The Congressional District 3 Democratic primary race features a five-term incumbent and two challengers. U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva faces his first primary challenge since he was elected to the office in 2002. Amanda Aguirre is a former state senator and representative who now works for a border health agency in Yuma. Manny Arreguin is an obstetrician-gynecologist at El Rio Health Center in Tucson.

Name: Amanda Aguirre

Running for: U.S. House, District 3

Party: Democratic

Website: aguirreforcongressd3.com

Name: Manny Arreguin

Running for: U.S. House, District 3

Party: Democratic

Website: arreguinforarizona.com

Name: Raúl Grijalva

Running for: U.S. House, District 3

Party: Democratic

Website: standwithraul.com

About the district: All of Santa Cruz County, western part of Pima County, including central, downtown and west and south sides of Tucson, South Tucson, Avondale, Gila Bend, most of Yuma. Includes the Tohono O’odham Nation. Population: 710,224. Non-Hispanic whites, 29.1%; Hispanics, 60.6%; other minorities, 10.3%. Voter registration: 43.2% Democrat, 34.9% other/independents, 21.9% Republican.

Read the transcript:

Christopher Conover: Welcome to an Arizona Public Media Your Vote 2012 special, the Congressional District 3 Democratic Primary Forum. I’m Christopher Conover. Over the next 30 minutes we’ll have a chance to hear from the Democratic candidates about where they stand on a variety of issues. Congressional District 3 is a large district stretching from central Tucson all the way to Yuma so we’re presenting this in conjunction with our friends at KAWC Colorado River Public Radio in Yuma. So let’s meet our candidates in alphabetical order, Amanda Aguirre, Manny Arreguin and Raul Grijalva. All of you, thank you so much for coming in. And joining me for the questioning as always is Arizona Public Media’s Andrea Kelly and Andrea we’ll give you the first question.

Andrea Kelly: All right. Well, let’s start off with a little bit of an introduction. We’re going to start with you Congressman Grijalva. You’ve been in office, public office for decades, you’ve been in Congress for a decade, why are you running for a sixth term?

Raul Grijalva: I thought this last election where the Tea Party took control of the House of Representatives was a defining moment and the last two years have been years in which we’ve been, the Democrats have been fighting a rear action trying to keep the worst from happening. But I see an opportunity, I see this election as defining for this country and I think I’ve shown consistency and purpose through my entire career and I’m not tired of the job, I think the job is good, I enjoy it and I enjoy being a voice for this part of the world and I think I’ve been effective so I want to return.

Andrea Kelly: And Mr. Arreguin, this is your first run for office. Why are you jumping into the fray?

Manny Arreguin: For the last 20 years I’ve been serving this community as a medical doctor. I’m an OB/GYN and I delivered about 10,000 babies in my entire career. But like many Americans I’m frustrated with the polarization that exists in Washington, D.C. Our country is paralyzed. Decisions in our healthcare are relegated to the Supreme Court, immigration is destroying our families and unfortunately the most important element here, the economy, can’t be resuscitated, it’s on life support and I think our citizens deserve better. Washington is good about assigning blame but I think our citizens deserve more. We need less fighting and we need more interest in getting our citizens back to work. The bottom line is this, Washington is filled with polarizing politicians that are more interested in saving their jobs than getting jobs for the people that elected them into office. By bringing a doctor to D.C. it’s about changing the culture in Washington, D.C. It’s about a motto that’s based on service, based on integrity, respect, compassion. That’s why I’m in this race. I’d like to change that culture.

Andrea Kelly: And Ms. Aguirre, you’ve served the state of Arizona in the Arizona House of Representatives and Senate. Why are you seeking federal office this time?

Amanda Aguirre: Buena, Andrea. Many families that I have visited and worked with in my district and throughout Arizona through the years that I’ve served in the Senate and the House and also as a businesswoman running a nonprofit I have visited with so many families that are so frustrated with the economy. We have the highest unemployment in southern Arizona, in the entire country. In Yuma alone we just reached 29% and this has happened for many years. We need to turn it around and what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and like many other Americans we’re frustrated with what’s going on, not getting solutions, not moving the country forward. That’s the reason why I’m running for Congress in District 3.

Christopher Conover: You all have touched on some big issues that we’ll get to as we move through this from the economy to healthcare but let’s talk about current events for a moment. A few weeks ago we had the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, our own Tucson shooting has been back in the news with the plea bargain struck by Jared Loughner. We’ll assume you all support the U.S. Constitution and the Second Amendment but let me ask, is it time to restart the discussion on the use of high capacity magazines or the availability of high capacity magazines in the civilian world? And Dr. Arreguin, we will start with you on that.

Manny Arreguin: Well, let me first express my condolences to the victims of gun violence. It’s very unfortunate that those events happened. I think ultimately we need to look at a real solution and I think politicians are good about looking at short term political gains instead of looking at long term solutions and I think the solution ultimately is something that we need to ask ourselves. When you look at these killers, it’s very tragic that a lot of them have mental and health disease that is undiagnosed or untreated. The reality is that we’re not focusing on that element. What’s happened is that we’ve not created a safety net to be able to address mental health in this issue and one of the real solutions that we can do is to revamp our mental health system here. In fact, I’m more interested in looking at something that brings a real positive answer to questions to try to help us make sense really out of these senseless acts. So ultimately we have organizations like La Frontera here in our community that I believe that if we properly support them and fund them that those organizations can do more to protecting and saving our communities than any gun control alone. The reality is that we can all talk about gun control and gun restrictions but we can promote policies that really aren’t going to get easily passed. There’s so much infighting. So anytime you’re going to propose something it’s going to be about fighting and I think that we need to address the mental health issue and make sure that we get that out of the shadows and onto the forefront.

Christopher Conover: Ms. Aguirre, same question. Is it time to restart the discussion over high capacity magazines and for the civilian world?

Amanda Aguirre: Well, again, I think those kind of incidents, just hit us hard and to see the loss of lives and so many innocent people being gunned down they way they did, it gives you the opportunity to start rethinking about where our country is. But certainly, the Second Amendment, we’ve got to protect it and again to address the issues that matters the most to our people is what happens when an individual has displayed these mental health problems and nobody does anything. I have been working very close with my medical providers all over the state in our agencies, our state agencies, and the federal agencies regarding mental health services and we have a system that is so fragmented, it’s so broken regarding addressing the issue of mental health in our country. Certainly our schools are dealing with that, our teachers are inundated with cases where our children and our adults in universities where we have to address that issue more up front. We have to recognize it. We can’t deny it anymore that we have a problem in our hands and certainly the federal government when I’m elected I will make sure that the mental health problems and the issue and the funding for the agencies that’s so much needed to address this issue nationwide, not only in our district but nationwide, is there to do that.

Christopher Conover: Okay. And Congressman Grijalva, we’ll give you the last word on this one.

Raul Grijalva: Well, it’s really important and I appreciate the frustration that people have with Congress and in answer to your question you have to be able to I think, and I think the voters are smart enough to when they talk about Congress to make the distinction between Michelle Bachmann and Raul Grijalva. It is a simple distinction. It’s a distinction about philosophy and intent and so when people run against Congress, it’s good to paint a wide brush because that’s the frustration. But I think it’s also important to make the distinction. The other issue on gun control in answer to your question, yes, absolutely it’s time. When the assault weapon ban was lifted under Bush in 2004 I was there, voted against it. When you can buy 6,000 rounds of ammunition on the internet, there’s an issue there. And this is not about sacrificing the Second Amendment. It is about understanding that public safety and the safety of families is also a priority for all of us. And yes, there’s going to be, it’s going to be contentious, no question about it but what’s the alternative, to ignore it? And I think the American people deserve a rational, mature, intelligent discussion if necessary on debate on how you close those loopholes. You can go to a gun show that’s not a licensed dealer and not have to wait a week, you could be a murderer and still walk away buying a gun. Those are the loopholes that have to be closed and the tragedies that we’ve seen recently are also about availability and access to weapons. Now, is restrictions going to stop gun violence, no. But it is going to deal with reducing that. I’m convinced of that. And the issue of mental health, absolutely I agree with my two colleagues here. A system is broken which brings us back to the budget which brings us back to the economy which brings us back to how we generate revenue to take care of the many, many domestic needs that we have in this country, mental health and access to mental health being one of them.

Amanda Aguirre: The incidents happened because an individual suffered from mental health problems and that’s the bottom line. I think that we need to continue protecting our Second Amendment and Constitution but going back to the incidents, we keep seeing incidents that the individual is the one that has suffered those mental health issues and that’s the key for us as a country to address those issues.

Raul Grijalva: Well, you also have the NRA and their lobby. Let’s not dance around that question. One of the most powerful lobbies and effectively either through implied threat or direct participation in campaigns they’re able to affect and people are afraid of them. And that’s why we get, create legislation here in Arizona, what was the one that’s unconstitutional? That Arizona should be exempt from federal gun laws if the accessories and the guns are manufactured in Arizona. It’s unconstitutional but yet it passes. That you can take a concealed weapon into a restaurant or a bar, that passes. And my friend Ms. Aguirre voted for both of those. So I’m saying that there is a point, there is a point that despite the NRA and you balance public safety, they’re not mutually exclusive and the Second Amendment, it can be done but it requires more than just caving in to the NRA. It requires some courage to confront them.

Amanda Aguirre: And that’s certainly if I may respond to the Congress that I will never as the United Nations do to ban the arms. I think this is something that all Americans have a right to, deserve is our Second Amendment and protect our right to bear arms. Again, I’m going to put it back to the Congress that it’s about the lack of willingness to fund mental health and that’s what has happened. You’ve got the extremes on both sides not being able to compromise on and getting the agenda so divided that nothing gets done in Congress and that’s what we’re seeing today.

Christopher Conover: Let me give Dr. Arreguin an opportunity to jump in here as we try and wrap this out.

Manny Arreguin: I think this is a good example of what happens with career seasoned politicians. I think that what happens is that blame starts being assigned and I think that we need to move beyond that blame, we need to move beyond just the assignment of blame. We need to look at ourselves and I agree mental health absolutely has to come to the forefront. The reality is that we can’t cave in to special interest groups. We have to look at something that actually is workable for all of our citizens and ultimately I think that what we’re seeing is that we can make these small term political gains when we really need to step back and look at a larger problem.

Andrea Kelly: And one of those larger issues at least in Congressional District 3, actually all of Arizona, but Congressional District 3 is one of the two border districts that actually sit on the border with Mexico in Arizona. So there’s a lot of different aspects of this discussion and what border security, safety, immigration policy but I’d like to ask what you think needs to be done with drug policy in order to effect border security and we’ll start with you Ms. Aguirre.

Amanda Aguirre: Thank you. Well, I served for eight years under Governor Napolitano and then Governor Brewer in Homeland Security on advisory council when I was in the Senate and the House and that’s one of the issues that we addressed very heavily, how to protect the border, make sure that we give the resources to our law enforcement, our Border Patrol and also we pleaded the federal government to do their job and to make sure they protect our border, our Border Patrol, to make sure that their offices are well protected. Certainly the scandal that we had and having guns imported into Mexico and holding our U.S. Attorney in contempt where Mr. Grijalva walked out of the floor without casting the vote when one of our Border Patrols right here in southern Arizona got killed with one of those guns. We want to continue protecting our border against Narco trafficking and human trafficking. I see a lot of the lives in my district and throughout southern Arizona of the victims of human trafficking, the victims of Narco trafficking, the drugs that keep coming into our neighborhoods and to our schools. We have to stop, we have to work with Mexico more aggressively and make sure that, Mexico’s also kind of of course a country we have to be accountable for the importation and of course buying drugs but we have to go to the source. And so I think that’s very important for me to continue working with the law enforcement and continue working with all our federal agencies and make sure that they do have the resources in the way that we can stop Narco trafficking coming across the border.

Andrea Kelly: And Mr. Grijalva.

Raul Grijalva: Yeah, the cartels are organized crime. They’re worth billions of dollars, they are effective and they’re an organization that profits from both people smuggling and drug smuggling, no question about that. And the violence that we see in some parts of the border, particularly in the Texas area, are a consequence of what’s going on. But the fact remains and it will continue to remain a fact that if we’re going to deal with the drug problem, that we also have to deal with the consumption issue and the consumption issue is about education, treatment, nonviolent crimes and what their status is and mandatory sentence has to be looked at because that’s part of the equation. And in terms of the border itself, I think that I would like to see prioritized real strong efforts at dealing with organized crime and making that the target. And what could the United States do about it? It can fully fund Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as an agency despite the stupidity of Fast and Furious, despite the horrible tragedy that happened there. That agency is responsible for stopping the flow of weapons. 80% of the weapons confiscated from cartels come from the United States. So that’s an issue that has to be dealt with and the other issue that has to be dealt with on the border is the very important issue that I think has to be part of the package and if you don’t deal with this issue as a comprehensive reform for immigration and our broken policy and you only deal with the enforcement side and ignore the reality about who’s here, should they be here and who’s entitled for an opportunity to earn legalization in this country, how you unify families, you don’t deal with that human portion of immigration and only talk about the enforcement part, you’re never going to get the thing solved.

Andrea Kelly: And Mr. Arreguin, I’ll give you an option on this question. I think you have a response to. The question was what does the nation need to do in drug policy to effect border security?

Manny Arreguin: Well, certainly it’s a supply and demand issue. We can talk a lot about supply but we need to talk about the demand side and I agree with my colleagues here. I think that that’s an issue that needs to be addressed. But at the same time let me say that Nogales is a wonderful place to live. I lived in Nogales, I lived in Santa Cruz County when we first moved to Arizona and unfortunately Nogales and Santa Cruz County get a very bad reputation nationally about really being a town that’s run by criminals, that drugs are running through the streets and people are having hideous crimes being committed. The reality is that Nogales is a very, very safe town but one of the things that we can do is we can actually bring Nogales to the forefront and talk about some of the positives. I’ll tell you one of the things that we’re very interested in doing, my administration is going to be very interested in bringing a congressional office to Nogales. We’re going to physically put an office in Nogales because we believe that Nogales is that important. And so now you have an ability to address the drug problems, you have an ability to address the immigration problems. Those are the issues that we need to do but we need to re-change our thinking about Nogales.

Amanda Aguirre: I just wanted to respond again to the borders to understand it. We lost one of our own in our own backyard, our Border Patrol, they got gunned down by one of those guns that got exported into… imported into Mexico and used in the Fast and Furious and yet our own Congressman refused to vote and walked out of the floor and held in contempt to our U.S. Attorney and that’s not what we want up there in Washington. We want representation that will represent southern Arizona, that will stand at all times and never walk out of the floor.

Raul Grijalva: Well, you know, it’s… from a… we can talk about missed votes later. But I was going to say the point being…

Amanda Aguirre: It’s not a missed vote. It’s a walking out of the floor.

Raul Grijalva: Courtesy thing, I’m finishing the sentence. The point being that I walked off the floor with 126 other members of Congress because Attorney General Holder was not the issue there. There was an item on the agenda before that insisting and demanding that all the information become pertinent. The agenda that day was to embarrass the President and to embarrass the Attorney General, pure and simple. And if you want to buy that mantra and that’s the way it should be and they should have been embarrassed and Obama should have been embarrassed on a purely political hit as opposed to dealing with the issue of the investigation and the subpoena for information that we all supported. But once Holder was put into censure as a means to embarrass this administration that I support and that was meaningless, it was all political, then 126 of us walked out.

Christopher Conover: For all of our listeners and viewers possibly just tuning in, this is a forum for the Democrats running in Congressional District 3. We only have about eight minutes left. These tend to go quickly. Lots of issues. One of the issues that we’ve all touched on as we’ve gone through this is healthcare. We’ve heard from your Republican opponents that they all want to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act. I don’t think anybody’s surprised by that. If you are re-elected or become the member from this district, is there anything you specifically want to see changed in the healthcare act in the new term of Congress and Dr. Arreguin, we will begin with you on this.

Manny Arreguin: There’s a lot of things that we should be applauding about the Affordable Care Act. I think it’s a great first step. The reality is that we extended coverage to our children up to age 26. The reality is that we’ve not closed the doughnut hole, loophole with regards to citizens or senior’s prescriptions. The reality is that we’ve also now provided an avenue to allow people with pre-existing illnesses to have comprehensive care. So we need to celebrate those things, those are good things. But we can’t stop there. I’m not about repealing the Affordable Care Act. I do think that there are some amendments that need to be added to it and the very first thing that needs to be added to it is to answer the question how are we going to provide care for this massive influx of patients that are about to come into the system when we have a physician shortage going on. The number two thing that we need to address is we need to be frank with patients and explain to them why it is that they’re not going to be able to be seen by their family physicians or their primary care specialists. But the third and most important thing that I think that we need to bring to the forefront is medical liability. With 2700 pages you would think that Congress should have at least devoted one page to medical liability. We need to protect patients and we need to protect doctors. Unfortunately I think that one of the things that we need to highlight here is that there’s a huge industry that is voting against medical liability and unfortunately our Congressman received a very financial, a handsome financial check by the Trial Lawyers Association. I think that that demonstrates where his priorities are. Let’s protect patients, let’s protect doctors.

Christopher Conover: Ms. Aguirre, same question. If you are the next member from this district, what specifically would you like if anything, would you like to see changed in the healthcare act?

Amanda Aguirre: Thank you. I work for a nonprofit organization that we established a clinic, it’s a private nonprofit clinic, and we have our doctors. I wish I could have an OB/GYN practice and maybe I can recruit Dr. Arreguin to come and work for us cause we do need more OB/GYNs and more doctors practicing in Arizona and throughout the country. But I agree that the Act has good things, a lot of good things in it but there’s still… as managing this clinic I’ve seen a lot of the mandates that have come in place to us and doctors practicing in rural areas in clinics like our own, being out there, being mandated to do certain things in order to be able to contract with the federal government. I’ll give an example. We have just a rural clinic, we’re not federally funded by, we do business… I tell people that we make money the old fashioned way, we earn it. It’s not a community health center, it’s not funded by the federal government, we do contract like any other provider for services for the insurance plans. But one of the mandates is to have the electronic medical records. It’s a wonderful concept. I support that. But yet we’re being imposed to be in the position where we get ready to do that and we have invested already in my clinic $60,000 just to get ready for that and be able to qualify for incentives from the federal government. We started last year doing that. To this date, none of the clinics have been rewarded by any changes that have been done and yet the system is being changed and changed and being asked to meet certain criteria in order to be able to be placed like that. I don’t think that our doctors practicing in rural area can afford that so that would be something that we need to look at it and see how we can best address those issues that the Affordable Act is asking in the healthcare.

Christopher Conover: And let me jump in here, I want to make sure… We only have about three minutes left.

Raul Grijalva: I support the health… I voted for it, I support it. I agree with the doctor that the emphasis in the Act on primary care and the creation of a pool of primary care professions is essential to this plan and I think we need to incentivize both medical schools and the boards that are dominated by specialists now and don’t put the emphasis that it should be on primary care. I think those things need… have to be dealt with and they have to be incentivized. The second part, what could you do to improve it. I absolutely believe that one of the issues that we compromised in order to get this was to drop the public option from the healthcare reform. I think we should look at it, I think we should see… We always believed that if you’ve got a public option it would make the private providers much more competitive because they would be competing with the public option and that public option is related to Medicare. Should we drop the age on Medicare in order to expand the pool? Should this governor accept the Medicaid money that is coming in order to increase the pool? The study that’s done in Arizona, less deaths and more preventable treatment than ever before. Those are issues that I think the health plan has helped move, pre-existing conditions, insurance companies must now have a full 80% of their monies must go to patient care and not to overhead. Those are all positives and partial repeal, lukewarm support for the healthcare plan while politically palatable, I think in terms of our economy it’s what cost us the more of any other thing is the cost of healthcare, that is going to help us toward recovery as well. And the issue of torte reform, my good friends the docs talk about this all the time, that this is going to be the panacea to save us from the cost of healthcare. It’s less than 2% of the overall cost and it’s interesting where you have torte limits and damage limits, the cost of insurance, malpractice insurance has not gone down at all. I am willing to consider caps, I don’t like them, but I would also like to see a corresponding decrease in the cost of malpractice insurance and that hasn’t happened, even in states like Texas and partially in California where they do have caps.

Amanda Aguirre: Can I address…

Christopher Conover: We only have about 30 seconds left so I think actually we’re going to have to hold there so we don’t cut off Dr. Arreguin or Ms. Aguirre. I want to thank you all first of all for coming in and for our listeners and viewers for tuning in to learn more about the candidates hoping to represent you in the coming days and months. Now if you want to watch this forum again or listen to it again or get information on a variety of races affecting southern Arizona, be sure to visit the Your Vote portion of our website at azpm.org. For our friends listening in on KAWC Colorado River Public Radio in Yuma and to those of you who tuned in on Arizona Public Media, thanks again for joining us. For Andrea Kelly, I’m Christopher Conover, Arizona Public Media.