If you find yourself face-to-face with a political candidate this summer and sense her eyes drifting toward your wallet, it’s not your imagination.

There’s a good chance you’re talking to Lea Marquez-Peterson or Kyrsten Sinema.

Neither thinks enough of you to spend any real time here — at least not yet. Both are keeping their public appearances controlled, or are simply going private.

Sinema is a Democrat running for U.S. Senate. She’s up against a doesn’t-have-a-chance candidate in the primary and is raking in the campaign donations. A lot of people believe in her.

I received a call from a campaign aide last week who said Sinema would be in Green Valley and would like to come by the paper. No problem, I said.

Then she told me I’d have all of 15 minutes with her.

Not enough, I said. I need at least a half hour. I explained that we don’t endorse, but if candidates care enough to come through our community, we’ll meet with them and write a column about where they stand on the issues, particularly those specific to us.

She listened politely, then said that Rep. Sinema had official congressional duties mixed with campaign work and was really, really busy.

I’m sure she is, I said. But I still need 30 minutes.

She said she’d get back to me, and 10 minutes later she did. She said she tightened up a few things and could offer me 20 minutes.

Oh, happy day.

Any column written out of a 20-minute interview would be about an inch deep, I told her.

During both phone calls I asked what Sinema would be doing in Green Valley. She avoided the question the first time. Then I pressed. And pressed again. She seemed evasive and uncomfortable, so I took a wild guess: Private meeting with donors?

She neither confirmed nor denied. It’s not surprising. Money-grubbing is a necessary evil in politics.

But Sinema sidestepped real people (our papers speak to tens of thousands of them every week) for a shot at high-dollar donors tossing softball questions and cash her way.

Then it got worse. In an email blast Saturday morning, she made that closed-door appearance sound like a “come one, come all” campaign rally. The blast gushed over Sinema’s sweep through Southern Arizona, and included Green Valley on the list of places visited.

So I called her aide Saturday morning and asked, once again, where she was when she visited Green Valley.

It was a private event, and well-attended, I was told.

Who decided the guest list? Who hosted it?

Well, the aide didn’t have the details on that.

Counting a private event as part of a Southern Arizona sweep is disingenuous. Sinema snuck into Green Valley, then she snuck out. Probably richer for it. She didn’t really want to talk to you.

But we weren’t alone when it came to snubs.

Sinema was in Sierra Vista on Thursday speaking at a public library, but a reporter was turned away at the door.

How come, I asked her aide. And was it Sinema who asked that reporters be barred? Who reserved the room? Who was invited? How was it publicized? What type of people attended?

The aide said she’d get back to me in an hour. I’m still waiting. (Note to campaign staff: That’s called a lie.)

The aide noted that Sinema spoke to a reporter with our sister paper in Sierra Vista. The resulting story was about an inch deep — not the reporter’s fault. According to the aide, the reporter was given “10 or 15 minutes” with the congresswoman.

All they really had to do was let the reporter into the library.

Then there’s Lea

Lea Marquez-Peterson is a Republican running for Martha McSally’s seat in Congressional District 2. If money talks, she’s a shoo-in. She’s light-years ahead of her three GOP competitors in fundraising.

She just has to keep her head down through the primary and save her money for the general.

She’s very good at that first part.

Marquez-Peterson has appeared in zero honest-to-goodness public forums despite several invites, and just turned down one in Green Valley set for Thursday. (Her campaign manager told me she has a long-scheduled board meeting; she’s head of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.)

That’s not to say she hasn’t been out. She has, a lot. She’ll attend a Brown Bag Luncheon in Green Valley later this month. But that’s not the same as going head-to-head with the competition.

She appeared in one forum at the exclusive Mountain Oyster Club in Tucson organized by the Pima County Republican Party. The event was open only to Republicans, and about 40 people attended. Journalists were not welcome (though one got in, click here). Questions came from the audience.

It doesn’t count as a true forum.

Fact is, Lea Marquez-Peterson has nothing to gain by showing up at an honest public forum in the primary. She announced her bid for office in December and then largely went underground, other than meeting with monied donors behind closed doors and a few safe speaking engagements.

Her campaign manager insists she is getting out there, and listed several national media outlets that have interviewed her. Because the Washington Post apparently has its finger on the pulse of Southern Arizona...

Marquez-Peterson is doing politics just like everybody else. Money comes first, and we get it.

What we don’t get is her apparent unwillingness to raise money and hold an honest debate at the same time. There’s precedent for it.

Both of these candidates could take a lesson from Rep. Martha McSally and the large group of Democrats running in CD2.

The Democrats have been holding forum after forum since fall. I’ve been to two of them, including one in Quail Creek. They all sound pretty much the same to me, but seeing them on stage together and interacting is important.

And McSally showed up for a three-way primary debate in Sahuarita in 2014 against two opponents who didn’t have a prayer. It was the biggest crowd ever to attend an event in the Quail Creek ballroom. Last year, she dismissed her staff’s advice to avoid a Town Hall meeting in Sahuarita and showed up to face 300 angry people in the room and more than twice that outside banging on the doors. You may not agree with her politics, but both of those decisions told us a lot about McSally’s commitment to constituents.

Likewise, poor decisions have told us a lot about Marquez-Peterson and Sinema in the past week. Here’s the message: The money is more important than the people.

The silver lining is that it’s quite possible we learned more about them from their actions than we would have from any debate question.

— Dan Shearer

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