New GOP CD3 candidate attacks 'Cartel Congressman' Grijalva, claims 'intoxication' on the job
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New GOP CD3 candidate attacks 'Cartel Congressman' Grijalva, claims 'intoxication' on the job

Private border wall booster makes campaign announcement outside planned shelter for asylum-seekers

Mesa resident Steve Ronnebeck announced he is running for Arizona's Congressional District 3 in 2020, calling Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva "the Cartel Congressman." 

As trucks rumbled along Ajo Way on Tuesday morning, Ronnebeck announced his run for Congress to an audience of around two dozen supporters on the west side of the Pima County Juvenile Court, and blamed Grijalva and other members of Congress for a series of state and national crises, including crime committed by immigrants, slumping economies in Yuma and Pima County, and the opiate epidemic.

Ronnebeck accused Grijalva of being an alcoholic, saying that he wants to retire the Democrat so that the congressman can have "time off" for treatment and "get the rest he needs."

Ronnebeck kicked off his campaign in the parking lot of juvenile detention center because part of that facility is being refashioned into a shelter for asylum-seekers, and on the day that, as Ronnebeck's campaign put it in announcing the event, "illegals are being moved into the facility by the Catholic Diocese." 

In recent weeks, Pima County officials offered to let Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona use a section of the facility as shelter for  migrants who have been legally released from federal custody and need a waypoint to rest, eat and make travel arrangements. 

Despite the location, Ronnebeck never directly referenced the facility in his remarks. And despite his campaign's claims, no migrants were yet being housed at the center, which is still undergoing the finishing touches of remodeling.

A pair of supporters — one, anti-migrant activist Jennifer Harrison (who would gain viral fame later that day when she prompted mocking laughter from #GreenShirtGuy at a Tucson City Council meeting) — had attempted to enter the new shelter with a pistol on her hip earlier that morning. She was turned away, as well as not being allowed into the Benedictine Monastery in Midtown Tucson, which has hosted more than 10,000 asylum seekers since January after their release from federal custody.

Ronnebeck's event, in addition to featuring an armed supporter of the campaign, prompted a response from staff at the detention center, as well as private security, and a least one Pima County sheriff's deputy. 

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Also in attendance was Tim Foley, the leader of Arizona Border Recon, an armed militia group that operates out of Arivaca, southwest of Tucson, as well as members of the Pima County Republican Party. 

Ronnebeck — one of the boosters of the "We Build the Wall" group attempting to put up a private border barrier — began his statement with a moment of silence for those killed and injured in shootings over the weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. 

"Folks, our nation is in crisis, our southern border is in crisis, and our nation—you know—our Constitution is in crisis," Ronneback said. "The Democrats in Washington D.C. don't care about us, they care about themselves, they care about their bank accounts, and they care about the walls and fences that they build around their own houses to keep them safe." 

Arizona's CD3 is home to the "poster child of corruption and disfunction," Ronnebeck said. "Raul Grijalva is the prime example of that self-serving attitude. He's known for putting his own needs and wants over the needs of people in his district, the people of our district." 

Ronnebeck's home district is CD 5, represented in Congress by Republican Andy Biggs. 

The Mesa resident announced his candidacy last week to the conservative news outlet the Epoch Times, and said that he didn't live in the district, but that he planned to spend "a lot of time" in CD 3. 

The Epoch Times also quoted Ronnebeck saying that Grijalva's district has "16 percent of the border in Arizona, and it is probably the worst 16 percent on the Arizona border and probably the second-worst district along the southern border." 

CD 3 actually shares a 300-mile long border with Mexico, or roughly 60 percent of Arizona's total border with Mexico, and it's not clear if Ronnebeck was misquoted, or he misspoke. The majority of Tucson's Hispanic, African American and urban Native American residents live in Grijalva's district, and it includes the Cocopah, Pascua Yaqui, Quechan, and Tohono O'odham reservations. 

Ronnebeck said he wanted to increase education in the state, especially for people learning a trade, and he argued that Grijalva and his staff have not been responsive to  "business owners" who he said "call Congressman Paul Gosar's office instead" for help. 

He also said that "news stories about Grijalva" that are "full of scandals" and embarrassments are "easy to find." 

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"Listen, alcoholism is a disease," he said. "I have friends that are alcoholics, and its overpowering as a disease," he said. Ronnebeck accused Grijlava of drinking on "our time clock." 

In 2015, a top staffer for a congressional committee on which Grijalva is the ranking member was quietly paid more than $40,000 in severance, TucsonSentinel.com reported in November 2017. 

Grijalva, first sent to Congress in 2002, has held the current district since 2010, when it created after redistricting. In 2012 and 2014, he beat Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, who ran Tea Party campaigns based on border control. In 2016, he didn’t face a Republican candidate.

Grijalva has faced similar challenges before, and in last election beat Nicholas "Nick" Pierson by nearly 64 percent. 

Grijalva has already raised about $177,000 for his 2020 campaign.

Ronnebeck has been active in state Republican circles for years following the violent death of his 21-year-old son Grant Ronnebeck, who was shot and killed at a Mesa-area QuikTrip convenience store in 2015. 

Grant Ronnebeck was killed by Apolinar Altamirano, who was facing deportation proceedings following a conviction for a low-level burglary charge. Altamirano had been released on a $10,000 bond by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2013, but his case was winding through U.S. immigration court when he shot and killed Ronnebeck's son. 

Ronnebeck soon became a fixture of Trump's presidential campaign, arriving at events as an "Angel Dad" along with "Angel mom," Mary Ann Mendoza, whose son Brandon — a Mesa police sergeant — was killed by a drunk driver. 

Before Ronnebeck announced his candidacy, Mendoza spoke on his behalf, joined by Laura Basurto, and Carrie Turner-Utz, who also lost family members in crimes committed by people in the country illegally. 

Last year, Ronnebeck spoke an event hosted by the president, and he implicitly linked illegal immigration to crime in the United States. "You know, you don’t hear these stories, and some of our media, won’t talk to you about it, but this is permanent separation," he said. Ronnebeck was alluding to last year's furor over the separation of immigrant parents from their children at the border, a process that operated for months before the Trump administration made it public as part of a "zero tolerance policy," and that has continued despite a federal judge's order to halt the practice. 

Ronnebeck has also connected himself to a group that built a private wall north of the U.S.-Mexico border in New Mexico. The group, "We Build the Wall," raised $23 million for border wall construction through GoFundMe, and built a half-mile barrier on a strip of private land about 50 feet north of the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Earlier this year, the group launched its campaign at a private event in Sahuarita. The effort was was co-founded by Trump strategist Steve Bannon and border zealot Kris Kobach, and former Tucson Brian Kolfage, and is under criminal investigation by Florida regulators.

After he announced his candidacy this week, Ronnebeck retired to an RV, where the signatures of "Foreman Mike," the nickname of Mike Fury, the lead for construction on the project, and "Sheriff Clarke"— likely David Clarke, who once served as the sheriff for Milwaukee County, Wis., and visited the project. 

At his campaign even this week, Ronnebeck blamed Grijalva for a laundry list of ills in the state, including the deaths of nearly 4,000 Americans "at the hands of illegal aliens," as well as an "onslaught of drugs," that causes 70,000 overdoses a year. Ronnebeck also said that politicians like Grijalva "are doing nothing to stop the victimization of children. Ronnebeck referenced a widely-debunked statistic that over 8,300 sexual assaults against children had been "committed by illegal aliens" in North Carolina. 

Ronnebeck's claim comes from North Carolinians For Immigration Reform and Enforcement, or NCFIRE, a group that began publishing statements about the number of sexual assaults committed by unauthorized immigrants in the state. However, NCFIRE's data appears to include arrests, not just convictions, and it's not clear that all the people included in the report are in the country without authorization, or may have legal residency, or are citizens, but have a Hispanic surname. 

Among the nearly 159,000 people deported in 2018 by ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations, around 4,975 were convicted of sex offenses, and around 3,740 people were deported by ICE for convictions of sexual assault, according to figures published by the agency. 

Because ICE can deport people charged, but not convicted of some crimes, another 1,913 people were removed after they were charged, but not convicted for sex offenses, and another 1,610 were charged with sexual assault, but not convicted. 

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A similar pattern emerges from those in ICE detention in December 2018. 

In December, only 133 people were held in ICE detention nationwide with convictions for sex crimes, and another 235 were held for sexual assault. And, about 63 percent of the people in ICE detention in December had no criminal conviction at all. 

Similarly, in a 2018 analysis published by the Government Accountability Office, from 2011 through 2016, there were a total of about 198,000 people incarcerated in federal prisons, and of those, 13,500 were convicted of sex crimes, or 0.7 percent of all immigrants in federal prison over that five year period. 

The approximately 197,000 federal criminal aliens included in GAO's analysis were arrested/transferred about 1.4 million times for approximately 2 million offenses from over 43 years (from 1974 through 2017); 42 percent of the offenses that these criminal aliens were arrested for were related to immigration and 26 percent were related to drugs or traffic violations.

The GAO also attempted to estimate how many people were arrested or transferred to federal custody, from state and local jails, and found that from 2017 back to 1964, around 120,300 people spent time in federal custody for sex crimes. 

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1 comment on this story

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Aug 8, 2019, 8:12 pm
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I look forward to proudly voting for Rep. Raul Grijalva again next year.  Mr. Ronnebeck will quickly find out that Baja Arizona isn’t interested in electing a Trump surrogate.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Steve Ronnebeck announces his candidacy for Arizona's Congressional District 3, launching a challenge against Democrat, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva on Tuesday.