Nearly 100 people packed American Legion Post 66 in Sahuarita on Thursday to hear two of the four candidates running for the GOP nomination in Congressional District 2.
They also heard from former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was asked by one person in the audience to abandon his bid for U.S. Senate “for the sake of conservatism.”
Brandon Martin of Sierra Vista and Danny “DJ” Morales of Douglas agreed in principle on every issue, from immigration to the national debt, but offered different approaches to address them.
Candidates Casey Welch and Lea Marquez Peterson did not attend Thursday’s event, sponsored by the Republican Club of Green Valley/Sahuarita, and moderated by Green Valley News/Sahuarita Sun editor Dan Shearer. The seat is currently held by Rep. Martha McSally, who is running for the Senate.
Martin said his top priorities are border security, national security and federal government overreach, specifically as it relates to the national debt.
He championed President Donald Trump’s efforts to curb regulations and place American interests first.
“Now we’re under attack from the left,” he said.
Morales said his experience in local and regional politics gives him a leg up, as does being born and raised in the district.
“I look forward to representing you, fighting for you, because you are my family,” Morales said.
He was elected to the Douglas City Council in March 2016; six months later he was appointed vice mayor. He resigned in February to focus on the congressional race.
He said he’s ready for Washington and looks forward to fighting for local interests, limiting government and promoting free and fair trade.
Answering questions from a moderator, Martin said a border wall needs to be built in Southern Arizona as promised. He wholeheartedly supports Trump’s border security agenda. The problem is the president doesn’t have enough support in Congress, Martin said.
“It will be effective at slowing down illegal immigration,” he said. But constructing a wall isn’t enough, he added.
Martin wants to create a secondary port of entry in Douglas, where a downtown checkpoint would cater to pedestrian traffic while a remote location would handle commercial usage. He also wants to bolster the use of technology — including drone surveillance and biometric monitoring — by partnering with Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson and Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista.
“There’s no reason we can’t use military technology to help secure that border,” he said.
As a Southern Arizona resident who lives three blocks from the border, creating a fortified wall is essential, Morales said.
“There should have been a wall a long time ago,” he said. “I represent the border, I know the interests of the border, so, yes, we need a contiguous wall as much as possible.”
Morales also wants to see an additional checkpoint in Douglas, and said he has been part of the discussions for that initiative as a city councilman.
Neither candidates would support an immigration agreement that provided a green card and a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. They both also said no to a compromise that would cut back on legal immigration and strengthen border security in exchange for temporary protections for DACA recipients.
Expanding on the DACA and immigration question, Martin said every illegal immigrant in the United States should turn themselves in so the U.S. could help them return home.
Morales called for an “extreme” vetting program that would potentially allow some immigrants to remain in the U.S.
Both candidates support the president's $1.5 trillion tax cut over 10 years, signed in December.
Morales said he would have voted for slashing taxes because, just as President Reagan believed, implementing tax cuts stimulates job growth.
“What we do not need is a liberal Democrat in this particular seat, because that Democrat is going to grow government and that Democrat is going to kill jobs,” he said.
Martin said he would have voted in favor of the tax cuts and would also like to abolish the income tax.
“I support something like the Fair Tax, where we move to a consumption-based tax, because I don’t believe in penalizing hard work and being productive,” he said.
Martin said he would like to reform Social Security by offering those 62 and older full benefits, anyone from ages 18 to 62 can opt out, and those younger than 18 would never pay into the system.
“My proposal is to stop stealing from the American people, promising them that their money is going to be waiting for them down the road. Then taxing it again and trying to take it away,” he said, in addressing the question that covered Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Morales said something needs to be done on Social Security, but the GOP needs to tread judiciously on the issue “because the Democrats are going to use this against us tremendously,” he said.
Morales' greatest concern is how Congress continues to tap into these monies, which destabilizes the system further, he said.
“Do you think any of the millennials think that money’s going to be there by the time they retire — absolutely not,” Morales added.
For the first time since 1982, Social Security will dip into its $3 trillion trust fund, according to a trustee report release Tuesday.
Helen Russo, 78, said she was impressed with how direct Martin and Morales were when answering questions. She was also surprised to hear how similar their platforms are.
“I didn’t hear any real division, which I think I have been seeing in the Republican party nationally — and that has concerned me,” said Russo, a lifelong member of the GOP.
Immigration is a key issue to Russo, she said. As a first-generation American, and who is astounded by her grandfather’s path to the United States, she believes implementing a sponsorship program for immigration is a valid solution for the problem.
Plainly, Russo said the U.S. can’t afford to support the amount of immigrants that arrive here annually and work here tax-free.
“I think that’s what causing the decline of America,” she added.
Arpaio on stage
Arpaio, who turns 86 on June 14, was given time at the end of the forum to speak and take questions. He told the crowd he would serve only one term and would not consider an appointment to Sen. John McCain's seat if it were offered. McCain is battling brain cancer.
Kay Kohler, a volunteer with the Republican Club of Green Valley/Sahuarita, told Arpaio she has been been an avid supporter for more than 20 years but asked him to bow out of the race for Senate.
“I implore you, for the sake of conservatism and the success of the Trump administration, withdraw from this race so that a conservative might win,” Kohler said.
Conservative Republicans believe Arpaio will split the vote with Kelli Ward, handing the nomination to McSally, who many consider more moderate.
Arpaio said Kohler may have a point, but he’s not willing to bow out because “I'm not done with my mission. I said I need six more years.”
He then said — to applause — that perhaps it's McSally and Ward who would split the vote.
After the forum, he told a reporter that it hurts him personally to hear a fellow Republican ask him to give up the race. He also said plenty of politicians and voters have asked him to drop out.
“I wouldn’t tell anybody to withdraw, everybody has a right to run,” he said.
Kohler told a reporter after the forum that her request was a personal one and doesn’t reflect the opinion of the Republican club.
Overall, she said she's impressed with Ward’s tenacity and appreciates her conservative stance. When Arpaio stepped into the race, Kohler thought, “This is handing the nomination to McSally.”
Kohler is glad she spoke up, but she doesn’t believe it helped convince Arpaio to reconsider.
“I hated to hurt the man, but I had to say my piece,” she said. “But if he wins the nomination, you bet your life I’m voting for him.”
David J. Del Grande | 547-9732