U.S. Rep. Ron Barber and challenger Matt Heinz face off in next week's primary election for the Democratic nomination in the newly drawn Congressional District 2 in Southern Arizona.

Name: Ron Barber

Running for: U.S. House, District 2

Party: Democratic

Website: ronbarberforcongress.com

Name: Matt Heinz

Running for: U.S. House, District s

Party: Democratic

Website: heinzforcongress.com

About the district: Cochise County and about half of Pima County and Tucson. Includes Green Valley, Sahuarita, Catalina Foothills, Casas Adobes, Vail, Summerhaven. Population: 710,224,. Non-Hispanic whites, 64.4%; Hispanics, 25.8%; other minorities, 9.8%. Voter registration: 34.7% Republican; 34.2% Democrat; 31.1% other/independent.

View the program above or read the transcript here:

CD2 Democratic Forum 8-20-12

Christopher Conover: Welcome to an Arizona Public Media Your Vote 2012 special, the Congressional District 2 Democratic Primary Forum. I’m Christopher Conover. Over the next 30 minutes we’ll have a chance to hear from the two Democratic candidates about where they stand on a variety of issues. Congressional District 2 includes all of Cochise County and much of Pima. Let’s meet the candidates, in alphabetical order, Congressman Ron Barber and State Representative Matt Heinz. Joining me for the questioning is Arizona Public Media’s Andrea Kelly. Thank you all for coming.

Ron Barber: Thank you for having us. It’s good to be with you and with Rep. Heinz.

Andrea Kelly: Well, Congressman Barber, let’s start with you. You have not been on the campaign trail as much since your election in June as you were in the months before that. How have you been reaching out to voters this summer?

Ron Barber: Well, I’ve come back every weekend. The first weekend after I was sworn in we had a Congress on Your Corner. I wanted to get that established right away that we were going to continue that practice of accessibility to the voters. And I was pretty impressed and very grateful. 300 people showed up in 107 degree weather and it was a wonderful opportunity to engage with the people that I represent. Subsequently every week since that, every weekend since that time I’ve gone to a Farmer’s Market to meet constituents one on one again. We’ve had a number of events around the district with various parts of our constituency so it’s important to me to make sure that I know what’s on the minds of the people I represent. That’s the only way you can really be a good representative is to stay in touch. And also of course in D.C. I’ve been working hard to address some of the issues that I said I would address when I went there, sticking up for veterans, looking out for border security, passing a jobs bill which is really going to create thousands of jobs across the country and in Arizona. It’s been a busy time but I’ve enjoyed it immensely and I’m deeply honored that the people of southern Arizona sent me there to be their voice in Congress.

Andrea Kelly: And Representative Heinz, you put your campaign on hold to support Congressman Barber when he was running for office. How has that shaped your campaign now that you’re running against him?

Matt Heinz: I did and it’s a very unusual situation but back in January I did declare initially for the special that has now been concluded and also for this election right now but I agreed with former Congresswoman Giffords and with a lot of my colleagues that we needed to get behind one person and especially to work very hard to defeat Jesse Kelly who I believe was just the wrong choice for the district and I was very pleased to support my friend and now opponent at that time. But now this is a different race and it’s a different district. You mentioned it a little bit but it’s changed quite a lot. Oro Valley and Marana gone, a lot of the areas around the University added about 26,000 new voters added to the district and Santa Cruz County has now been removed. So it’s a very different district and this is for a full two year term and I believe that … I believe then and now that we just send the strongest advocate from southern Arizona, one with experience as I have in the legislature.

Christopher Conover: Even though the district has changed, District 2 versus District 8, this being the new District 2, it still is one of two districts that actually is a border district, Cochise County of course touching the border. Border is always an issue in a congressional race in Arizona, especially southern Arizona, so what’s your border plan and what takes priority among so many myriad of issues when it comes to border security and we’ll start with you, Representative Heinz, and then we’ll come to you, Congressman Barber.

Matt Heinz: The border is a huge issue as you said, especially for this district but… and border security is a primary concern but it cannot be the only concern. It has to be something that we balance with growing jobs in the economy and growing southern Arizona in that way and educating our children and making sure that in this terrible time of cuts to education from the state level that we act at the federal level as well to make sure that we are getting everyone access to the best type of education. But in terms of the border, we have to absolutely listen to our agencies, we have to trust the Border Patrol, those who are serving and know it best and we have to listen to the people down on the border as well. But I was actually… I’ve been in Douglas, Naco, Bisbee, eight trips to Cochise County alone and in my last trip I did have a conversation with the owner of the Hotel Gadsden in Douglas and one thing that really struck me when I was talking to her was, she said, please stop hyping border violence. We have some problems, they’re very serious problems, but I used to have 75 employees, I now have 30. No one will come. You have to help us. You have to help our economy. So there’s an important balance we have to strike.

Christopher Conover: And Congressman Barber, same question, what’s your border plan? Obviously there are so many moving parts to the border but how do you prioritize what happens first?

Ron Barber: Well, this is an issue that I’ve been working on for the better part of six years. When Congresswoman Giffords was elected and I became her district director, one of the priority assignments she gave me was to be the lead for border security issues on behalf of her when she wasn’t here as well as to advise her when she needed that information to craft legislation. One of the most important things we did during that period was to hear from ranchers and business people and Border Patrol agents, law enforcement, what’s needed on the border and out of those conversations the Congresswoman crafted a bill, a $600 million emergency appropriations bill that brought some of the needed resources to the border, 1,000 more Border Patrol agents, more ICE agents, more DEA agents, more U.S. attorneys, more technology, mobile surveillance systems, horse patrols, forward operating bases, all of those things are essential ingredients of stopping these transnational criminal organizations that we sometimes call drug cartels. I think it’s important that we be realistic about what they’ve done and what they could do. They’ve killed nearly 50,000 people in Mexico, they killed a rancher right near the border, they killed a Border Patrol agent two years ago, Brian Terry. While the violence hasn’t come to our country at the level it’s come to Mexico, it’s still a very critical issue for the people who live and work on the border. Ranchers who have lived and worked this land for generations are concerned that they may not be able to pass this along to their kids. They are now on their land armed. They go to the clotheslines armed. They won’t leave their kids at home because they’re afraid. We have to give them the safety and security that every American deserves. And having said that, we also need to address the broken immigration system that we need to fix in this country. It can’t be just one or the other but we have to give priority to border security and I will continue the work I’ve done on behalf of Congresswoman Giffords and I have already done that in my own stead back in D.C. having co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to increase border security measures and get all the agencies of the federal government together to work more cooperatively.

Andrea Kelly: Just like border, another issue we’ve asked all of the congressional candidates that we’ve had in for forums in southern Arizona, we’d like to ask with the mass shootings that we’ve heard about throughout the country lately and of course in recent years, is it time to have a conversation about high capacity magazines? We’ll assume that since you’re running for Congress you both support the Second Amendment, no need to go there, unless you don’t support it, but high capacity magazines. We’ll start with you, Congressman Barber.

Ron Barber: Well, you didn’t want us to talk about it but I think it’s important to say that the Second Amendment is a very important part of our Constitution and I respect it and support it. But when I look at these mass shootings, I think only quite frankly of what happened here, what happened to the families, what happened to my family and when it happened in Aurora, my first thoughts were to those phone calls that were being made to family members saying, we think your son or your daughter or your relative has been injured, we don’t know if they’re dead or not because we didn’t know for several hours here as well as in Aurora and in Wisconsin similarly. The issue really is how do we deal with people who are disturbed to the point where they might commit a violent act. There are people in our country who are often, sometimes determined to be a danger to self or others. Our mental health system has not helped address the issues that those folks present. When we look at the shooter in Tucson, clearly he had a serious mental illness. Now I just want to make it clear that 90% of people with mental illness never commit a violent act. In fact they’re more likely to be victims of violence than to perpetrate violence but we have to do better, we have to make our community more aware of what the symptoms are, we have to have a mental health system that works for them and we cannot continue as we’ve done in Arizona to cut mental health services. We need to make sure that our community knows the stigma is an issue that prevents people from getting treatment, we need to address those issues. For me it’s a very personal issue. Having been shot, having seen my colleague die, having seen my boss shot and thank goodness survive, having seen Judge Roll beside me shot, I really can’t go beyond initially thinking about those victims in Aurora and Wisconsin as I thought about what happened here. It’s very personal and it’s very emotional and that’s how I reacted to Aurora and to Wisconsin.

Andrea Kelly: Let me just follow up real quick. In addition to the mental health services you’re talking about, yes or no, time to talk about high capacity magazines?

Ron Barber: Well, first of all I think we need to sit down with the people who I think have a good understanding of these issues. My first conversations will be with law enforcement agencies, with local police departments, sheriff’s department, what do the think we need to do. We have laws on the books that we don’t fully enforce. We have to do better at that. We also need to talk to law enforcement to find out what they believe are the right answers to these problems and then with their advice and the advice of our community move forward and take whatever action is appropriate. But this is not the time in the emotion of these three shootings, of the two most recent shootings, to engage in this kind of political debate. I think we have to respect the people who were shot and were killed and we have to have a longer and more serious discussion with the people who know about this issue in depth and law enforcement is one of those groups and then we can get to some answers that are important.

Andrea Kelly: And State Representative Matt Heinz, same question. Is now the time to have a conversation about high capacity gun magazines?

Matt Heinz: I believe it is and I think that one of the best ways to honor the memories of those who were lost and to really serve those families who are affected by this is to embrace that. And I’m not saying that there needs to necessarily be a ban but that should be on the table and it is something that in many of the recent shootings we’ve seen here in Tucson and also in Aurora, high capacity magazines were involved and one thing that would have… could we stop all of these disturbed folks, no, we will never. Do we need to beef up and bolster our mental health services to try to help people, yes we do. Will that stop all of them, no, but what would certainly mitigate some of the damage and some of the casualties very clearly is 20 fewer bullets leaving Jared Loughner’s gun and… because that’s when he would have had to reload. He had 31 bullets in less than I believe 20 seconds leave that muzzle and if he had to stop for five or ten seconds and fumble around and reload and get tackled at that point, 20 fewer bullets would have left his gun. So I do believe that there is a place for that discussion and that it is appropriate to have it and in a mature open way. And as well, to have a discussion about our mental health system and everything needs to be on the table so I believe this is the time to do it.

Christopher Conover: Coming up in January are mandatory federal budget cuts known as sequestration. As we approach that and we’ll see if they go into effect or some things happen that keep them from going into effect, but what do you think as the potential next member of Congress representing the second district, what do you think is the best way to balance the federal budget and reduce the debt. And Representative Heinz, we’ll start with you and then come to Congressman Barber.

Matt Heinz: The budget is key and something that a legislator does and I’ve done now for four years on our behalf down here in Phoenix is we pass budgets and the Congress doesn’t do a very good job of that unfortunately but that is one of the main things that you do as the representative in Congress or at the legislature and it is a listing of the values and priorities of the nation or the state. That’s why it’s such a tremendous priority for me and to… the sequestration you reference, that is I think an abdication of the responsibility and duties of our representatives. You can’t just say 10% across the board cut or anything arbitrary. That does not fulfill I believe the obligations of our representatives. You have to look at programs and find out what can we trim, what can we trim more, what can we not trim at all. You can’t just say 10% works for everything. So I don’t believe that that’s a… that is a failure of our representation and we have to look at all these subsections of the budget one at a time and give them their due discussion and priority and value them.

Christopher Conover: And Congressman Barber, same question to you.

Ron Barber: It’s a huge problem that should have been worked on more seriously by the Congress than it has. 10% across the board cut which would go into effect on January 1st, we needed to be working on how do we resolve this issue sooner than we are. When we left Congress two weeks ago, I voted against adjournment because I really felt that we needed to stay and do our jobs and one of the biggest jobs we have to do is to deal with sequestration. The sequestration idea is really a meat axe approach to cutting spending. We do have to cut spending as we also have to increase revenue to balance our budget. But in terms of the budget itself, we need to go into each program, find where there’s duplication and there’s plenty of it, find where there are programs that are not working and there are some, and make sure we protect those programs and those organizations within the federal government in funding that are investments in our future such as education. Certainly we need to protect the border and border security. We need to have our national defense intact but we can’t… we should not take a look at a 10% across the board cut. It’s going into each one of those areas and finding those things that we need to either cut back on or modify or merge together. It can be done and the unfortunate thing is that when we go back to Congress in September, we’ll have eight working days before the election. Then we’ll come back after the election and we have two months to resolve this problem. My biggest complaint as a new member of Congress is that there’s been a failure of leadership in the Congress to address these issues until now. Just the other day there was a report that said, this Congress, this majority led Congress has passed fewer bills than any Congress since 1947. Now I’m a new guy on the block but I think we can do better than that and we certainly have to in the interest of our country and my constituents.

Christopher Conover: Let me follow up if I can with both of you on that statistic. There was also another Gallup Poll that just came out that has Congress as a whole approval rating with the public at the lowest it’s been in decades and last year we saw a new record low so it’s even lower than that. Since this is a follow up we’ll start with you Congressman Barber but I want to also get Representative Heinz in on this. How do you as a current member of Congress convince the people back home in the district and the rest of the country that Congress is worth approving of?

Ron Barber: Well, I think historically what we know about the Congress’s rating in the public is that they don’t like Congress but they make up their minds about their individual member of Congress and that’s a different situation in terms of approval ratings. But the issue really is that for the past almost two years we have had a Congress that has been gridlocked on all the major issues. We’ve had a caucus that is intent on blocking any progress we can make on jobs creation, on moving forward on the Affordable Care Act, on dealing with sequestration, all of these issues, huge issues for our country have basically been ignored by this Congress, essentially a do-nothing Congress. Hopefully we can make a change in that in the next Congress next year. What I’ve tried to do in my time in Congress is to work with people across the aisle and there are some Republicans who are willing to work on bipartisan legislation. To date I’ve introduced two bills, both bipartisan, one to protect veterans from scams in their retirement years and the other to require more coordination amongst federal agencies and with Mexico on border security and I’ve got more that will be forthcoming. There are issues on which we can find common ground and that’s what we have to do. Compromise is not a dirty word. This country was based on compromise. We wouldn’t have a constitution without compromise. We have to get past this ideological divide, this gridlock, this do-nothing and get to a point where we solve the nation’s problems. That’s why I went there, that’s what I’m going to work on for as long as I am there and hopefully as time goes on we will have the kind of members of Congress who are willing to do the same.

Christopher Conover: Representative Heinz, assume for the moment that you become the representative from the second district, how do you solve the low approval rating of Congress, if one person can do it on their own.

Matt Heinz: I’m not sure one person can but I know I will certainly try and I have a record to stand on. Four years in this legislature, we have a two to one ratio of Republicans to Democrats and a Republican governor in the state of Arizona. We are known nationally as one of the most I would say hyper-conservative, hyper-partisan legislatures. Yet still, over the past four years as a Democrat in the minority working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have been able to pass over a dozen measures and have those signed into law and that I believe demonstrates my ability to really drill down and solve problems, just like I do in the hospital for my patients. Cancer, infections, those don’t have partisan affiliation and you just get in there and you solve the problem and sometimes you have to work with people that you may not agree with on a lot of issues, but that’s fine and that’s what I’ve done for four years. I’ve had an open door and open mind and because of that I’ve had… been able to demonstrate the most effective legislative record of any Democrat currently seated. And that is the kind of discussion and that is the kind of I believe… that is what exactly we need to have in D.C. And while I don’t know that one person alone can do it, I think that that’s a great start.

Andrea Kelly: One issue that’s come up on the campaign trail so far and remind our listeners and viewers that the campaign started basically June 13th, the day after Congressman Barber was elected to office. State Representative Matt Heinz, you’ve been airing a TV commercial criticizing Congressman Barber for his vote that… the very first vote you took on a bill that would waive some environmental laws for the Border Patrol. Why are you focusing on this vote?

Matt Heinz: It was one of the first votes actually and what was striking to me is that during the over one dozen different forums, town halls, I’m hearing from voters about that specific vote. They bring it up every single time I have a forum they ask me how I would have voted, they ask me to conjecture about why my opponent voted for it and of course that’s not appropriate but this is something that’s on the minds of the voters and because this is the first time we’ve been able to meet and have a discussion about that, I felt the need to let voters know that that’s there and that type of vote which it’s a bill sponsored by a Tea Party Republican in Utah who is absolutely obsessed with rolling back environmental regulations. He says, this representative says that there’s no way to have a secure border and environmental protections and that’s just I believe completely false. So having a 100 mile margin north of our southern border where the Border Patrol can waive 16 or more different environmental protections including Mo Udall’s Arizona Wilderness Act, I didn’t think that was the right way to go and when you look at the testimony Department of Homeland Security and the vast majority of Border patrol supervisors also agreed. And so what I see there is a tendency to kind of cave in to an extremist viewpoint that doesn’t really solve a problem but allows one group, in this case some Tea Party Republicans, to come out with their point of view and roll back environmental protections and that’s what’s been so concerning to the voters and why I aired that.

Andrea Kelly: And Congressman Barber, at the time when you took that vote, very quickly you said that you did not like everything in the bill but you voted yes.

Ron Barber: Absolutely. When you go into a representative body like the Congress, you don’t get to vote maybe, you get to vote yes or no. Throughout my campaign for the special election and throughout my career working for Congresswoman Giffords I’ve been very focused on border security and this was a vote that said, we need to improve border security for those ranchers, their families, the businesses and all of the people who are living under great fear on the border which was brought to bear initially by the shooting and killing of one of their own on his own ranch and then later of course the killing of Brian Terry. So when I went to Congress, people I think knew that I was going to be focused on border security. Having said that, you’re right, the bill… I’ve said that bill… repeatedly that the bill was far from perfect, it was excessive in my view. 100 miles is way too far. I want agents closer to the border, not 100 miles away. I don’t think you can say and shouldn’t say that it’s either or. It has to be both, border security and environmental protection. I’ve been an environmentalist since I was in college and I’m proud of my record and my history of working in the environmental movement and trying to protect our environment. So it’s not about disregarding the environment, it’s about a bill that needs to be fixed, it needs to be reduced in the amount of distance from the border, north and south, so that it’s a better bill. Let me just speak about this ad for a moment. This ad I think is despicable because my opponent is suggesting that I’m aligned with the Tea Party after the Tea Party organization spent millions of dollars to defeat me in the special election. He knows it’s absurd and he should denounce his own ad I believe. Let me say secondly, the ad and what he just said a moment ago is not accurate. In fact, one of the bill she sites and I worked with Mo Udall, I campaigned for Mo Udall, I was on his campaign committee, I admire him greatly, he was a great environmentalist. But one of the bills that Mr. Heinz sites in that scroll down on the screen is a Mo Udall bill and I don’t think he’s read it because had he read it, he would know that that bill includes an exemption for Border Patrol and border security operations, clearly stated in that bill. Even in 1990 Congressman Udall knew that there was a border security issue and it’s gone up 20 fold since that time. So I think it’s absurd to call me anything aligned to the Tea Party, I’ve never been and I never will be, but you vote on individual bills and that’s what I said I would do and that’s what I did and that’s what I’ll continue to do. I am not going there to be a party line person. I’m going there to represent my constituents and to vote bills as best I can representing their interests my own conscience on what I think is in best interest of our constituents.

Andrea Kelly: We’re getting really short on time but I want to see if you want a quick response. He just asked you to denounce that bill Representative Heinz. I mean the ad.

Matt Heinz: Well, I denounce the bill but I don’t denounce the ad because it is accurate and what I put… we were very careful with what we put in there and this was an extremist bill sponsored by a Tea Party representative and I believe that it is caving to an extremist point of view and in terms of not being able to vote maybe, I completely agree because then one week later my opponent chose to vote to sue Attorney General Eric Holder in civil court and I think for an ongoing investigation that was a Tea Party partisan witch hunt and something that no Democrat or really anyone who wants stuff to get done should be participating in. So it’s a pattern of caving to an extremist.

Ron Barber: I really don’t…

Christopher Conover: We have about a minute but, yes, please go ahead.

Ron Barber: I have to respond to this because this is another example of misrepresenting what I’ve done and why I did it and this is the kind of campaign that my opponent has been running… he talks about experience. It seems to me, Matt, that you have experience in running political attack ads and caving in and cutting deals with right wing sheriffs. What I did in that Holder vote was to say in the first instance I would not vote for contempt, criminal contempt against the Attorney General because it wasn’t warranted, there was no evidence to support it. The bill I voted for was to authorize the Congress to take the matter to court where the issue executive privilege could be adjudicated as it should be. No president should be allowed to invoke executive privilege without question. I think that’s happened over the years and we need to question it and the Congress has the responsibility to get the facts. And Brian Terry’s family need to know what happened to their son, why those guns were there, 19 months later is way too long. That’s why I voted for that bill.

Christopher Conover: Unfortunately we have reached the end of our time, the half hour always goes very quickly. I want to thank both of you for coming in. Now, for our viewers and listeners, remember early ballots are out and election day is next week. If you want to watch this forum 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. Again, thank you both for coming in and thank you to all of our listeners and viewers for tuning in. For Andrea Kelly, I’m Christopher Conover, Arizona Public Media.