Newly in office, Barber faces 1st Dem challenger

2012-08-07T00:00:00Z 2012-08-21T11:33:12Z Newly in office, Barber faces 1st Dem challengerBrady McCombs Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 07, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Democrat Ron Barber's congressional career is less than two months old, but he's already campaigning to keep his job.

It is the latest chapter in a two-year odyssey laced with tragedy and triumph that has transformed Barber from a behind-the-scenes bureaucrat to a U.S. congressman.

This time around, he doesn't have the luxury of running unopposed in the primary. He is being challenged by state Rep. Matt Heinz in the newly drawn Congressional District 2.

The 35-year-old Tucson doctor supported Barber in the June 12 Congressional District 8 special election to complete former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' term, while opting to run for the full term.

"The primary Democratic voters want a discussion," Heinz said. "This is the real deal. We are not just substituting for a few months. This is potentially a person that could be there for a while."

Republican Jim Kolbe spent 22 years in office, and his successor, Giffords, a Democrat, was in her third term when she resigned in January to focus on her recovery.

Barber, 66, says neither he nor Heinz should be thinking beyond the two-year term that lies ahead.

"It would be presumptuous for me to say I'm going to be in here year after year and election after election," Barber said. "I hope that if I do a good job, and decide to run again, the voters will hire me to run again. And if I don't do a good job, they won't."

Heinz says his ability to get bills through while working the past four years in Arizona's Republican-dominated Legislature shows he's ready for the U.S. Congress. Heinz resigned as House minority whip in 2011 to focus on legislation.

"I've been able to be an effective lawmaker in very difficult circumstances," said Heinz, who moved to Tucson in 2003 and is a doctor at Tucson Medical Center. "What the voters of Southern Arizona need is someone who is ready to go and can get results."

His main platform issues are improving jobs and the economy, making the health-care system work for all Americans and properly funding education. Heinz says he brings the same approach he uses as a doctor to the Legislature.

"We treat you, we find the problem, diagnose it and we fix it," Heinz said. "That's the kind of drive that I have brought to the Legislature."

In his second campaign of the year, Barber's pitch to the voters remains largely the same: highlighting his deep roots in the community and knowledge of the district and its people.

Barber has been in Tucson since 1959. He worked 32 years at the Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities, including as state director, and co-owned a small business with his wife for 22 years. In 2006, he joined Giffords' office and served as district director from 2007 until her resignation.

"I know the community well, I know the players, the people who are decision makers as well as the constituents and their issues," Barber said.

His main platform issues remain the same: fighting for the middle class, getting veterans assistance, bolstering border security, pushing for more renewable energy, and protecting Social Security and Medicare.

Barber was shot twice in the Jan. 8, 2011, rampage that wounded Giffords, eventually forcing her to resign, and in which six people were killed and 13 wounded.

Many assumed he would just serve the abbreviated term, but midway through his successful campaign against Republican Jesse Kelly in the CD8 special election, Barber announced he would also run in CD2 in the fall.

In his short tenure, Barber lists votes on two appropriations bills among his accomplishments. One is expected to create thousands of road and bridge construction jobs nationwide. The other supports military installations such as Fort Huachuca and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. He has also introduced a measure to protect veterans from financial scams.

His first vote in Congress made good on a campaign promise to work across the aisle, voting yes on a Republican-backed measure to allow the Border Patrol to bypass many environmental laws on federally managed lands within 100 miles of the Mexican and Canadian borders.

Environmentalists and some Democrats were critical, including Heinz, who called it bad policy.

Barber said he wanted to make a strong statement about his support for border security measures.

Heinz has also criticized Barber's vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in "civil contempt" in relation to an investigation of the "Fast and Furious" gun operation. Barber said calling the measure he voted for "civil contempt" is inaccurate, but rather was to ensure the president's use of executive privilege be reviewed by the courts.

"I voted for transparency to make sure this president, or any president, has to be held to account for invoking executive privilege to make sure it's proper and right," Barber said.

Heinz has likewise taken heat for voting with Republicans. In 2011, he was one of two Democrats to vote for a bill that would have given $5 million to Sheriff Paul Babeu and the Pinal County Sheriff's department for body armor, night vision goggles and other equipment to bolster border security. Critics said it was unnecessary for a county located more than 70 miles north of the border.

Heinz defends voting for the measure, saying it is an example of good bipartisan policy. The bill did not become law.

"There was a very clear, substantiated need for some help," Heinz said. "I will always vote to support law enforcement."

Barber enters the race with the momentum of having just won a difficult election, holds a significant advantage in campaign funds, with $194,500 in his treasury to $42,300 for Heinz, and has the backing of Giffords, an immensely popular figure in the district.

But Heinz believes the new district favors him because it has just a 2-point Republican advantage, compared with the 6-point spread in the old district, and has shed many conservative-leaning voters from Oro Valley, Marana and the northwest side, while adding more liberal-leaning voters from near the University of Arizona.

In the Nov. 6 general election, the winner of the Democratic primary will face either Martha McSally or Mark Koskiniemi, the two Republicans squaring off in the GOP primary.

MOre inside and online

See where the CD2 candidates stand on issues. Page A4

On StarNet: A breakdown of Tucson-area races and voter resources can be found at azstarnet.com/ elections

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at bmccombs@azstarnet.com or 573-4213.

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

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