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Kirkpatrick won't seek re-election to Congress

Ann Kirkpatrick, who's served a total of five terms representing two different Arizona districts in Congress, won't seek re-election in 2022, the Tucson Democrat announced Friday morning.

Kirkpatrick, age 70, was first elected in 2008 from a Northern Arizona district that included Flagstaff. She lost re-election in 2010, but then won another two terms, leaving the House to challenge U.S. Sen. John McCain. After losing that Senate race in 2016, she moved to run in CD 2 in Southern Arizona, with easy wins in 2018 and 2020 in what had formerly been one of the most hotly contested districts in the country.

"Every two years for the past 18 years, there has been an election in Arizona with my name on the ballot," Kirkpatrick said in a Friday news release. "Serving Arizonans has been my absolute honor and joy, but after much consideration, I have decided not to seek re-election in 2022. I will continue the good fight through this Congress, and when the term is up, I will hand over the baton."

A centrist Democrat, Kirkpatrick was able to appeal to voters across rural Arizona while building constituencies in blue strongholds such as Tucson and Flagstaff, and holding a powerful seat on the House Appropriations Committee.

2022 will bring the first election since 2008 without her name on a ballot for federal office, and set up what will likely be a tough primary contest among Democratic primary candidates — as well as renew Republican interest in a Southern Arizona seat in Congress.

But with the redrawing of district lines happening before that election, it's not yet known what the boundaries of Arizona's congressional districts will be.

"As Arizona's appropriator, I have strived to be accessible. Taking a page out of Congresswoman Giffords' book, we hosted 'Congress on Your Corner' events and have driven miles and miles across our southwest desert state," Kirkpatrick said in her announcement. "From the Navajo Nation to the southern border, we have met with countless folks learning about what local issues need a voice. I have always promised my constituents, whether you agree with my position or not, I will tell you where I stand, and I will work for all Arizonans."

In January 2020, Kirkpatrick publicly acknowledged that she is an alcoholic, after a fall in Washington, D.C., led to injuries including spinal fractures, a lacerated head, and cracked ribs. She went to rehab, missing about six weeks of votes in Congress.

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The Democrat, who previously represented CD 1 (which covers Oro Valley and parts of Marana, stretching up through Flagstaff and Northern Arizona), easily won re-election over GOP candidate Brandon Martin in Southern Arizona after her first term in CD 2, in what had been one of the most competitive congressional districts in the country for years. She bested Republican candidate Lea Marquez Peterson in 2018. The district was previously represented by Republican Martha McSally, and Democrats Ron Barber and Gabrielle Giffords, with some elections decided by just a few hundred votes.

From Kirkpatrick's release about her political retirement:

My childhood was an excellent foundation for serving Arizona. I was born in McNary on the Apache Reservation. In fact, I learned to speak Apache before English. I grew up in rural Arizona, where my mother was a teacher on the Apache Nation, and my father owned the small general store in the area. Even though my high school counselor told me that 'women don't go to college,' I went anyway and then some, graduating with a law degree from the University of Arizona.

When they said that certain congressional districts could not be won, I tried anyway and won. In Congress, my office was instrumental in helping pass the Affordable Care Act and the Indian Veterans Housing Opportunity Act. We guaranteed important water rights for Native American tribes in Arizona and helped our veterans in rural areas get better healthcare. My office has championed the bipartisan Local Journalism Sustainability Act to make sure that people have access to factual information.

Over the years, I have evolved on some issues, which I believe is key to being a good leader. I have sought and continue to seek ways to work across party lines when possible, but I also stand my ground on values that should never be compromised.

Throughout my time in public service, I have learned that the highs are high, the lows are known, and the magic lives in the people you meet. The local issues in Douglas are certainly different than in Flagstaff, but the requests from communities are similar: 'remember us when you're in Washington.' How could I forget? Arizona is home. And representing my home state has been the highest honor.

As Arizona continues to grow, I hope our representation does as well. I look forward to seeing new and diverse perspectives emerge to lead Arizona forward.

Over these years, I've been blessed to have family faithfully at my side. Since before Roger and I got married in 2009, he has been my companion and cheerleader, driving me to events, wearing my campaign t-shirts, and encouraging me to pursue my goals. I am forever grateful for him, and for my children and grandchildren, who make the unrelenting fight for a more fair and equitable society, all the more vital.

Throughout this statement, I have used both 'we' and 'us,' because this has never been a one-woman show. Alongside me are a team of current and former staffers who have helped fulfill our mission. It gives me immense pride to know that the culture of our team is what it is and always should be: good people that, above all else, prioritize service to others.

For now, our work for Arizona is not finished.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Kirkpatrick in February 2018.