'ARIZONA IS HURTING'

Tucsonans give McCain earful

Both right-, left-wing town-hall attendees show senator anger
2011-08-10T00:00:00Z 2014-07-15T17:46:56Z Tucsonans give McCain earfulRhonda Bodfield Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 10, 2011 12:00 am  • 

If U.S. Sen. John McCain's town hall on Tuesday had a theme, it's that Greater Tucson has been dipped in a big vat of angry.

And the heat isn't just the domain of the tea party any more, with progressives showing up in force, just as torqued as their conservative counterparts.

It didn't help the tenor that there were far too many people for the 150-seat venue at St. Mark's United Methodist Church on the northwest side. The doors were locked and people turned away 45 minutes before the event even started.

As McCain entered, waving, he was greeted by the standard applause, and by sustained chanting of "Where are the jobs?"

Although the crowd by applause agreed to some ground rules - no yelling, no shouting, respecting one another - they didn't mean it.

The catcalls and interruptions started early into his introductory comments, which McCain largely used to make his case that the economic situation has deteriorated under the Obama administration. Using a chart with the title "He's making it worse," McCain said there are fewer jobs, higher gas prices, more regulations and lower housing values since the inauguration.

When McCain said he supports a federal hiring freeze, one woman yelled out, "including the military?"

When he said he wanted to cut the corporate tax rate by as much as a third, it triggered such a round of angry outbursts and smatterings of applause that McCain asked again for "common courtesy."

When he said he wanted to close loopholes in the tax code, including subsidies for ethanol and sugar, someone yelled, "oil!"

The first audience speaker was booed by half the room and applauded by the other when he described himself as a progressive, and demanded to know why McCain won't support higher taxes on the wealthy.

A chorus of "no" greeted McCain's response: "I think we all want to be rich."

"Oh, we don't want to be rich. … We have a group of people who don't want to be rich. That's fine," said an amused McCain.

"They also don't want to be hobbits," came a retort from the audience, in reference to a floor speech in which McCain read from a Wall Street Journal editorial that linked the tea party to the fictional characters.

As the interruptions continued - with one man shouting, "We hear you every Sunday. You need to listen to us" - McCain had to implore the crowd to "act like grown-ups here."

Economic pain was on full display. One man talked about the vulnerability of being on disability. A 55-year-old woman identifying with the tea party said she just lost her job last week.

McCain said the best way to bring companies back from overseas is to cut taxes, not raise them. "I believe when you take money from people it prevents them from being able to invest in their own homes and build and hire people," he said.

With the crowd continuing to press on the topic of the contributions of the wealthy, McCain reminded them that even the president conceded the last election cycle was a "shellacking."

"The majority of the American people spoke very clearly," he said, noting they wanted the discussion to be about jobs, reducing spending and cutting taxes.

McCain criticized Obama several times for a failure to lead, saying the president needs to deliver a detailed plan to address the nation's debt and then sell it to Congress and the public.

He said the country must be prepared for hard choices, including a gradual raising of the retirement age for Social Security. He was less interested in raising the cap on wages subject to Social Security taxes, which is seen by Democrats as a way to shore up the entitlement program. "That is not in keeping with the fundamental premise of Social Security," he said.

He also said he would not support eliminating the minimum wage. He disagreed with a woman who suggested taxing the poor, even if it was $10 a month, so they'd have "skin in the game." He said instead of hurting the poor more, political leaders need to get jobs moving again.

McCain disagreed with a speaker who characterized the Republican Party as "practicing economic sabotage on the economy," saying the Republicans only hold one-third of the power, with Democrats retaining the Senate and presidency.

Afterward, McCain said he wasn't surprised at the tone and said he enjoyed the spirited debate.

With half the homes in the state underwater and unemployment hovering near double digits, he said, "Arizona is hurting."

And the public doesn't believe Congress is working together to address the problems, he said. "There's anger all over the country, in case you missed the polling data."

While universally people said they appreciated McCain holding the event and answering questions, neither side was particularly pleased.

Sheila McCurdy, a 70-year-old business owner and tea-party supporter, couldn't get into the event, but lingered outside. "If we're hobbits, then he's a gremlin," she said.

Melissa Donovan, a 38-year-old small-business owner who was happy with the progressive turnout, said she didn't think McCain came with an open mind. "He seemed to have his opinions set. He listened politely and then just ignored a lot of us."

McCain's spokesman, Brian Rogers, said he expects McCain will host another round of town halls later in the month. He said the site would have been big enough - a town hall in Gilbert drew only 100 people Monday - but for the progressive MoveOn organizers who rallied their troops.

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at rbodfield@azstarnet.com or 573-4243.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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