TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - As part of our continuing commitment to our KGUN 9 On Your Side Project Red, White, and Blue, we are kicking off our coverage of the Congressional District 8 Special Election. We sat down with the four Republican candidates and asked them questions on the topics our viewers told us were the most important.
Here's what we learned about Col. Martha McSally:
Jennifer Waddell: We're here today with Republican Candidate for Congressional District 8, Martha McSally. Martha, thanks for being with us. We're going to get started right away. We want to just learn a little bit more about you. Tell us about yourself and why you're running for Congress.
Martha McSally: Well, I'm a retired fighter pilot, retired Colonel in the Air Force, served my country for 26 years in uniform. I'm the youngest of five kids, I have three older brothers, and my dad died when I was 12, which was the single biggest impact on my life. At a very young age, I had to learn that every day is a gift and I have a fire in my belly to make a difference because in the last conversation I had with him, he told me to make him proud. And so I hit the ground running at a young age and I've been moving out everyday and really trying to use it as my last and make a difference in this world. I was the first woman to fly a fighter aircraft in combat in U.S. history. I was the first woman to command a combat squadron and that's here at Davis-Monthan, the 354th fighter squadron and I also worked for Senator John Kyl for a year as a legislative fellow. I was one of seven in the Air Force selected to do that. So I got to see up close and personal how to get things done on Capitol Hill. People may most remember me for the person who took on the Pentagon for making our service women wear muslim garb when they were off base in Saudi Arabia about ten years ago. I put my career on the line, I filed a lawsuit, and then I actually wrote legislation and got it passed, unanimously in the House and as an amendment to the defense bill in the Senate and then signed into law. So that's just a little bit about my background.
JW: Very good. Let's talk about some things that set you apart from the other candidates. Let's pick two things that set you apart.
MM: Sure. I think there are two very important things. I think on the issues, those who are voting in the primary will think "Oh they're very similar", where we are different is number one, on experience, education and proven record. I have almost 28 years of serving my country, record of leadership, commanding in combat, working as a Colonel when you're dealing with the strategic level issues that are facing our nation and our world. I have two Master's degrees. One from Harvard in public policy and another one in strategic studies from Air War College where I graduated number one in my class of 225 future leaders of our military. So I've got a proven record of leadership, of education, of getting things done and making things happen. So we're very different as far as our backgrounds go. Another thing I think that makes be very different from the other candidates, I can win the June 12th election. I'm not divisive, I'm not inflammatory, I'm not a hot-head and actually just based on my record, I do have an appeal to the community I believe and I'm very much humbled by that. Just based on my record, they believe they can trust me, even though they may not agree with me on a number of issues. So we've been through a lot as a community, we're at a critical time in our nation and I think, it's time to move forward with leadership and moral courage and I think that's what I bring.
JW: What do you think are the two most critical issues facing Southern Arizona right now? MM: Well, the first is, I sort of combine together. It's the overwhelming debt that our nation has accumulated, it's almost 16 trillion dollars and also its impact on the economy and I'm combining these two together really. So, we have got to get our debt under control, I think people are waking up. This is not just normal deficit spending, but we're on a road to where Greece is right now, where if we don't do something different, we're going to be in a serious situation where it's going to impact our national security, our prosperity, our economy is going to be suffocated worse than what we've seen even in the last few years, and we don't have freedom of action in the world when a lot of our debt is owned my foreign governments, so the debt is STRANGLING the economy still. But, combined with that, is people need jobs, obviously, they need good jobs, we want to get the economy going again, so that is from my view the role of the federal government to get out of the way, the overregulation, the complexity of the tax code, the over taxing, we got to get back to where the federal government is out of the way so that the entrepreneurial spirit and the innovative spirit of Americans in small businesses can actually flourish and get the economy going again. So, I combine those two kind of into the top issue. The second is national security issues. There's many going on around the world, but the closest to us here in Southern Arizona is the border. We've got transnational criminal organizations fighting wars just south of us and they're trafficking weapons, slaves, people, you know, and money, and drugs into our neighborhoods and this is very serious and the federal government doesn't have the political will right now to secure the boarder and address this, it's their responsibility and the southern Arizonans are ready for this to be fixed and to have somebody representing them in DC that's actually got the experience and the understanding of how to fix it and is actually going to get it done.
JW: If you are elected, what would be your first priority?
MM: Well, my first priority is to get to Washington DC and lead. I mean, we need leadership right now, we're at such a critical time in America and you don't-having been on capital hill-you don't get a luxury of saying 'I'm just going to address one thing" I mean there is a myriad of things facing our nation right now, there's many things you see before the house of representatives on a daily basis, so I'm just going to provide that leadership, that credibility, that expertise in order to start fighting for the people of Southern Arizona and actually start working on getting our debt under control, getting the economy going again. You know, giving that freedom and opportunity to small businesses and securing our border, that's going to be my immediate priority.
JW: You talked about national security, let's talk a little about border security. What is your plan to secure our border with Mexico?
MM: Well I look at it as a military person both tactically and strategically. Tactically we have to actually secure the border. I mean, I've actually planned combined ground and air operations in other places around the world. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and other places and this is not difficult to do. We know how to do this we just haven't had the will to do it. So we need to use the combination of barriers and fences where appropriate, plus man power at the border. I mean if the front line is at the border we need our man power to actually be at the border, not 50 miles deep, not roaming around other places. So we've got to put the man power there, we've got to use other technologies, sensors, sonar, radar, plus aircraft drones and manned aircraft in order to have intelligence driven operations to be able to detect, tract, and intersect illegal activity. This is not difficult. We're doing it around the world you know, we're trying to secure the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, eleven and a half times owns way, yet this is in our backyard, so I mean I've planned operations like this before I know how to do this and so I'll hit the ground running and make sure that we've got the political will to do that. But, strategically we also need to look at the root causes, we- it's in our best interest to have a secure, stable, prosperous neighbor to the South of us. There's a war going on there and we need to partner with our neighbor to the South because it's in our best interest, both diplomatically, economically, and with security assistance to have stability and prosperity there in order to address the root causes of what's s going on right now.
JW: Immigration, when we talk about how that's connected to security. What changes would you make to our current immigration laws?
MM: Well the current system is painful, I mean as most people will tell you, I mean we have military officers that are married to someone from another country who take years for them to be able to you know legally become a citizen. We have other high level skills that we are seeing come into our country and get educated and then leave when we actually need those skills here. So the old sort of painful bureaucratic process of random quotas, it's just not working for us. So we need to change the system so that it's smart and benefits Americans, we need to make sure it streamlines, so it's not so long and painful, which also incentivizes illegal activity. We need to look both on the high end, based on supply and demand what kind of skills do we need to actually stay in America to make sure America stays on the path; to be the super power and be prosperous. And then on the low end, we need to take a look at what kind of processes do we need for the skills on the lower end to make sure the economy is continuing to flourish and that we're partnering with our neighbors in order to have both of our prosperities, which are dependent on each other, going in the right directions. It does need to be streamlined and reformed for sure.
JW: Alright, you were talking about some of the skill sets of the people who want to come here and hopefully they stay here with that, let's talk a little bit about education. We're going to get hyper-local now, we want to talk about the Mexican-American studies program. I'm sure you're well aware of the restrictions that were placed on that program within TUSD which essentially forced it out. What's your position on that move?
MM: Well, my position as someone who is applying for the job to be a member of the house of representatives is this is not a federal government issue. I mean, this was an issue that happened between the state and the local government and I mean, my mom was an educator, she retired at the age of 77 as an educator, I mean I'm the product of a good education. Obviously, with the opportunities I've had, in bachelors and two masters degrees. So I am very passionate about education but as a conservative, I think the federal government needs to stay out of the business of education and it needs to be driven at the local level with parent involvement, where there is innovation, where there is competition, where there is excellence that is rewarded for teachers and for schools. So this is a local issue that was going on really between the local schools and the state and it is important. I'll give you my opinion, it's not necessarily a governing opinion as a person applying for a federal job if that makes sense. I mean my opinion is that it is important to be honoring a heritage of all the ethnicities of Americans but it's also important to be teaching basic American history in elementary school. I mean you can branch out to the other types of things to learn and get into the college level but at the basic level we need to be making sure that all of our kids understand our full American history because that's where we're really lacking in many ways. I know it's a very devisive issue in the community and in general I would say my perspectives are that I look at things objectively and analytically and not emotionally, as I'm running for this office and I'm going to come down objectively on these issues that are going to be affecting the federal government. This is a local issue.
JW: So do you support the move then to get rid of the program?
MM: Based on what I know and what I've studied about it, I think it was an appropriate move to get rid of the program, yes.
JW: We have a question from a viewer, her name is Sally Chandler, Sally says, "I'm sick and tired of our children graduating from high school without knowing basic skills. No child left behind has, if anything, made things worse. Do you have plans for changing this and how would you pay for it?"
MM: I couldn't agree more. Although the intent of No Child Left Behind was perhaps good, that we need to do something to raise the standards of our education. We're right now number 23 in the world in math and 31 in science and we're America. We're supposed to be number one in those things. Although the intent was there, anytime the federal government gets involved its going to be bureaucratic, its going to be standardized, where it squashes innovation. I grew up in Rhode Island, education in Rhode Island does not have the same needs in education as Arizona. No Child Left Behind needs to be repealed and I mean I think testing is a good thing. I'm not of the school that says "oh we don't want to test kids because then they'll feel bad if they don't pass the test". You do need to be tested but it needs to be locally driven and we need to have that be at the lowest level, that's again parent involvement, locally driven, so that kids are actually learning. They are learning how to think critically which is not what No Child Left Behind does. What that does is take away teachers and schools' time, paperwork, and teaching to test; it's just not making our education any better. So we need to repeal it and we need to get the federal government out of the business of education and let it be addressed at the local level.
JW:So the second part of her question is, how would you pay for it?
MM: Well, I see no reason why we should keep having money be sent from here to Washington DC to be sent back for education. I think we need to go back to a federal government being minimally involved and this being a state and local driven and funded. And stop having to send our money to DC and getting less of it back in order to actually fund the education.
JW: One more question on the topic of education and this is one we've been looking into a lot here at 9 On Your Side, that is the number of suicides in Tucson. In our schools there have been four students who have committed suicide in this school year alone, how do you think the problem of bullying, its been connected to these suicides, how do you think the problem should be addressed?
MM: Again, as a person who is running as the House of Representatives, I don't think its a federal issue. It's tragic, these suicides are absolutely tragic. Any life that is snuffed out is tragic but certainly having a young person taking their own life because of the pressures they're feeling or the bullying that is going on is just absolutely unacceptable. and deep tragedy for obviously their family and for this community. Not related to bullying but you know I've been on the board of directors for Teen Challenge in Arizona which is a faith-based organization, alcohol recovery program that's highly successful but they deal with kids in crisis. The spring board home for girls deals with young girls in crisis that have turned to drugs and alcohol, some of them even on the road with attempted suicides; just absolutely tragic. So I care deeply about this community and have been involved with Teen Challenge since I've been in and out of this community for almost 10 years. That needs to be addressed obviously at the local level, the school level, parent involvement again, in order to make sure we are not creating an environment or there is an environment that is driving our young people to take their own lives and the promise of their future is heartbreaking and it needs to stop.
JW: Let's move on to talk about the economy. How about that? Let's choose three things that you would do to stimulate the economy.
MM: Sure, I don't like the word stimulate, it has certain connotations to it. I mentioned it kind of in my opening statements but I think the federal government keeps trying to fix the economy but what they're doing is continuing to spend our hard earned tax payers money, putting us further and further into debt and actually not allowing small businesses which are the entrepreneurial spirit and the engine of growth in America to actually flourish. So what do we need to do, we need to roll back the federal regulations that are really suffocating small businesses, there are just so many of them. I talked to many business men and women in town and they are just--to meet the regulatory guidance is just extraordinary time and effort, confusing, redundant, and sometimes just completely inapplicable to what their business is even doing. So rolling back federal regulation in order to get out of the way so that small businesses can flourish is one thing. The second thing is to deal with lowering taxes and to simplify the tax code. Right now, our taxes are so complex, on the corporate and the individual level. It takes us 6.8 billion man hours in order to get our taxes done in America, which is over 3 million jobs if you were to equate that to sort of the cost of paying employees. So we've got to simplify the tax code and we've got to get the tax code lower. As of yesterday, we have the highest corporate taxes in the world, now that Japan changed their rates. So we've got to simplify it and we've got to bring those rates down so that businesses are wanting to come to America, obviously and then there's--people need to realize at the local level they need to be electing the right people to the Pima County board of supervisors. At the State level, we've got to make sure we have a business friendly environment here locally so businesses are coming here versus Phoenix. I am going to do my part to make sure that we're coming here versus India, you know at the federal level, but we still need to work together with the local government to make sure that good businesses want to come to Arizona and want to come to Southern Arizona.
JW: Alright, healthcare. I would imagine there are some things that you would like to change if you could, what are a couple of things you would do to reform the healthcare system.
MM: Well we do need to repeal Obamacare because it is not the solution. What Obamacare does not get to is the root issues which is the cost of healthcare. We need to have healthcare affordable and available to everybody in a free market system is my perspective and we pay the highest per capita of any country in the world by like 50% in healthcare yet we're number 27 in westernized countries in our life expectancy. So we're not getting the bang for the buck. There are a lot of things that are driving up the healthcare cost, we don't have time to talk about all of them but some of them are no caps on malpractice, that drives up the cost, we can't buy insurance across state lines, so there is no good competition. We have this culture of a fee for service that doctors only get paid if they do something to you as opposed to actually spending time with you to understand your health and your history and your genetics and actually help you with lifestyle choices that are preventative in nature. There is no incentive for that. Even as they're getting reimbursed less and less for the things that they have to do to you to get paid then that sky rockets the cost up because they have to do more and more patients per day to just get by. And then they spend only 5 minutes with a patient to do 30 minutes of paperwork. So some of this is a culture change that needs to happen but we need to focus on bringing the cost of healthcare down to make it available and affordable for everybody.
JW: The bill in the Arizona legislature that would allow employers to opt out of birth control for religious or moral objections, what's your take on that?
MM: Let me back up to the larger issue that I think it's very unfortunate that we are even in this situation right now, which has been the declared war on women and it's really another Republican party and as a woman in the Republican Party it's very frustrating to see this going on. I mean we didn't just wake up a few weeks ago and realize, oh we have a crisis of contraception not being available to women. Philosophically, obviously I think contraception needs to be available to women, again, because we want to prevent unwanted pregnancies. But this is a case of the federal government, if we roll this whole issue back, the federal government directing things from Washington DC and getting into the business of organizations that are now having to violate their own religious freedom in order to follow these federal mandates. Sort of the root of this whole problem is the federal government reaching out, overreaching as it's continuing to do and mandating that organizations are now violating their religious conscience in order to have to mandate birth control. So the way to deal with this issue I think is to just roll back this federal mandate and make health care affordable and available for everybody so they have the choice to be able to go get contraception. I think the state, in this case, has gone way too far as sort of this adendum in this dynamic. The whole thought that you would have to have a woman go to her employer and explain that she is taking birth control for health reasons and not for birth control reasons is just absolutely ludacris. So I think the state is just overstepping its bounds and even just continuing to pour fuel on this fire, if that makes sense. Instead of getting to the core issues right now, of getting the federal government out of the business of telling people what to do and violating their first amendment rights and actually why don't we have the state focus on trying to create good jobs for the people of Southern Arizona.
JW: Alright, Let's talk a little bit about the federal involvement. The President has a plan to pull out our combat troops from Afghanistan by 2014. You clearly have a lot of background on the military, how do you feel about that plan?
MM: I commanded my A-10 squad from Davis Monthan in Afghanistan, I've actually been there as a part of that mission as a commander. I've also taught and lectured on this in my last job when I was a professor at the George C. Marshall center. So I've spent a lot of time paying attention to Afghanistan as an American, as a military leader. I think it's a bad idea to announce to the enemy when you're leaving, I mean in general. And when you look at that part of the world, they are willing to just outlast us. They have been at war for several decades and when we started to announce that we were leaving, you saw a dynamic going on there where there is now no incentive for Pakistan to actually stop being a safe haven for the terrorists. There's real no incentive for the Taliban to lay down their arms because they are just going to wait us out. So I thought that was a bad idea when it was announced. The strategy that we have right now from a military point of view, where we're actually training up Afghans security forces so that we can transfer responsibility to them, is a good strategy. I mean it's part of classic counter insurgency strategy that unfortunately we didn't do for the first several years after the initial operations there but we're now actually for the last two years been working very, very hard in order to train up the capabilities of the Afghan security national forces, which is their military and their police, and then transfer their responsibilities to them and they're responsible for their own security. That's the only way a counter insurgency will win is if ultimately the Afghan government and the Afghan military are providing security, stability and goverance for their own people. The President says that that transfer is going to be condition based instead of time based but we haven't seen yet what if the conditions aren't met by the time we get to 2014. We need to make sure it is condition based because after all the investment that we've made, we don't need to be rushing failure at the very end because maybe we need a little bit more time to transfer over to competence security forces. Ultimately, the future of Afganistan is in the hand of the Afgans but we have to remember even though we're battle weary as Americans, there's a lot of blood and treasure invested in this war and I know the feeling we're ready to bring everybody home. A failed state in Afganistan next to a nuclear Pakistan with a deep divide next to a potential state sponsor of terrorism that will become nuclear is not in our best interest. We do need to pay attention to and do what we can to make sure it's not a failed state.
JW: I want to get to some viewer questions, a few questions on the budget and we'll start with John Goreman. John says "How would you have voted for the budget proposal that was passed the house last week and how would you balance the budget?"
MM: Thanks, John, for the question, and I'm glad the budget is on the minds of the people in Southern Arizona because the debt is a really big deal. There were several budgets actually that were tied up last week to the House and the one that did pass is the one that Paul Ryan had created and I would have voted for that budget. I think it's not perfect honestly I think there's some elements of it that I don't agree with but of all the budgets that were put forward at least it is a budget that hasn't been passed for three years now by the congress even though by law they're supposed to pass a budget. So personally I don't think they should be paid if they're not passing a budget and if I go there I'd be saying things like that myself. It's good that they've come up with a plan in order to get this graph of this deficit which is up to 16 trillion and going this way. At least their plan starts to flatten that out and actually get the debt under control. There's things I disagree in the budget, as far as Medicare I think we can still squeeze efficiencies out of defense and they don't look for any efficiencies out of defense and some other elements there but of the options, I think that one was the best one put forward.
JW: From Richard Snow, he says "Are you in favor of bringing much needed federal funds for bridges and roads to Southern Arizona?"
MM: Well again thanks Richard for the question. You know you can just drive down the roads here and realize we're in deep trouble here. It's a safety issue. I mean our roads are in such disarray. So again at the federal level I think we need to make sure that the federal government is funding the highway funds and providing those funds to states that are appropriate. Then it's up to the state and the local government to also be providing those funds for the local roads. The budget has been balanced in Arizona but part of the way that that was balanced which is what one of my opponents is touting by sort of cleaning out the road funds and using it for other purposes which is impacting the locals communities significantly. This is a combination of the federal government and state and local government making sure our roads and bridges are safe and our infrastructure is safe.
JW: Donald Wooley wants to know, "Would you be in favor of modifying the current medical retirement and related benefit packages received by congressional members and their staffs and replacing them with a social security and healthcare package similar to that provided by a mid-sized private employer?"
MM: What a great question Donald, I really appreciate it and this taps into I think the way most Americans are feeling right now where even though our founding fathers created this brilliant system where we have people representing citizens, going to Washington DC and fighting for them. What's happened overtime somehow is there is this feeling of elitism coming out of Washington DC. That the people working in the Congress are of another class of the people that they are representing and you see this in what they are being paid, what their retirement system is, what their healthcare system is. I mean how arrogant is it to pass a healthcare reform bill that doesn't apply to you. So I am totally in favor in rolling back this elitism. I am not a member of the elite, I am a public servant who has worn the uniform and taken an oath of office and served my country. I'm ready to take that oath of office again and I think the people in the congress need to have the same types of retirement and medical plans as the regular-as everybody else and the American citizens. I didn't even know what the retirement plan was for congress until somebody just told me about it and I was like that's ridiculous. I had to serve my country for 20 years in order to---put my life on the line and get shot at and all the things that go with that in order to serve the retirement pay--in order to get the retirement pay that I get from 20 years of serving my country. There's no way from just working in Washington DC for 5 years you should get something that is not in balance with what normal people are getting. So that absolutely needs to be turned over, I know this won't be popular when I get to Washington DC but I've shown in my military career that I don't care about being popular I care about doing what's right.
JW: Virginia Cornell and one other viewer want to talk about politics a little bit. Virginia says "citizens are tired of partisan gridlock in Washington, what would you do to work with your opponents to get laws and appointments passed?"
MM: I totally agree with you. I, like most Americans, my political career is 8 weeks old now, and I like most Americans have been disgusted and disengaged and feeling like you know, what has gone wrong? Washington DC is just broken. The demonizing, name calling, the divisiveness is just out of control. Most people in our district feel that way. What we need to do here locally is come together. Honestly, we are Southern Arizonans. You know, within the Republican Party there is divisiveness. I intend to bring leadership, reasonability, and problem solving pragmatism both to as I'm interacting with people I'm trying to represent here. I'm going to listen to you, I want to hear your perspectives on things. I'm going to think it through, I'm going to analyze it. We may not agree but at least we're going to have a dialogue about it and I'm not going to yell at you and be inflammatory about it. So I think it starts here locally that we have some healing that needs to happen. In Washington DC is just even an exaggeration of all that, it's taken to another level. The name calling and the demonizing is just ridiculous. If we think back to the days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neal, they were very different in their philosophies of how to solve the nation's problems but they were friendly with each other and they figured out how to work together. Cause that's what our constitutional baseline is based on, it's about balance of powers. You're going to have to sort out between the executive branch and the legislative and the judicial branch how to get things done. That's the way we were designed so that we can have autocracy. My plan is to bring my leadership, my education, my experience and my pragmatism and my lack of being hot headed devisive to Washington DC. The example I saw in Senator Kyl was one that I will carry on. He was a person who was very brilliant who knew the issues, who educated his colleagues on those issues, not in an inflammatory way and then he got things done by educating them and moving things along that mattered for our nation and I plan to have that same strategy when I get to Washington DC.
JW: Alright, final question from Roger Score. He said "This election is to represent Southern Arizona, how well are you connected with current Mayors, sheriffs and the state legislature?"
MM: Thanks for that question. I mean I am not personally connected with those guys but I am connected with the people of Southern Arizona. I've lived in this district for almost 10 years and my active duty military career which was 22 years. As a military person you're usually going all over the world but I lived here almost 10 years. I bought my house in Rita Ranch in 1994. I bought my land in Elgin, 18 acres of land in 2006, which I'm not going to build on anytime soon until we secure the border so I understand the issues there. I've been involved in this community through YWCA, I received an award through them, I received the University of Arizona Women who Lead award, I was on the board of directors of Teen Challenge, I've been involved in their program for 15 years. I'm involved in the music ministries on the base, the Tour de Tucson mountains bike race was dedicated to me in 2002 and so I'm--my church is connected here, Victor Worship Center. I am connected to this community. I have not been political while I've been here because I was serving my nation. I was not meeting with people in the state party or people in the legislature but I plan to team up with everyone as we try to solve the problems of our community and of our nation and represent this district in Washington DC.