent to Congress, I'd go to stand up for Arizona every day. I've done that a number of ways. I hope to continue doing it if I'm able to serve more. Some of the things I'm doing is standing up to federal government agencies, when their proposed policies aren't good for Arizona. There's a whole lot of issues that we could use as examples. But I'm also working to make sure that Arizona's voice is represented. Arizonans aren't like Washington. They're not inherently partisan group of people. We're not into bickering, we just want to solve problems and get things done. For instance, last year when there was that horrible government shutdown, I worked every single day with my colleagues both democrat and Republican, to find a common sense solution to stop the shutdown. It was important because as you know, during the government shutdown, we lost 2.7 million dollars a day in revenue because the Grand Canyon was closed down. That's not good for Arizona.

Ted Simons: But how will you, can you get things done as a member, a minority party member in the house?

Kyrsten Sinema: As you know, I've been a member of the minority my whole term of government service. During myself years in the state legislature, I developed what "The Arizona Republic" called an uncanny ability to work across the aisle and get things done. And while I've only been in Congress for two years I've hit the ground running. So I was a cosponsor of the bipartisan V.A. reform bill that we passed and the president signed into law earlier this summer. It has a whole host of reforms that will be good for us in Arizona, and help us serve veterans, but that's not enough. I've been meeting with the secretary of the V.A. on a regular basis to make sure those reforms are actually implemented and we can see the results.

Ted Simons: I want to get to the V.A., but back, same question to you, and you would be even more of a minority party member. How would you get things done?

Powell Gammill: Well, all you could do is use your -- As much bully pulpit as you're allowed. There are certainly some situations where you can go on the floor and make wonderful speeches to empty hallways as long as you have somebody from the other party supporting you at the podium. And that's done frequently.

Ted Simons: Do you -- A CSPAN star, in other words?

Powell Gammill: In order to get anything done in Washington you have to vote the way they tell you to vote. And then maybe you can get things through. And if you're there enough years after a while you have seniority to do what you want.

Ted Simons: Are you willing to compromise like that?

That's just not me.

Ted Simons: So you're not going to compromise.

Powell Gammill: No. All I'm going to have is my voice, and I'm sure they will make every attempt to silence me in the next election.

Ted Simons: Back to the V.A. what did you know and when did you know it as far as problems, especially with the Phoenix V.A., but the V.A. in general?

Kyrsten Sinema: Well, Ted, I learned about the problems at the Phoenix V.A. in terms of the hidden wait lists and really the lies, saying -- What the V.A. was saying they were serving veterans and not doing about it, I learned about it in the paper like everyone else. As soon as I read about this, I contacted the chair of the V.A. committee, which is a Republican, Jeff Miller from Florida, and asked if he would share some of the information he had received from the local whistle blowers. He shared that with me, confidentially, of course, I'm very grateful, and we immediately started calling for changes. So I called for the resignation or firing of the current director, as you probably know, the current director still hasn't been fired five months later. We actually just did the math in my office last week, she's earned over $70,000 sitting at home, not working, and meanwhile, those dollars could have been used to help serve veterans in Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Why is that situation existing?

Kyrsten Sinema: The secretary has told me it's difficult to fire people. Which is why I cosponsored legislation to make it easier to fire bad managers for mal reasons and misconduct. I also introduced legislation to claw back bonuses that are ill gotten. You shouldn't get a bonus just for doing your job, but if you lied and cheated to get a bonus, you have to pay that money back. I've also called for the DOJ to do criminal investigation and pursue criminal charges, because these allegations which have been proven founded, according to an IG report, that's an internal investigation report, are just so horrific, and veterans died while waiting for this care in Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Please.

Powell Gammill: This is a government health care program. Just like the Indian health care program. They're alterable. People die, and in this case people were being allowed to die, purposely to save money.

Ted Simons: Whoa, whoa, whoa, do you think people were being allowed to die purposely to save money? Is that what you just said?

Powell Gammill: I think the facts show that.

Ted Simons: They were being allowed to die.

Powell Gammill: Yes.

Ted Simons: The V.A. was approving of the fact people were dying.

Powell Gammill: I think people were at the highest levels were basically saying, we are not going to spend money on this person or that person, because they're going to die anyway, so just let them go.

Ted Simons: Do you agree with that?

Kyrsten Sinema: Would I disagree slightly. But I think the evidence is clear, there were many veterans who were waiting for care at the Phoenix V.A., and somewhere between 18 and 40 of those veterans died before receiving the care to which they were entitled. The concern I have here, Ted, is that the V.A. was putting something other than veterans first. And that's just wrong. The whole reason the V.A. exists is to care for those men and women who have sacrificed so much, and I have to tell you, as someone with a little brother in the Navy and a big brother who is a retired Marine, I take this very personally. Their job is to put veterans first. And if they need more money to do their job, they should come to Congress and ask for it.

Ted Simons: You refer to your family, your brothers there in a political ad using the family of a suicide victim with experience with the V.A. Your Republican foe called the ad vial and sickening, using the soldier sued side for a political gain was wrong. Why did you use that ad?

Kyrsten Sinema: This story is actually very personal to me. Sergeant Daniel SOMERS was an Iraq vet who served two tours of duty. He was an interrogator in the army on a classified mission. When he came home, he came home with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and gulf war illness. He tried to get help from the V.A., but wasn't able to get the help he needed, and as you know, there's a story that touched me so much, one time he was feeling suicidal and he drove to the Phoenix V.A., and told them he was feeling suicidal, they told him they didn't have any beds, but they didn't refer him to another place to get emergency help. They told him to lie down in the corner of the waiting room and when he felt better he could drive home. As we know, time went on and Daniel still didn't get the help he needed. He ultimately committed suicide. Three days after his death, I called his parents. It was the first time I'd learned of the story. We became very close, his parents and I. They have dedicated their lives in the midst of their great grief to ensuring no other veteran feels the same kind of pain and loneliness that Daniel felt. When they offered to help me tell the story of the work we're doing in Congress, to protect other veterans, I was proud to stand with them.

Ted Simons: For those who say, though, that even -- No matter what they wanted, that may have crossed a line, you say --

Kyrsten Sinema: I think it's important to tell Daniel's story. And in fact, if I can, I wear this ring on my finger to honor the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day. It's an organization called honor, courage, and commitment. You wear the ring on your trigger finger to remind yourself of the 22 veterans who needlessly take their own lives every day because they feel they're not getting the help they need. This issue is so important to me, we can't let it go. Even if some people stop thinking about the V.A. crisis. This is happening every day and we're losing our patriots to suicide. We've got to keep it going.

Ted Simons: Your thoughts on the whole V.A. crisis. I understand it's a government-run program and you're against government-run programs, but in general would you do something to help -- What would you have done, how would you have handled all this?

Powell Gammill: Well, first thing do you is get out of the war and then you don't have all the veterans, all the veterans and all the injured veterans. That you have. That's -- that takes care of a heck of a lot of it. Obviously you have a ton of veterans right now, no matter what. Truthfully, I would basically toss them on their own. I don't agree with stealing people's money and then turning around and spending it on veterans I don't agree with the claim somehow we owe this to them. And I, you know, I basically -- It's a zero budgeting thing. These things were not promised to them when they signed up. It was added later by Congress.

Ted Simons: Toss them on their own, what does that mean?

Powell Gammill: That means they're on their own to find help. Through charitable means, which you see ads on TV for charitable means all the time, in addition to what Congress provides of the taxpayers' money.

Ted Simons: All right. What is the best way to reform immigration?

Kyrsten Sinema: Well, I don't think it's rocket science, Ted. We know the answer to the immigration reform crisis. Unfortunately we haven't seen courage from Congress to enact the reform. There are three basic elements that have to happen for any immigration reform to be lasting and effective. First, we have to have a secure border. We have to know who is coming in and out of the country and as a government, the government should be able to choose who gets to come in and who doesn't. We've got to have that kind of security. Number two, we've got to reform our Visa system to have it more market based. Right now we've got a system where the demand and the supply don't match up. And that's why we're facing some of the struggles we're facing economically. So we need a reform system so we have enough of the workers coming in to do the work that can't be done by native born Americans, but no more. And third, we have to settle the status of those who are here already. Somewhere between 10-12 million people are here, some who came with legal status and overstayed, some who never had legal status. We've got to settle their status, not only for their future but the security of our own country.

Ted Simons: Folks in the house, Republicans in the house, they say what you're talking about is amnesty. No deal.

Kyrsten Sinema: It's not amnesty at all. I'll tell you why. Because you want to have a tough but achievable path to citizenship for people. So, for instance, dreamers. These are the young people who came to this country as children, through no choice of their own, have finished high school, some are in college, many want to serve in the military. They're Americans in all but paper. So let's give them a tough but achievable path to become full Americans so they can contribute back to the society that's already invested so much in them. We've got to have a reform system that allows folks to pay back taxes, learn English, pay a fine, get in line, I think the Senate bill while not perfect, turns out a path that is tough but achievable.

Ted Simons: What do you make of the immigration situation, what needs to be done?

Powell Gammill: Immigration was a state prerogative up until about 100 years ago when the federal government took it over. That's one of the reasons why you see it's so badly done now. It should be returned to the states to decide who can come into and out of their own government, their own borders. And it should be up to them to decide what the situations are. Most states either were either open, completely open bordered or they chose you had to have a sponsor, you would take responsibility for their -- To ensure they had a john, a roof, they weren't going to be vagrants, or drags on the private welfare system, the church welfare system. So I would basically take away all immigration from the Federal Government, that eliminates all the problems you're having right now with the trespassing, the garbage dumps, the dying immigrants and the desserts trespassing on private property. They would be coming to the public roads, and those people are really salt of the earth types. They're coming here to work, you know, and we're basically making it -- We're basically putting their lives at risk when they all want to do is come and work for us.

Ted Simons: If you were representing this district, and the senate bill, the immigration bill were presented to you, lands on your desk, how would you vote?

Powell Gammill: I would vote no, because I know whatever is in there is not going to be anything like an open border position that I take.

Ted Simons: How would you vote on that senate bill? If you ever get a chance to vote on it?

Ted Simons: Kyrsten Sinema: We have a bill in the house, HR-15 that is similar to the senate bill, but we removed the portion of their security provisions and instead put in a bipartisan security provision sponsored by representative McCall from south Texas, he's a Republican. He is the chair of the homeland security committee. His security bill passed unanimously through committee, showing both Republicans and democrats support it. I think it's a smarter answer to the security question. It puts more money into our ports of entry, customs and border patrol, more money into electronic surveillance. Because we have a lot of boots on the ground. We always could use more, but I think the HR-15 is a reasonable adjustment to the senate bill and it is a bipartisan bill in the house.

Where is it? What's happened to it?

Kyrsten Sinema: Unfortunately even though it has bipartisan support, Mr. Boehner has not brought the bill up for a vote.

Ted Simons: Why is that?

Kyrsten Sinema: You'd probably have to ask Mr. Boehner.

Ted Simons: What are you hearing? You're there, it's your chamber, what are you hearing?

Kyrsten Sinema: As you know, I never predict anyone else's motives or thoughts. You know, Mr. Boehner I know has voiced concern and support for immigration reform. It looks like he's had trouble getting folks on his side of the aisle to figure out a way to compromise.

Ted Simons: The president's executive action, taking executive action on deferred status; do you support the president in those moves?

Kyrsten Sinema: You know, I think Congress should solve this problem. Any presidential action is only short-term. It doesn't have the long-lasting force of law like congressional action does. And Frankly, Ted, it's Congress's job. The fact that Congress is abdicated its responsibility for the last several decade assist no excuse. So I believe Congress should come back to the table after the this election and solve this problem, and I would encourage the president to come and communicate with Congress about what he wants to see and let's build some legislation together.

Ted Simons: You disagree with the president on those actions?

Kyrsten Sinema: I think this is Congress's job.

Ted Simons: What do you think about the president's action.

Powell Gammill: Barack Obama should be impeached for his executive actions, not just on immigration. He's well exceeded his authority that's been as you said, given him by Congress and unjustly so. He doesn't even care about Congress, he just frigging does it and tells Congress later what he's done. But that's not going to happen and truthfully baby bush should have been impeached for his executive orders. That is not prerogative of the executive branch. That's the prerogative of Congress to decide how money is spent, and what laws are to be passed.

Ted Simons: Air strikes in Iraq, in Syria. Your thoughts. U.S. air strikes.

Powell Gammill: Syria and Iraq and all of that mess, Libya, are our fault in the first place. That was a stable reason until baby bush went in there, and Obama has started one more war than bush did. So my thought is we should get the hell out of there. But -- You know, we started it, it's a huge mess, we've been there 13 years now, the longest war in our history. And --

Ted Simons: Quickly, should the U.S. get involved in any foreign fight?

Powell Gammill: No. What threat does anybody pose to us in the only two countries that can invade us are Canada and Mexico.

Ted Simons: As far as the air strikes in Syria and Iraq, your thoughts on that and again, how do you taper off once you've got such an action going?

Kyrsten Sinema: Well, recently in Congress we were asked to vote on the issue of whether or not we would provide funding and authorization to the administration to arm and train Syrian moderate rebels to fight their own fight for freedom and to stop ISIL and Isis. I supported that vote because I believe folks on the ground in the Middle East should take control of their destiny and solve this problem. The U.S. does have a role to play in supporting, so training folks, providing them with equipment I think is appropriate. But it's not appropriate to send U.S. troops into Iraq or Syria on the ground, and we haven't been asked to vote on that yet, but it's something I'm very concerned about. I don't want to send our young men and women into another war that could cost American lives and not return a good result.

Ted Simons: Same question I gave to Powell. When should the U.S. get involved in a foreign conflict?

Kyrsten Sinema: I think that answer is dependent specifically on the circumstances of each conflict. What I'm concerned about is enter nothing a region where Americans aren't wanted. So if we put American troops on the ground in Syria and Iraq, we're likely to see negative results as we have in the past in the last war in Iraq. I think it's important for us to be involved and protect our own national security. We do face serious threats from terrorism around this world, and we've got to take action to protect the national defense, but we should do so in a way that reduces the threat to our country and doesn't sacrifice American lives.

Ted Simons: Last question on this. Your Republican challenger in an ad said that you were culpable for beheading in Iraq, that your liberal agenda got in the way of national safety, and the idea of Guantanamo detainees, having criminal trials is an anathema to national concerns. Respond, please.

Kyrsten Sinema: I was -- I was disappointed to see that ad. It's that kind of politics that I think turns people off and makes people feel like they don't want to engage in the civic process. I note "Arizona Republic" called the ad repugnant and I was disappointed. But the vote that is in question is a vote that I took last summer on a much larger national defense package. It was an amendment to say should we give Gitmo detainee as trial or leave them detained indefinitely? And I along with Republican Paul Gosar and several others voted to provide a trial. And the reason is quite simple -- The United States constitution and our founding fathers require that individual who's are accused of crime receive trials. I dearly love the U.S. constitution and I believe that's what sets us apart from every other country in the world, Ted. It's what makes us different than other countries. And we have to protect that constitution.

Ted Simons: Please.

Powell Gammill: Since you want to talk about the constitution, do you agree with the fact that Congress should be declaring wars? That's what's in the constitution. Not the president of the United States. He doesn't get to decide where we go to war, who we attack, which is an act of war. It is the United States Congress declaring officially that we are going to war with somebody before the bombs start to explode. And that hasn't happened since World War II.

Ted Simons: All right. Gotta stop you right there. Each candidate will give a one-minute closing statement. And going in reverse order of the opening remarks, we start with Powell Gammill.

Powell Gammill: Do you think your elected representatives are going to oppose wars! Or support more wars? Do you think your elected representatives are going to oppose debt or support more debt? Do you think your elected representatives are going to oppose spending or support more spend something do you think your elected representatives are going to oppose taxation or support more taxation? Do you think your elected representatives are going to oppose what you choose to put into your body, or support what you choose to put into your body? Do you think your elected representatives are going to oppose more laws, or support more laws? Do you think your elected representatives believe they're restrained by the constitution, or do they ignore the constitution? Honestly, has your voting ever changed in government for the better? Did not, why are you still voting and lending your credibility to this corrupt process?

Ted Simons: Thank you very much. And now we turn to Kyrsten Sinema.

Kyrsten Sinema: Well, Ted, thank you so much for hosting us this evening, and Powell, it was a pleasure to be here with you tonight. I also want to thank the viewers for taking the time to watch a debate about an upcoming election and I hope that what you've learned this evening will help guide your decisions. It's been a real honor and privilege to serve in the United States Congress of the last two years. And I feel grateful every day for this opportunity to serve. It's my hope that if elected to go back to Congress the next two years, I'll be able to continue the bipartisan work I've started. I've put first in my list reaching across the aisle to solve problems and get things done, whether it's from V.A. reform, to creating jobs, to standing up for women and families. I'll continue doing that work in Congress, and I'll make sure that Arizona district nine is always first. Always first in our work. Thanks so much.

Ted Simons: All right. Thank you. Candidates, and thank you for watching this special Vote 2014 clean elections debate featuring candidates for congressional district nine. This concludes "Horizon's" election season debates. We hope they have been useful to you in helping you decide how to cast your ballot. To check out any of our Vote 2014 debates, hit to www.azpbs.org/horizon. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Kyrsten Sinema:Democratic Candidate, Arizona's Congressional District Nine; Powell Gammill:Libertarian Candidate, Arizona's Congressional District Nine;

5 woman performing for the Celtic Woman 20th Anniversary
airs Feb. 29

Celtic Woman 20th Anniversary Concert

A cute little duckling with text reading: Arizona PBS Ducks in a Row Event
March 6

Getting Your Ducks in a Row to Avoid Conflict When You Are Gone

A cactus blooms in the Sonoran Desert
airs Feb. 28

Desert Dreams: Celebrating Five Seasons in the Sonoran Desert

Barry Gibb singing (Bee Gees: In Our Own Time)
aired Feb. 24

Bee Gees: In Our Own Time

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: