Sponsored by


Note: This story is more than 3 years old.

What the Devil won't tell you

CD2 debate decoded: Why have debates like this?

Let the candidates go at it so they can speak for themselves

Candidate debates have gotten just pointless and I think it's in the set up.

Take two candidates. Put them at a couple of lecterns. Have journalists ask probing questions. Then enforce time limits like a generalissimo.

No disrespect to the organizers or moderators. They're just doing what's been done but the format doesn't seem to work anymore.

My first reaction to the Congressional District 2 debate between Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick and Republican Lea Marquez Peterson was that both candidates should get down on their knees and thank the Spirit of Mo Udall they don't face more robust competition. They stood on stage and said as little as humanly possible in front of reporters from Tucson and Phoenix as Christopher Conover moderated.

I had said after the first gubernatorial debate that neither of the candidates deserved to be governor.

I was starting to wonder if there was another such column in my future.

Then I had a second thought. Former (and maybe future) U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick has served in the Arizona Legislature and Congress. She was a prosecutor up in Flagstaff. She probably has stuff to say. Lea Marquez Peterson has run the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. To hear her tell it she serves on just about every community board in Southern Arizona. Hell, she may be second vice chair of your neighborhood association board. She knows the community.

Why not just put the two of them in a room and let them go at it. Have a moderator throw out topics and let them give and take on the issues of the day. It would have made the Kirkpatrick-Peterson debate a lot more interesting.

Thanks to our donors and sponsors for their support of local independent reporting. Join Bruce hermes, Caroline Salcido, and Julie Adams and contribute today!

Instead, we've turned these debates into joint press conferences and bad ones at that.

The result was Kirkpatrick and Marquez Peterson saying absolutely, positively nothing and doing it badly.

I'm left channeling my inner Shirley Manson: "Do you have an opinion? A mind of your own?" Or is it just your pollster controlling every word that comes out of your mouth? In which case (can't resist): garbage in, garbage out.

Not to further date myself, but kids, you gotta watch WKRP in Cincinnati reruns because station news director Les Nessman summed this up perfectly when he aped the political straddle brilliantly:

"Right now, I'm devoting a great deal of time and study to that problem. And I expect to issue a position paper on that. A position that is at once simple, yet complex … flexible and above all else, fair – to every American."

Mr. Speaker or Mr. President

Boy, did these women channel their inner Les.

Marquez Peterson's response when asked if she would mind having President Trump, who lost the district in 2016, come campaign for her:

"I think having any president in a district would be quite an honor. I have not requested his attendance in Southern Arizona and I'm running on my own regard."

Translation: Please don't make me appeal to independent voters by showing any disgust I feel for the the Toxic Don (my interpretation, not hers) because I need my Trump-loving base to show up. Hell, that might have been a better answer than such an obvious non-answer.

What was fascinating is that Kirkpatrick pounced … just not on Trump.

"My opponent brought Speaker Ryan to Tucson. She will follow his agenda to a Tucson. She's not independent. He has his agenda to privatize Social Security. She has said she would privatize Social Security (and) get rid of Medicare. She doesn't believe in a woman's right to choose. Those are the sorts of things that will happen if Republicans stay in power."

Paul Ryan? Paul Ryan is quitting. Paul Ryan wouldn't hold any sway over Marquez Peterson's committee assignments or control her legislation. Why attack Ryan?

Ah. Translation: My professional ad team and pollster have told me that people don't want to hear about Trump. They should know. Republicans told the press to tell my team that voters don't want to hear about Trump and the white guys make the rules. We moderate Democrats just follow them.

Oh, it got worse. When asked about her reticence to talk to the media during the campaign, Marquez Peterson said it was no big deal: "I would say what I've done is be very strategic about outreach."

Translation: Cuz you are going to ask me about Trump. I would rather have my eyebrows plucked by velociraptors than talk about Trump. Thank God, my consultants told the media to tell Kirkpatrick's consultants not to talk about Trump because voters don't care about him. Boy would talking about Trump suck for me.

Wise use of denial

KUAT's Lorraine Rivera asked a dynamite question about the rickety balance between property rights and the environment that is a very Western issue.

Kirkpatrick started doing the intellectual equivalent of wandering in a circle and mumbling.

"I was on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and plan to be on that committee again, working in Southern Arizona to improve infrastructure and get funding for projects. Working with (Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild) and local mayors to improve critical infrastructure, which we need to do to improve our economy. It's so important that we have good roads, that we have a working water system, that we have good paying 21st century jobs and quality education for our children. Those are all infrastructure projects."

But it wasn't an infrastructure question.

Translation: Ranchers in Cochise County are still pissed about higher grazing fees under Clinton and the goddamned spotted owl from 20 years ago.

Speaking of the environment, Marquez Peterson got a question — about climate change, if Marquez Peterson believed it and what should be done about it — and her brevity shouted volumes:

"I think it's a delicate balance between growing a company and the environmental regulations that are put in place and not have them overreach. But I do think it's a delicate balance."

That's not an abridged part of her answer. That's her answer. All of it. The crowd laughed.

Translation: Of course, I believe in climate change. Or I believe that swing voters believe in climate change but if I agree the science is real, then I have to admit a liberal was right about something and my base would sooner vote for Hillary Clinton twice than support me once if I ever admit that. So until we can argue climate change is former President Barack Obama's fault, I'm not saying nothing.

Dreamers, warthogs and all

God bless her though. Marquez Peterson gave a straight up answer on whether to grant citizenship to the Dreamers — kids brought by parents to the U.S. illegally. She said no. She said yes to legal status but no to a path to citizenship. An answer! Thank you. Was that so hard?

I haven't a clue what Kirkpatrick thinks after hearing her answer.

"I support DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients. I support Dreamers. I had an immigration working group to address immigration reform and I always started my meetings with testimonies from Dreamers – three or four of them – different ones each time. Their stories are so empowering, so impactful and in so many cases tragic that I thought 'y'know, if Congress could hear these stories, we would get immigration reform done.' So I introduced legislation to allow Dreamers to work on Capitol Hill and I want to do that again."

Like what you're reading? Support high-quality local journalism and help underwrite independent news without the spin.

What ... the hell ... what?

No to citizenship, but yes to Capitol Hill internships? I'm not following.

Scholars will be working for years to decipher that bit of political signaling. I'll try something quick.

"I like Dreamers. Just don't ask me to do a goddamned thing for them. If I do, I'll be painted a sniveling, spineless, weak, emotional, feckless, hormonal, impotent, omega female, mainlining empathy and lacking the juevos to punch a puppy in the face."

She came out stronger against kidnapping kids to punishment parents for for seeking asylum improperly. Ballsy.

So a lot of this was excessive consulitis.

But neither had a good answer for how they might work to save Davis-Monthan Air Force Base should the Air Force retire the A-10. There are a lot of legitimate ways to answer this question: from "D-M should be shut down," to "stuff a rider on every bill that moves to save the base."

I'm not sure what Marquez Peterson meant by this:

"We need to continue to fight for any additional resources for the A-10 while we can. I know Congresswoman McSally has done a great job fighting for that. We need to continue to look for additional missions for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. And that's something I would continue to do and step into her shoes and continue the work that she's done."

Additional missions? Such as? Any ideas? Any discussion of the desert climate's suitability for flight training. Similar terrain to where close-air support missions are flown?

"I've talked to pilots and they tell me the A-10 is one of the best planes they've ever flown. That it's much more agile in the air than the F-35. I also believe we should keep the A-10 in the fleet. It's a big part of what D-M does. I want to keep that A-10 at D-M. Keep that base open. And will continue the fight Gabrielle Giffords and Ron Barber started, in keeping that a healthy military base."

Sigh. It's not the A-10s maneuverability. It's that the A-10, which is basically a monster gun, a titanium bathtub and some wings designed specifically for close-air support. The F-35 is a joint-strike fighter designed primarily to replace strike fighters capable of bombing and air superiority missions. The A-10's workload may not be an easy fit for the F-35. It's worth looking into.

Support TucsonSentinel.com today, because a smarter Tucson is a better Tucson.

Also, I'm not sure pilots fly a whole bunch of planes where they are in a place to compare. It's hard enough to earn a slot in an F-15, F-35 or A-10. They don't tend to mix and match.

So, voters would be better served to see this issue tossed around more.

Make it real

These women aren't stupid. They are just allowed to ask that way during what amounts to an oral exam proctored by journalists. The idea isn't to get an A. It's not to get an F (or E in University of Arizona tradition).

Trying not to fail gives different results than daring to succeed. A misconception lies at the foundation the wait-em-out strategy. It rests on the notion that a candidate will offend voters by disagreeing with them. I don't think that's true. I think voters distrust candidates who work too hard to stay too slippery in an effort not to offend.

Going one on one forces you to make points rather trying your damndest to avoid them.

Debates should be debates. They should be more in your face. If you are running for political office and don't find that kind of battle an absolute blast, get out of show business. Or go into show business.

Opinions get real in a hurry when answers are spontaneous responses. Let voters learn what they are really getting with their ballot. I shouldn't have to decipher their answers. Candidates need to be forced to make their answers plain.

Voters need more answers and Les Nessman.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning journalist who spent 17 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

- 30 -
have your say   

1 comment on this story

Oct 16, 2018, 11:20 pm
-0 +0

Great analysis!

Sorry, we missed your input...

You must be logged in or register to comment

Read all of TucsonSentinel.com's
coronavirus reporting here »

Click image to enlarge

Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Ann Kirkpatrick and Lea Marquez Peterson


news, politics & government, border, business, crime & safety, education, enviro, media & journalism, local, arizona, opinion, analysis, nation/world, breaking, columnist

TucsonSentinel.com publishes analysis and commentary from a variety of community members, experts, and interest groups as a catalyst for a healthy civic conversation; we welcome your comments. As an organization, we don't endorse candidates or back specific legislation. All opinions are those of the individual authors.