This weekend Politic365 had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Richard Carmona, the former U.S. Surgeon General who served under President George W. Bush, about his candidacy to fill the seat of retiring Arizona Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
Carmona was registered as an Independent until becoming a Democrat to run for the Senate. Carmona is hoping that his independent minded approach to problem solving will appeal to Arizonans who are tired of partisan politics. Arizona has been a consistently red state in the past three presidential election cycles, and it hasn’t had a Democratic Senator since Dennis DeConcini left office in 1995.
Recent polling shows Carmona is barely trailing GOP opponent Jeff Flake by two points. And some operatives have suggested that because of the backlash against the controversial SB 1070, which was largely struck down by the Supreme Court a few weeks ago, the Grand Canyon state could be in play for the Democrats. But it becomes clear in speaking with Carmona that he’s not about making partisan potshots and that his view of the political landscape is wider than the blue-red paradigm.
When asked why he’s running now, Carmona told Politic365 this, “First I was not planning on running for office; I was happy to resume my life as a private citizen. But I was embarrassed by the politics in Arizona — the meanness and maliciousness and that many of the current representatives are not staying focused on the people’s needs. Friends suggested that I do this. I have received all that I have because of this country, and I see running for the Senate as going back on active duty. People have lost confidence — how can you have a democracy when people don’t trust their elected officials?”
The call to duty is something that Carmona has lived since he was a young man and entered the Army to serve in Vietnam. Raised in the Bronx in a poor Puerto Rican family, he left high school without a diploma and became a medic. After becoming a decorated war veteran, he then became the first in his family to earn a college degree and went onto medical school. Carmona also served as a deputy sheriff in Pima County, so his tradition of service spans the military, law enforcement and medicine. He mentioned the influence of his abuelita (grandmother) in his current quest to give back and to do something for the community.
Carmona has been critical of his state’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070, saying that it doesn’t do anything to secure the border and that it is a “distraction” that hinders the ability of law enforcement to build trust in the communities they serve. Given the level of partisanship in Washington, D.C. and the reality that getting comprehensive immigration reform through the House of Representatives could be quite difficult, Politic365 asked Carmona if he would consider supporting piecemeal legislative solutions.
“If it has to be done incrementally, then I would support that. We need to be fair and to provide transparent solutions. If I had my choice, I would get behind a solution that was more like what President Bush and Senator Kennedy had planned. Despite coming from opposite sides of the political spectrum, they felt that they owed it to the public to get this solved. If I couldn’t get it all [comprehensive immigration reform], I would work on incremental solutions,” Carmona reasoned.
When the conversation turned to the recent health care ruling in the context of Arizona’s high rate of uninsured residents, Carmona mentioned that he doesn’t like the term “Obamacare” because health care shouldn’t be politicized. Instead he talked about continuing to have a conversation with people in his state and across the country about prevention and health maintenance so that the cost of care for everyone would go down. He did say that the Affordable Care Act does have some tools that will help lessen health disparities, but he also thought that the public needs to be a more engaged partner in taking active control of their health.
On the economy, Carmona said that he thought the biggest challenge right now is that everyone is risk averse, including big businesses who are reluctant to invest because of the continuing financial catastrophes. In the short term, he would like to promote tax incentives for smaller businesses to hire. And in the long term, he would support comprehensive tax reform to simplify the tax code while making it more fair for lower and middle class Americans.
Finally, Carmona could be the first Latino senator in Arizona’s history. This Bronx born Vietnam veteran turned doctor could inspire Latino Arizonans who have long felt that they have been scapegoated by the powers that be in their state from Sheriff Joe Arpaio to Governor Brewer. But beyond ethnic and partisan politics, Carmona makes it very clear that he seeks to represent all Arizonans.