Read the forum transcript here:
Christopher Conover: Good evening and welcome to an Arizona Public Media Your Vote 2012 special. I’m Christopher Conover. Tonight we bring you a forum featuring two candidates running for United States Senate in Arizona. Joining us in the studio are Republican Jeff Flake and Democrat Richard Carmona. They’re both hoping to replace Senator John Kyl who is retiring after serving 18 years in the Senate. Our format this evening is more of an informal discussion, no opening statements, no timed answers. Joining us for this discussion is Arizona Public Media’s Andrea Kelly. And gentlemen, thank you so much for coming in.
Jeff Flake: Thanks for having us.
Richard Carmona: Pleasure to be with you.
Andrea Kelly: Let’s start with healthcare. We’ve heard a lot about it for a lot of years. We know generally Republicans are in favor of repealing it and generally Democrats are in favor of in some cases tweaking it. But this has been an issue that in some cases has paralyzed Congress and I’d like to know from both of you, if you’re elected will be there any progress on this issue. And we’ll start with you, Representative Flake.
Jeff Flake: Great. Well, let me just say, when we talk about repealing it we’re not talking about repealing healthcare, we’re talking about repealing the President’s Healthcare Law and we should do that because we’ve got to reform healthcare but we need to do it in ways that we can deliver healthcare more efficiently. The President’s Healthcare Law is not that. We need to do many things. We’ve got to do tort reform, we’ve got to force insurance companies to compete across state lines, we’ve got to give individuals the same pre-tax benefits that companies currently enjoy to allow for more portability and then we’ve got to make it easier to individuals to access healthcare options like medical savings accounts. The President’s Healthcare Law has made that more difficult.
Andrea Kelly: Will there be any progress on this in the next session?
Jeff Flake: Oh, I believe so, if Republicans take control of the Senate, certainly. There are a number of reforms we’ve been wanting to do for years and if the President Mitt Romney will repeal the President’s Healthcare Law, then we can move on to some genuine reform that we really need.
Andrea Kelly: And Dr. Carmona, will there be any progress on any healthcare changes in the next session?
Richard Carmona: I certainly hope there will be because the public is expecting it to happen but as you can tell from Congressman Flake’s comments the fact is they’ve politicized healthcare. I’ve been in healthcare most of my life. I’ve been there as a combat medic, I’ve been there as a registered nurse, as a physician assistant, as a physician, as a professor teaching medicine and as the Surgeon General of the United States. And what I learned as Surgeon General of the United States how dysfunctional our political system has become, how everything becomes politicized. The problem is, both parties have gotten it wrong. They’re not arguing over the same issue. They’re bringing forth business plans. This is about health, this is about driving down the cost of healthcare and making sure people have access and making sure it’s quality care. And both parties have to get themselves realigned to address those issues on behalf of the people because they’ve failed miserably. Congress has let us down.
Jeff Flake: Well, if I might. Dr. Carmona supports the President’s healthcare plan so accusing us of politicizing it just because people don’t support it, that’s just not true. A lot of us would like to see better delivery, lower cost. The problem with the President’s healthcare plan is he promised lower premiums. Premiums have gone up 25, 30 percent since the President’s Healthcare Law was passed and Dr. Carmona will not say whether he’ll vote to repeal it or not. It needs to be repealed and we’ve got to move ahead with genuine reform.
Andrea Kelly: Dr. Carmona?
Richard Carmona: Yeah. Again, we’re continuing to politicize this issue. This is about asking, ‘How do we provide the best care for the most people at the least cost?’ and you don’t hear politicians discussing that. You’ve seen that, from Congressman Flake all you hear is, as long as they’re in charge everything will be fine. They’ve been in charge before and we still have problems. The fact is, both parties at different times have gotten this wrong and they’re arguing the wrong issues. Congressman Flake has created a narrative to try and put me in a place where I really am not. From the very beginning when I was asked about the Affordable Care Act, I’ve been very clear, just as Mitt Romney was to say that there are specific elements in that plan that everybody likes. I’m concerned about the sustainability over time and having a good business plan that makes sense over time and I’ve criticized the plan. But just like Governor Romney, I think there are good parts of that plan that need to be retained and I’ve been very consistent. So the characterization of my opinion that Congressman Flake brings up is entirely wrong.
Jeff Flake: All due respect it is not. When the healthcare law was passed, Dr. Carmona went to several town halls defending it, saying that it was a good first step and it was the right thing to do. When he first started running for this office, the question was asked, ‘Do you support the President’s Healthcare Law?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I do.’ I don’t how more clear you can get from that. Now is when the unclarity comes when Dr. Carmona is saying that I maybe wouldn’t have voted for it.
Richard Carmona: Let me clarify. Might I just clarify? When you look at what the Congressman is saying, this is politics as usual, in the gutter, ugly politics. In many of those first events that I spoke at I spoke about the aspiration of healthcare, that as a Surgeon General of the United States I feel like many presidents before President Obama that we should have healthcare for everybody and I spoke to the support of the aspiration of healthcare for all but I was equally critical about some of the aspects of the Affordable Care Act. So once again, Congressman Flake is doing everything he can to paint me into a position that really is not my position.
Christopher Conover: Let me ask this. It seems like while we don’t have agreement on health, there is one thing that you both do agree on that the law as it was passed is problematic. The level of problematic I think is kind of where we disagree. So let’s assume for a moment that one of you elected, which should happen, coming up here, what do you do specifically to fix it within your realm of believing it’s problematic, via it minor tweaks or very large changes? Dr. Carmona.
Richard Carmona: I’ll be happy to address that. First of all, you have to look at where the cost of healthcare is coming from. We’re spending $2.8 trillion a year on what we call healthcare, it’s actually sick care. 18 percent of our GDP is going out the door. 75 cents of every dollar is spent on chronic diseases and most of those are preventable. It’s about people smoking, about not exercising, about gaining weight, about Type II diabetes, about not wearing a seat belt, about not wearing a helmet. All of those things add up to increased cost in society. What neither plan addresses is the true rising cost of healthcare. If the public does not become engaged, if the public does not work with us to pursue optimal health and wellness, irrespective of who’s plan is adopted, the cost will continue to rise, in a decade or so we’ll be up at 25 percent or so of our GDP, it’ll be just under $6 trillion and the bank is breaking now so that’s one thing. When we look within the plan itself and we look at some of the issues that are there as far as funding. First of all, I’m concerned that the plan calls for reducing more payments to doctors and to the hospitals. Well, at a time when you want to put 32 more million people into the system and doctors are already struggling, that might not be a way to go. When we look at the organizations that are being established within accountable care organizations within the plan, if they work, if you save money, if you improve the quality, then you may be able to reap some benefits that will drive the cost of the system down. So there’s a lot of variables I’m concerned with but that doesn’t mean abandon it. Let’s hold on to what’s good in there and let’s go back and in a nonpartisan way let’s figure out how to do this. It’s going to take good Republicans and good Democrats reasonably going over this to be able to come up with a good plan. Congressman Flake feels of course that the Republicans are the only ones that have the answer to this problem.
Christopher Conover: Congressman Flake.
Jeff Flake: Let me answer that. It is going to take both sides. That’s what Congress is about. You’ve got to work across the aisle, particularly in the Senate when you need 60 votes for virtually everything. But what you’ve got to have is first repeal. We can’t fix this thing. The notion that we’re somehow going to go in and just tweak this or that and it’s going to be okay when you have rising healthcare costs, 25, 30 percent since it was passed, when you have 2014 coming and the burden that will be on the State of Arizona that is barely getting our legs back under us here with regard to the budget and then ObamaCare comes or the President’s Healthcare Law and just knocks our feet out from under us again. It needs to be repealed. Sometimes in Washington you actually have to make choices, you have to say, ‘All right, this may not have everything I want in it but I’ll vote for it,’ or ‘We need to start over again,’ and in this case we need to start over again. It’s easy when you haven’t been in Congress to say, ‘Well, everybody can work together, certainly bipartisanship is needed.’ That’s been my career. But in this case, we’ve got to repeal ObamaCare and then put in place meaningful reforms that will actually make healthcare more affordable. One of the biggest problems with ObamaCare or the President’s Healthcare Law, I’m sorry, is that it doesn’t make healthcare any more affordable, it doesn’t do anything to really address the cost of healthcare and therein lies the biggest problem.
Richard Carmona: Well, the cost of healthcare is going up because of the chronic diseases and people have to participate. The fact is, even if you use Congressman Ryan’s plan and their budget, it’s not going to stop the rising cost of care. All you’re doing there is just transferring risk from one population, from the government, out to the population because the Congressman is will to put our senior’s healthcare at risk by voucherizing and privatizing. I’m not willing to do that. Those are earned benefits, okay. They’re not entitlements, they’re earned benefits. So when I look at what they’re trying to do, there’s a clear difference between us, okay. But I’ve been in the health field most of my life, I’ve been Surgeon General of the United States. These are things that are clever sound bites that the Congressman has memorized based on the playbook from his party. They’re not solving the problem. The problem is about the rising cost of care which is from chronic disease and the public has to be engaged. There are good elements of the Affordable Care Act. As I said, even Governor Romney said, ‘There are some good things in there.’ We want the closure of Medicare Part D, the donut hole, making sure kids are covered to 26, non-exclusionary criteria,’ that protects the public, it allows the public to have guaranteed access but it’s a partnership. The public now has to engage and do everything it can to keep itself healthy so over time we drive down the cost of healthcare because that’s where the cost is coming from and Congressman Flake is not addressing that. He’s addressing this as a political issue. It’s a health issue.
Jeff Flake: No, I have to answer that. He talked about voucherizing Medicare. What Congressman Ryan has proposed and I support is not voucherizing at all, it’s a premium support system. Dr. Carmona on the other hand supporting the President’s healthcare plan, that takes $716 billion out of current Medicare. Now how in the world are you supposed to pay doctors what they need to keep them in the system or make sure that benefits accrue to current seniors if you take $716 billion out of it? The notion that whenever I bring up a difference I’m politicizing things but when you bring up a difference then it’s based on policy, that just doesn’t wash.
Richard Carmona: Well, you know, Congressman, it does wash and here’s why. You’re a chronic politician. I’ve been doing this my whole life, taking care of patients and making tough decisions every day, okay. It’s very different. Now, the issue of this $716 billion, it’s the same $716 that Congressman Ryan has in his budget as well. The real issue here, it’s not taking away, these are supposed accrued savings over time that if they are accrued then could be reinvested. In fact AARP looked at this, nonpartisan organization, and said, ‘This actually helps to extend Medicare another several years.’ So we have nonpartisan people looking at this. The fact is, they’re not taking money from the people, they’re actually being able to generate savings by what they do to be able to reinvest in Medicare so we can prolong Medicare. That’s what’s actually happened but I don’t expect the Congressman to understand because he’s never worked in the health industry. He has cleverly written sound bites that comes from his party playbook.
Jeff Flake: That’s hardly the case. Let me just say, a chronic politician is one who changes his position based in the situation he’s in.
Richard Carmona: You’ve done that quite well. You’ve done it quite well, Congressman.
Jeff Flake: And so..when he started this campaign he said, ‘I support the President’s Healthcare Law,’ and now he says he doesn’t support it. And so who’s the chronic politician?
Richard Carmona: The Congressman feels if he says it enough that the people will believe it. It’s absolutely false.
Christopher Conover: Let’s go ahead. I think one thing again we will agree on is that we’re not going to agree on this or you two are not going to agree on this and rather than spend the whole hour just talking about this there are some other topics we want to get into.
Andrea Kelly: That’s true and actually this really sets us up for something that I’ve wanted to ask you guys on any issue. Partisanship is one of the problems everybody sites in Washington right now and we’re seeing both of you, one side, the other side, what is each side going to do, not just on healthcare. How do you get past this? Everybody says they want to. How do you get past this? How do you make any solutions on any issue in Congress? Dr. Carmona.
Richard Carmona: I’d be happy to answer that. My whole life I’ve been an independent. As you remember I was Surgeon General of the United States for a very conservative administration. I was recruited during the time of being Surgeon General because the Republicans thought that I was such a good person being recruited for Governor, being recruited for Congress and I refused at the time because I didn’t go to Washington to use it as a stepping stone to another job. My job was for four years to be the doctor of the nation and that’s what I did. But during that time, unlike Congressman Flake whose voting record is very clear in line with his party on just about every single vote, I work both sides of the aisle very successfully. When I worked for a Democratic, uh, Republic administration, I worked very, very closely with the Democrats to get health issues done. My job was to protect, promote and advance the health safety and security of the nation. I couldn’t do that with one party. I had to work with both parties on things like obesity, cardiovascular disease, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, emerging infections, avian flu, regular flu. All of those things are American issues, they’re not partisan issues and as the Surgeon General I had to work both sides of the aisle and I was successful in doing that because my focus was not on getting reelected or keeping a party in power, it was about doing what was right for the American public on each and every issue and not allowing either party to politicize science which they both tried to do at different times.
Andrea Kelly: So you’re saying you’ll continue in that same…
Richard Carmona: Absolutely, yes, yes.
Andrea Kelly: And Congressman Flake, same question. How do we get past this partisanship?
Jeff Flake: Well, first you’ve got to have the temperament. You’ve got to have the temperament to work with both sides and that’s been my history. I started in Washington doing an internship for Dennis DeConcini. I’ve seen the other side. I’ve worked with Democrats all along the way. In fact during my time in Congress I’ve passed more amendments on the floor of the House than any other Republican by a long shot. In the past four years no Republican or Democrat has passed more floor amendments than I have. You can’t do that unless you work with both sides of the aisle well. And even though I’ve taken some tough positions against earmarks and whatnot, I’ve not made it personal and you’ve got to do that in Washington. In the Senate you have to have 60 votes for nearly everything and so you’ve got to work across the aisle. Barry Goldwater once said, ‘Politics is nothing more than public business. Sometimes you make the best of a mixed bargain.’ We know that compromise is needed. The difficulty right now has been that the House Republicans have put our stake in the ground by passing a budget and a lot of the ads that are run now against me are saying, ‘Jeff Flake believes in this budget and that budget would cut this for that or that for this,’ but we can’t get Harry Reid and the Democrats to put their stake in the ground, their budget, and so we can say, ‘We’re here, you’re here, why don’t we meet in the middle,’ and that’s been, I tell you, very frustrating for many of us who are used to working across the aisle and used to reaching an agreement. But you’ve got to have the temperament and Dr. Carmona said that he was Surgeon General, recruited by a Republican but it’s worthy to note that he wasn’t asked to stay on for a second term and that I think is part of the record and part of the temperament issue that we’re talking about.
Richard Carmona: Well, first let me address the issue. Congressman Flake speaks of his record, okay. So when we looked at his record, it appears that in a 12 year period, government paid, we paid, the citizens paid him about $2 million. He participated in somewhere between 1200 and 1300 meetings and subcommittee meetings of which he was absent from 2/3rds of them, absent from 2/3rds of them. As he traveled the country and the world on all of these things, some of them paid by special interest groups to go to resorts when he should have been at committee meetings that he didn’t go to. Now as it relates to my tenure as Surgeon General, I served honorably and I served with distinction because I stood up with what was right for the American public. Surgeon Generals typically don’t stay more than one term now. In the old days they used to. It’s a very, very tough job. But the important thing to note is, when I had to, because of the partisanship, because of people trying to force me to change my reports or my opinions that were based on the best science, yes, I did create a little bit of discomfort for those Republicans I worked for and at times some of the Democrats but my job was not to be the Surgeon General of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. I had a more important job. It was to be the doctor of the nation and stay above the politics and on each and every issue I did that. And that’s why sometimes you create some controversy because each side wants the authority and the authenticity of the Surgeon General but you can’t let that brand go to the politicians like Congressman Flake and the people he works with in order to push ideological issues which have no basis in science and I refuse to do that. So I’m proud of the fact that I served my country well and stayed focused on speaking truth to science and truth to power.
Andrea Kelly: Before we move on I just want to have Congressman Flake respond on your attendance record.
Jeff Flake: Oh, yeah, you bet. Whenever you travel overseas, when you’re asked to by the committee, I’ve been on the Foreign Affairs Committee during almost my entire time in Congress, or when you travel on behalf of other committees, you never do it when Congress is in session so the notion that I’ve missed votes because I’ve been overseas on behalf of one of my committees is simply not true. That…
Richard Carmona: Congressman, I didn’t say votes, I said committee meetings and subcommittee.
Jeff Flake: The same thing.
Richard Carmona: Committee meetings and subcommittee meetings.
Jeff Flake: It’s the same thing.
Richard Carmona: The record’s clear. It’s online Congressman.
Jeff Flake: No, you’re wrong. When committee…when the Congress is in session and you have committee meetings and committee hearings, you aren’t traveling, you just don’t do that and so…but what you have is…I’ve served on three committees most of my time. You’ll have three committee hearings going on at the same time almost every week and you have to decide which one of the assigned committees or subcommittees that you’re on can you attend and so what he’s talking about is typical of any member of Congress.
Richard Carmona: I don’t think so, Congressman.
Jeff Flake: Oh, it is.
Richard Carmona: Congressman, let me…so when you…so when you…
Jeff Flake: It shows how little you know about how congress operates because when you’re on three committees you can’t…
Richard Carmona: Well, you know what Congressman, if that’s the way Congress operates I wouldn’t want to be part of it because that is a very dysfunctional Congress. What about your trip to Palm Beach paid for by the Club for Growth? Tell me about that. How was that…how was that in fact benefiting the American public? You told me you were doing this…people requested you…the government requested you. We looked at your record. 2/3rds of the time you were not at committee and subcommittee meetings over almost 800.
Jeff Flake: I’m telling you…
Richard Carmona: You can tell me what you like.
Jeff Flake: You don’t travel overseas or domestically when Congress is going on, when session is in. But when you’re in session, if you’re assigned to more than one committee, almost invariably, almost every day you have committee hearings going on, multiple committee hearings and if you don’t like that about Washington, then you shouldn’t go to Washington because that’s how it is. You’re assigned, in the Senate one of us will be assigned to several committees. You have to pick and choose which ones are relevant and that’s why you have a staff member in each committee hearing or markup to tell you when you need to run into vote, when you need to go and testify or question the hearing, that’s how it happens.
Richard Carmona: So Congressman, you’re telling me…you’re telling me that 2/3rds were irrelevant, okay.
Jeff Flake: No.
Richard Carmona: You’re telling me 2/3rds of these by the numbers were irrelevant.
Jeff Flake: No, I’m not saying that at all.
Richard Carmona: How can the public trust you?
Jeff Flake: You’re trying to put words in my mouth.
Richard Carmona: No.
Jeff Flake:* You’re trying to…you’re trying to conjure up a Washington that doesn’t exist where you’re on just one committee and you have one committee meeting or one markup going on at the same time. That’s just not the way it is. You have to multi-task and you have to move around. You have to go to the floor and so it’s different…
Richard Carmona: You know, Congressman, you’re really clever at making…
Christopher Conover: Okay, let me interrupt here.
Richard Carmona: …clever at making excuses. When you became a Congressman, you said, ‘I’m going to serve no more than three terms,’ and then you said, ‘I lied,’ on television to the people. How do we trust you with that? Okay, Congressman?
Jeff Flake: When I went to Washington, I believed that terms limits was the right thing to do. I really did. There were a lot of people who did at that time. When I got there and saw the mess that was Washington and things that needed to be reformed, like the rampant earmarking that was going on, I realized you need to stay longer than three terms. I stayed and I’m glad I did because we were finally able to get rid of earmarks in my fourth and fifth term and had I gone after my third term, we would still have this pernicious practice of earmarking that I was told in the last debate that you actually favor going back to, going back to this rampant earmarking that has landed some of my colleagues in jail, the Abramoff scandal, the bridge to nowhere, teapot museums. We couldn’t go on like that and so I’m glad to have taken part in that and it took longer than three terms. I thought it wouldn’t, it did. I’m glad I stayed.
Richard Carmona: This is…Congressman Flake…
Christopher Conover: All right, let me go ahead and interrupt here.
Richard Carmona: Congressman Flake lied and now he has an excuse. I understand that, okay, because that’s the way operations work in Washington. They’ve got lots of excuses and they don’t take responsibility for their actions. That’s the problem we have with Washington and the politics. It’s so dysfunctional. No one is in charge, nobody is taking responsibility and we the people suffer because people like Congressman Flake are not representing us when they’re gone 2/3rds of the time from meetings that they should be at.
Christopher Conover: Okay, let me jump in here and first of all remind everyone if you’re just tuning in, this is an Arizona Public Media Your Vote 2012 forum featuring the two candidates running for U.S. Senate here in Arizona, Democrat Dr. Richard Carmona and Republican Congressman Jeff Flake. We’ve talked about a lot of accusations here, we’ve talked about ads, we’ve talked about partisanship. Two ads popped up last week. I hear people talking about them in the grocery stores. Not every often I hear people in line in the grocery store talking about ads. They are dealing…the first one was run by your campaign, Congressman Flake. The former Acting Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services accusing Dr. Carmona of having anger issues towards women. The second one is a Pima County SWAT Commander, former, female, Dr. Carmona, your commander at SWAT at one point, saying that ad was not correct. In case somebody has missed these ads, and it’s hard to believe because they’re everywhere, we’re going to go ahead and run both of these ads back to back so our viewers and listeners can see and hear them and then we’ll come back and let the two of you talk about those.
[political ad] There was an angry pounding on the door in the middle of the night. I’m a single mom. I feared for my kids and for myself. It was Richard Carmona and I was his boss. Carmona’s not who he seems. He has issues with anger, with ethics and with women. I have testified to this under oath to Congress. Richard Carmona should never, ever be in the U.S. Senate.
[political ad] I’m Rich Carmona and I approve this message. Richard Carmona was part of my SWAT team and he was a joy to work with. Rich treats everyone with respect. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, Rich was about protecting people and saving lives. So when I see a career politician like Jeff Flake attacking Rich Carmona who has spent his life helping others, it’s despicable. Congressman Flake should be ashamed.
Christopher Conover: Dr. Carmona, we’ll start with you and then we’ll come to you, Congressman Flake. Let’s talk about these ads. Some pretty heady accusations made against you.
Richard Carmona: There are, there are. And first I want to make sure that people understand that they are entirely false. There’s no merit to any of those whatsoever. This woman, a disgruntled employee who had numerous problems over the years, and they’ve all been well documented so I’m not going to repeat them here, where she had trouble with anger, she had trouble with a lot of issues as well. But most importantly what the public needs to know that this really best exemplified the type of politics that Congressman Flake is involved in, getting in the gutter, throwing mud, with baseless accusations that have previously been vetted by the Government Reform Committee as well as when I went through Senate confirmation some of these other allegations where looked at and I received a unanimous Senate confirmation with the full support of Congressmen…Senators McCain and Kyl so this is very disingenuous. These allegations are sometimes a decade old and have been cleared previously but Congressman Flake in his desperation because his campaign is failing and my numbers were coming up felt that he’d have to do something to discredit me. There is no merit to any of these and again, I would urge the public, take a look at the record and the press and elsewhere over a decade period and you’ll find out who this lady really is and not somebody you can trust because she’s been discredited repeatedly.
Christopher Conover: Congressman Flake.
Jeff Flake: You know, I’ve been in Congress as mentioned for 12 years and I have a record that you can look at. Dr. Carmona has not served in an elected position and so when you’re looking at somebody to look at how they would operate in the Senate where you have to have the right temperament to do so, then this is certainly relevant and I just take issue with your statement that Dr. Beato that this was somehow cleared up by the Government Affairs Committee. It was not. This…If somebody lies to Congress in testifying before Congress like Roger Clements did on the steroid issue, Congress will go after them. They didn’t do that with Christina Beato, they didn’t. Dr. Beato gave the testimony, you saw it there. So this notion that somehow you can discredit her and it all goes away, you can’t. And this is part, like you said, there have been other allegations before. This isn’t an isolated incident. There’ve been issues before and just saying, ‘Well, the Senate okayed me anyway, isn’t any defense of that.
Richard Carmona: Well, let’s look at the facts…let’s look at the facts, Congressman.
Jeff Flake: You’ve got to take the totality of it and I say that this whether…who was telling the truth that night is between you and Dr. Beato but to say that this is just gutter politics, I can tell you, before this ad ran, long before, there was an ad run by Rich Carmona about me with veterans with missing limbs and then saying that Jeff Flake wouldn’t take care of them.
Richard Carmona: That’s not what the ad said. That’s not what the ad said.
Jeff Flake: That’s certainly the implication of the ad.
Richard Carmona: Again, you’re very good at mischaracterizing, Congressman.
Jeff Flake: No.
Richard Carmona: That was not what the ad said. The ad pointed out that you failed to vote on specific issues that would support our veterans in job training and combat bonuses. That’s what it said.
Jeff Flake: It’s cherry-picking votes…
Richard Carmona: No, that’s what it said, Congressman.
Jeff Flake: …and then acting as if that I wouldn’t take care of them and that’s just…that’s personal to me. My father is a vet, my brother’s in the military and the notion that I would standby where there are veterans with missing limbs, so the notion that only the Flake campaign is running tough ads like this just isn’t the case.
Richard Carmona: Let me clarify an issue. Christina Beato was not under oath. This was a Government Reform Committee that she chose to make these spurious allegations. They investigated them and quite frankly quoted, ‘There is no merit to these allegations.’ They went back to HHS, they looked at the background, they saw that it was never reported to police, there’s a whole host of files there that support the fact that these were spurious allegations and it was the Government Reform Committee that did look at it and dismissed them as being spurious. As it relates to this veterans ad, all I did there was to show that when those young Iraqi and Afghanistan U.S. veterans needed a congressman to be able to vote for them for their GI benefits, for the job training and for combat bonuses for the kids in combat, he voted no and it wasn’t just me. The Iraqi Afghanistani veterans organizations gave him an F and lots of people spoke up and said, ‘His vote was not in support,’ and that’s what my ad said. There was nothing implied. It specifically said that he did not vote to support these kids and I am a disabled veteran, I know what it’s like to be in combat. He has an idea. We can stipulate that our parents were in the war, I got it, okay. But the fact is I’ve been down range with those kids, I know what it’s like and we owe them everything. Last year at this time I was down there as Vice President of the Department of Defense Health Policy Board looking at the care that those kids receive, looking at ICUs filled with kids with two and three amputations, with brain injuries, with loss of genitalia and our combat casualty care is so good today they’re going to come home and they’re going to live 50 or 60 more years. We own those kids and their families for life now and that includes a GI bill that allows them to get an education, it includes giving them a bonus for putting themselves in harm’s way. I couldn’t be here today if I didn’t have a GI bill and an open enrollment program for combat veterans because I was a high school dropout and that’s what I’m fighting for and it’s what I’ll fight for as a senator to make sure our kids always get what they need. There’ll never be a no vote as Congressman Flake has done.
Jeff Flake: Let me just say that Senator McCain who I talked to today, he wanted me to tell you directly that those ads that you’re running on the veterans issues are simply not true and they’re deplorable. He…Senator John McCain, I think we can all stipulate is for our veterans. Some of the votes you actually cited were votes that I took on the House version of a Senate Bill that John McCain voted the same way I did as well. And so to…
Richard Carmona: It sounds like an alibi, Congressman, sounds like an alibi.
Jeff Flake: No, it sounds like you don’t know exactly how the Senate works or the House and so again here, and I have to get back to the Beato issue. The notion that it was dismissed as frivolous or as not without merit, you’re talking about something different. We’re talking about the incident of you going to her house and banging on her door after midnight. They did not make any determination like that at all. They didn’t say that it was spurious at all. Look at the record.
Richard Carmona: I did look at the record, Congressman.
Jeff Flake: No. If you look at the record, you don’t find that. And if you want to talk to Tom Davis who is a Republican ranking minority member on that committee at the time, he’ll tell you that. They didn’t dismiss any of it.
Andrea Kelly: Okay. We’ll have to move onto another issue here but for our audience members just joining us, this is a forum with the two candidates running for U.S. Senate in Arizona, Democrat Richard Carmona and Republican Congressman Jeff Flake. Gentlemen, the border is obviously a large issue in Arizona and just two weeks ago one of the border agents working on the border for Border Patrol was shot and killed. We now know that was a friendly fire incident but at the time people came out and the blame started being assigned and some of the blame went to illegal immigrants or smugglers on the border. Obviously as I said, now we know it’s friendly fire. Is this issue turning into a scapegoat issue or are we actually going to see some answers to these problems and we’ll start with you, Congressman Flake.
Jeff Flake: I hope we see some answers. The beauty now is that we have a portion of the border that we can look to and say, ‘That portion is secure. We have operational control.’ That’s the Yuma sector. It’s about 88 miles of border and it’s not just DHS that’s telling us that we have control but it’s local law enforcement like Sheriff Ralph Ogden, a Democrat, who supports me in this race. This is not a partisan issue. We’ve got to secure this border and if we can do in the Tucson sector what we’ve done in the Yuma sector, then we can move on to all the other reforms that are really needed but we’ve got to have a secure border and the incident that happened, very unfortunate incident just two weeks ago, just speaks up to the need that we’ve got to finish this job and have a secure border.
Andrea Kelly: What does that mean?
Jeff Flake: Well, it means doing in the sector what we’ve done in the Yuma sector and Senator McCain, Senator Kyl and myself have introduced the 10-point plan to take what we did in Yuma and it involves obviously more border agents, better technology but it also involves the secure and swift punishment for those who come across illegally. That was put in place and rolled out across that border through the efforts of people like Senator Kyl, Senator McCain and Judge Roll who was unfortunately killed. That has worked in the Yuma sector. If we can take those elements, Operation Streamline in particular and do that in the Tucson sector, then we can move ahead with the other items that need reform.
Andrea Kelly: Dr. Carmona.
Richard Carmona: Well, first and foremost my comments will be based on over 25 years of experience as a Deputy Sheriff working in a border county, in a border state and dealing with these issues on a pretty regular basis with ICE, with Border Patrol, with National Guard troops so understanding the complexity of this issue. Congressman Flake visits the border every once in awhile, he gets a briefing paper and he thinks he understands how complex this issue is. It’s extraordinarily complex. This issue of operational control is one that’s being debated now because both sides are not sure what the appropriate metric is to measure success along the border. We are desperately looking for best practices to secure the border. But let’s make no mistake, the border security issue is a dynamic one. It changes every day based on the threats, whether the threats are people coming across that just want to work, whether it’s drug dealers or the potential for a terrorist coming across and we have layered system to do that. It’s electronic surveillance, it is human intelligence, it’s signal intelligence, it’s boots on the ground, it’s sensors and all of that layering helps to deter people from coming in. So this is an evolutionary concept. Every politician says, ‘We’ve got to secure the border.’ Well, go work that border for a number of years and you’ll see every single day security changes, every single day based on the threats and the intelligence you get it changes. As long as there’s demand on our side of the border for people to come across, whether it is undocumented, whether it is drugs, whether it is a potential terrorist, we’re going to be having to be very, very vigilant and doing everything we can to stay one step ahead of our adversaries. We’ve seen what happens along the border when we build a big fence. They have more tunnels. If you look at the west coast, we’ll see many submarines coming up with drugs and people. We have ultra-lights littering our border because they fly below the radar. So the fact is we understand that security is of the utmost importance but the people need to understand this is a dynamic process that myself and my law enforcement colleagues who have worked there understand we have to be vigilant every single day and work very, very hard to maximally secure the border based on the threats at that particular time.
Christopher Conover: I’ve sat here for about seven years now, heard politicians Ds, Rs, Independents, Greens, Libertarians, all say basically that same thing. So why isn’t it being done in Washington?
Jeff Flake: Well, I think some elements are. Like I said, in Yuma we have a good situation. We need to move that to the Tucson sector. But you mention the metric and that it needs to be changed. Certainly. If we can get a new metric, then let’s get it but right now the Obama administration is trying to get rid of the old metric before putting another one in place and that’s what’s frustrating because then those of us in Congress can’t hold the administration responsible when they either don’t provide the resources or take the actions that are needed to help secure that border. So the metric basically, let me just, in layman’s terms. In Yuma we have a situation where if an illegal alien crosses the border we have a reasonable expectation of catching them. That’s just a short way of saying that’s what a secure border looks like. We just don’t have anything approximating that here and I just take exception to your notion that I don’t know anything about the border. I’ve lived in Arizona my entire life. I’ve seen this issue from northern Arizona, as one who grew up on a farm and a ranch, has dealt with this issue. I’ve seen it all the way through and this notion that I’m just going down to the border a couple of times and don’t know anything about it is just wrong. And so there’s a lot that needs to be done but we’ve got to make the Tucson sector look like the Yuma sector.
Richard Carmona: Well, in the comments that Congressman Flake just made you can see how once again he attempts to politicize things. He blames another administration right away. There’s a legitimate concern by knowledgeable people, both Democrats and Republicans, as to what the appropriate measure or metric is to determine success in border security. That’s not a D or an R issue. This is trying to protect America so again, we politicize this it hurts the public, it’s hurts…becomes a divisive political instrument. This is about figuring out what is the best measurement. So to dismiss it and say it’s the other administration and imply therefore he’s the only one that has the interest and his party is very disingenuous. Congressman Flake may have lived in Arizona his whole life. The fact is he spent very little time on the border. He may have been in a ranch 100 miles or more north but there’s no substitute for walking that border day and night and working and seeing how difficult the problems are on that border. I stand firm on what I said. Most of his information comes from briefing papers and discussions with people who happen to be on the border. It’s a lot different when you’re out there at night and you’re putting your life in jeopardy to protect this nation and you start to see how difficult it is, even with the best technology, even with the best troops on the ground, it’s extraordinarily difficult and that’s the point I was making.
Jeff Flake: Well, for somebody who’s spent so much time on the border as you say you have, you’re remarkably thin on actual solutions here. I haven’t heard anything but this bipartisanship, everybody come together. Hey, I can tell you, I fight my own party when I need to. On the spending issues I was removed by my own party from one of my committees as punishment so the notion that I’m just spouting partisan rhetoric, that just doesn’t fit with my record at all but when you’re in Congress, you have to make decisions and choices and that’s what I hear very little of in terms of a plan. Dr. Carmona has a great résumé. I don’t think anybody disputes that but a résumé is not a plan and a plan to deal with our nation’s debt and deficit, the biggest issue facing us out there or these other things, you actually have to take a position and stick with that position and that’s just what I don’t see much of in this campaign.
Christopher Conover: Let me ask you about a plan. You said, ‘We need to make Tucson operationally like Yuma.’ Why hasn’t it been done? What’s the plan, if Jeff Flake is U.S. Senator, what’s the plan to make Tucson like Yuma then?
Jeff Flake: Because we haven’t passed the 10-point plan that has been introduced by myself and Senator Kyl and Senator McCain and that involves specific measures in terms of increase in fencing or other barriers where needed, more resources in terms of ultra-lights if that’s needed or trip wires and then also Operation Stone Garden to make sure that we reimburse those who are on the border, local law enforcement right now aren’t fully reimbursed for the efforts that they make and that strains local communities and counties, in particular on the border Cochise County, and then also Operation Streamline like I’ve said where you have swift and sure punishment for those who come across. The problem is we’re not getting the right information from the administration, whether this was a Republican administration or a Democratic administration, we’re not getting the right information in terms of how many apprehensions are there, what is the recidivism rate, how many are coming through for the second time, how long were they kept in custody, did we ship them back to the interior of Mexico rather than just take them across the border. We’ve been having a very difficult time getting that information out of DHS. Now I would feel the same way if it were Republican administration right now. It happens to be a Democratic administration but we aren’t getting the information we need and we need to pass legislation like this to force the administration to actually move ahead.
Richard Carmona: Again, you’ll notice with Congressman Flake’s responses they’re only Republican solutions. He professes bipartisanship but the solutions are two Republican Senators and a Republican Congressman with 10 points that they brought forward. To show you how I think there’s a lack of understanding. I mentioned ultra-lights a little while ago. You’ll notice that Congressman Flake said, he eluded to the fact that we need to get more ultra-lights. I’m not talking about our ultra-lights, we don’t use ultra-lights. Those are the drug dealers coming across with ultra-lights.
Andrea Kelly: Legislation was passed on that issue though.
Richard Carmona: It was. It was but what I’m saying is that the problem is not our side, the problem is smugglers coming in with small planes and ultra-lights below ou radar and dumping them in the desert. That’s the point I was making. This is a very complex issue and the issue of a plan to say, ‘Yuma works so move it here.’ Yuma is very different than the Tucson sector. The borders may look alike with brush and desert but the threats and the challenges are sometimes remarkably different depending on the corridors that the drug dealers use to come across and how they come across so we must look for best practices. But for the Congressman to imply that simply taking Yuma tactics and moving them to Tucson, we have no reason to believe that that’s going to work, even if he does have a 10-point plan, a reasonable discussion that’s going on now to determine what are the best practices and what the metrics are and that’s not a partisan issue as he’s implying. That’s finding the best metrics.
Christopher Conover: Since we asked Congressman Flake for some specifics, obviously there is no single silver bullet to this problem or somebody probably would have come up with it by now but what, is there one thing first day in office specific you want to see done that you think could make a major difference on the border?
Richard Carmona: Yes. We need comprehensive immigration reform that Congressman Flake has failed to stand behind…because we’re not sure where he is. When it first came down with Bush and Kennedy he was right behind it with Senator McCain and others. Then when he decided to be a Senator he changed and it was modified and now he’s kind of got this modified Dream Act and we’re not sure where he is because this is a typical politician positioning so. I’ve been very clear from the beginning. I support it, Senator Kennedy and President Bush when they came out with the comprehensive immigration reform plan and the Dream Act so that we’d settle this and stop politicians from making this divisive currency that continues to perpetuate a problem rather than solve the problem. This is an economic issue as well. When I meet with the farmers, I meet with the ranchers, they tell me, ‘Carmona, when you’re a Senator, you have to solve this. We have a workforce issue. We want people to come across and work in our ranches and work in our agricultural fields.’ So it’s bigger than just immigration. A comprehensive immigration plan with earned citizenship, with a Dream Act, with the dreamers earning their right to be citizens, with appropriate Visas for people coming across, work day Visas, whatever you want to call them, green cards, blue cards, it doesn’t make a difference. It will help our economy, it will help those small businesses along the border who are desperate for a workforce that we don’t have today. That would be the biggest single thing we could do to help alleviate some of the problems on the border.
Christopher Conover: All right, Congressman, I know you have a response to that.
Jeff Flake: Yeah. Let me correct myself. Earlier I mentioned ultra-lights when I was talking about unmanned aircraft on our side but I’m glad he brought up the ultra-lights because that was legislation that was authored to deal with ultra-lights by Gabby Giffords, a good piece of legislation that I was happy to help pass just before she came back for the first time. That was a Democrat introducing a good bill that received great support on the Republican side. We do work together when we can and should but I just want to clarify that. And so if we have solutions that are offered by Democrats, that’s great. With regard to comprehensive immigration reform, yes, I worked on it for 10 years. I partnered with Senator Kennedy, with Luis Gutierrez, with Senator McCain, Senator Kyl, Jim Kolbe and many others. We beat our heads against the wall trying to get that through and came to realize in the end that until we have a more secure border, nobody will trust the federal government to move ahead on the other items of immigration reform. So it’s not a matter of changing your position, it’s a matter of getting done what you need to before you can get legislation passed. I’ve said all long as soon as we get a more secure border, as soon as we get the Tucson sector to look more like the Yuma sector, then we need to move on to the other reforms that are so desperately needed. We need temporary workers here, we need to allow for that. We’re not going to deport everyone who’s here. I’ve never said that we should or could. We’ve got to deal with this in a rational basis but the notion that because you push for comprehensive reform and then realize that you have to have a more secure border before politically you can move ahead, that’s a bout of pragmatism. That’s something that you accuse me and others of never doing. Sometimes in Washington you have to take half a loaf and you have to work however you can to get that legislation through. You just can’t take an ideological position and run with it.
Richard Carmona: Well, Congressman, you are known for your ideological positions in so many different areas and particularly in this one. When it became convenient for you to shift from comprehensive immigration…it’s coincidentally right after your primary and you’re changing. I think you’ve switched four or five times already in the last few years and if you’ve been in Congress for 12 years and by your own admission you’ve been dealing with this for 10 years, why don’t we have a solution then? You have failed the public. There is no solution. We still have a problem.
Jeff Flake: That’s like saying…me saying to you, ‘You’re a doctor, you’re in Tucson but there are still sick people in Tucson. You’ve failed in your duty.’
Richard Carmona: That would be a responsibility for all of them. You have responsibilities as a Congressman.
Jeff Flake: That would be absurd to say.
Richard Carmona: No.
Jeff Flake: And the notion that I can at a whim pass any legislation that I would like to, that’s what they have in Cuba or elsewhere but not in the United States Congress.
Richard Carmona: No.
Jeff Flake: That’s why you have to have the temperament to work with the other side, to work on legislation and amendments and to do these things that I’ve been able to do in the House and have a record of that I’d like to take to the Senate. You mentioned that I fight a lot of ideological battles. If you want to talk about the battle on earmarks as being ideological, we’ll gladly call it that to start with but that I worked with Republicans, with Democrats, there are some Democrats who voted for every one of my earmark amendments, hundreds of them and I’m glad they did and we likely wouldn’t have the ban that we currently have on earmarks had we not had Democratic support. I’m grateful for that and that’s been my temperament, that’s been my…the way I work here.
Christopher Conover: Congressman, we’re getting close on time here. Hard to believe an hour is almost over and no doubt we could probably go about six hours and we want to get to at least one more topic. For those of you just joining us wondering what this is, this is in fact a Senate forum, an Arizona Public Media Your Vote 2012 forum with our two candidates for U.S. Senate, Congressman Jeff Flake, the Republican, and Dr. Richard Carmona, the Democrat. Andrea.
Andrea Kelly: Last week during the Vice Presidential Debate we heard two positions on dealing with the possibility that Iran is developing nuclear weapons capability. What is the best way to deal with this possibility, military, diplomacy? And we’ll start with you on this one, Dr. Carmona.
Richard Carmona: I’m happy to do that. I want to just start out by finishing an answer from before. This pursuit that Congressman Flake spoke about so-called earmarks, they are really less than one percent of our budget and the fact is his colleagues still circumvented, he really hasn’t eliminated any of those things, they’re still going on so kind of presented in the way that it’s a lot more than it really appears on a daily basis with his colleagues. As it relates to the security issues in Iran, it’s a combination of being ready to respond when necessary and insuring that Iran does not get the ability to get the substrate to enrich its uranium. It’s a two step process. They have to enrich the uranium and then they have to be able to weaponize it and right now most of the experts believe we’re anywhere from six months to a year away. Intelligence is being reevaluated every day. Our government is embargoing as much as it can with its allies but Russia and China fail to cooperate and they’re still bringing in supplies through Syrian airspace so there is a risk but this is a risk to the whole world if you have extremists that would have nuclear capability. So at this point I think diplomacy is the way to go. I don’t think our nation is ready for a third war. We’re still recovering from the last two but we have to be ready to respond, especially with our ally Israel who’s depending on us because they’re right in the backdoor there.
Andrea Kelly: How do you know when it’s time to respond? You say we have to be ready.
Richard Carmona: By watching the intelligence, watching the substrate that goes in and monitoring by various forms, human intelligence, signal intelligence and being able to determine at what point do they get near enough to the threshold that we would have to do something preemptively. That’s what we have to do. Look, we don’t want to start a war or go in there prematurely because what you might do is incite a third world war and pretty much embrace a lot of other rogue nations and rogue players who are both state sponsored and not state sponsored and create a hornet’s nest that we don’t want to deal with. So I think you want to be strong on our diplomacy, work as hard as you can for the embargo and it’s hurting them now, we know it’s hurting them but it’s slowing them down but we still need to be ready to respond when and if that threshold is met and you probably saw those discussions of where the red line is with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama and that’s a discussion that’s going on, at what point do you reach that threshold and really a lot of it depends on the robustness of your intelligence.
Andrea Kelly: Congressman Flake.
Jeff Flake: Okay, let me just address…if you want to minimize the effort that it took to get an earmark ban, then go ahead and do so but I can tell you to those of us who want our tax money spent wisely, it’s a lot more than one percent of the budget because it leverages higher spending everywhere else and it’s a tough thing to do to go to the floor hundreds of times and challenge earmark spending and be ridiculed by your own party and the other party and then punished by your own party but we did it and gratefully so. Sometimes when you’re back there you have to take a stand and you have to do something tough and I look at your record, I think the people in Tucson ought to know that in 2010 you didn’t even bother to vote in the primary or the general election. Sometimes you have to take a stand. It starts with actually voting. And then in Washington, man, when you’re faced with something like earmarks and it’s subverting so much of the budget, I’m glad that I took the stand that I did, call it an ideological stand or whatever you want to, we’re better off for it. With regard to Iran, I have very little to add to that other than we ought to continue to pursue particularly the capital market sanctions that we’re doing on the Central Bank because that’s where we have the opportunity I think because…to actually make an impact because Russia and China find it more difficult to help Iran circumvent those sanctions but all options ought to be on the table, all options.
Andrea Kelly: Just want to make sure I heard that right. You want to add sanctions, otherwise you guys agree on this issue?
Christopher Conover: This could be news in itself.
Richard Carmona: Well, we certainly disagree on a lot and again I understand the zealous pursuit of these things that the Congressman has spoken about but the fact is is that the business community, especially up in the central Phoenix area who are desperate for infrastructure, don’t see that it’s helping them. They want a Senator who’s going to work for them to bring infrastructure improvements home, to invite, attract innovators, to make sure that we have sustainable water, to make sure we have sustainable growth and we can make small business grow and right now after talking to those business people, they certainly disagree with the approach that Congressman Flake has taken for the last 12 years because what is actually happening is they’re hurting, they’re not able to grow their businesses because he’s taken such an ideological approach to this issue. A Senator should be able to transparently bring home our tax dollars for infrastructure that allows our communities to grow so that everybody looks at Arizona and says, ‘I want to live there. Those are great schools, there’s water, I want to go do my business there, I want innovators to come here.’ It’s not happening now because of that ideological approach.
Jeff Flake: No, no. Actually, the truth is, Arizona will finally get more transportation funding for infrastructure because earmarks are gone. For years and years members of donor state delegations, we are a donor state in Arizona meaning we give more money to Washington than we get back. How did that happen, because too many donor state delegations would be bought off with a couple of earmarks. They’ll say, ‘You won’t get as much in the formula as you would otherwise but be happy with these earmarks for a bike path here or a museum here.’ That happened for a couple of decades and Arizona lost out on hundreds of millions of dollars that we should have received but because of earmarks we didn’t. Now because earmarks are gone, Arizona in the next Highway Authorization Bill will likely be up to 95 cents on the dollar. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars more for Arizona, not less, in a flexible manner, it just won’t be one politician directing that and picking winners and losers. That’s not a system we want to go back to.
Christopher Conover: We have only a minute left at this point so let me ask you a simple question, I’m sure it’s something neither of you has thought about. Come the middle of November only one of you can win so one of you will be sitting at home, is this the last we see of you or will the two of you be active out there, whichever one of you does not go to Washington and unfortunately we only have about 35 seconds.
Richard Carmona: No matter the outcome and I certainly believe that I will prevail, I will be still active in the community as I have for over three decades.
Christopher Conover: Okay and Congressman Flake.
Jeff Flake: It goes without saying, the same thing. I think we both expect to win but I think either of us would be active.
Christopher Conover: Congressman Flake, thank you for coming in. Dr. Carmona, thank you for coming in.
Richard Carmona: Appreciate it. Thank you, guys.
Jeff Flake: Thank you.
Christopher Conover: We appreciate the hour of your time. We’ve reached the end of our time. Thanks for joining us. If you’d like to watch this forum again in its entirety, go to our website azpm.org and click on the Your Vote 2012 section. On that site you’ll also find information and forums on Southern Arizona’s three congressional races. Additionally there’s also information and forums on legislative and local races. That’s azpm.org/yourvote2012. Tomorrow night we’ll bring you live coverage of the second presidential debate. I’m Christopher Conover for Andrea Kelly and the entire Arizona Public Media team, thanks for joining us.