Republican challenger Nicolas Pierson, left, and incumbent U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva traded comments about immigration, ethics and state land sales at their final Congressional District 3 debate at the University of Arizona.

The final meeting between U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva and his Republican challenger Nick Pierson ended on Wednesday night where their first debate left off — a discussion about “bad” Mexicans.

At a Congressional District 3 debate Wednesday night at the University of Arizona, the Republican nominee, repeatedly deflected questions regarding his statement that Grijalva was a “not a good example of a Mexican American, and he’s not a good example of an American.”

During the debate and in a press gaggle with reporters, Pierson insisted that his comments were not racial and were being twisted.

“It is not about ethnicity, it is about values,” Pierson told reporters. “You guys are taking it way out of context. I come from a family with a strong Mexican-American heritage.”

Asked whether values would play a role in who would be deported under his Red, White and Blue immigration plan, Pierson said that only criminals would be deported.

Pressed on whether there would be other requirements for residency or citizenship like being able to work, a representative for the campaign abruptly ended the press conference after roughly seven minutes.

During the debate — organized by AZPM in partnership with Arizona Daily Star, and KJZZ — Pierson repeatedly focused his answers on Grijalva’s ethics and integrity in office.

“A leader wouldn’t be settling a $48,000 lawsuit with taxpayer money or showing up to work drunk on the job,” Pierson said.

Grijalva noted the settlement isn’t related in any way to sexual harassment and he asked for an ethics investigation which ended in a recommendation to dismiss the complaint.

He then challenged Pierson to find former staffers that would be willing to say that he shows up to work drunk.

“There are 200 employees I’ve worked with since I’ve been in Congress. There are numerous individuals and organizations I’ve worked with,” he said.

The election of President Trump, Grijalva argues, has largely normalized deeply personal attacks in an attempt to deflect on issues facing the district.

Pierson also criticized the source of Grijalva’s donations, saying they don’t come from the district.

“They come from New York City, man, and Washington D.C.,” Pierson said with a New York accent.

During the debate, Pierson noted that he’d like to see some federal lands in Arizona put into the state land trust, hinting that their eventual sale would help the state’s educational system.

The state land trust regularly sells parcels, primarily for development, with the proceeds of the sale going to public schools.

Grijalva pushed back on the narrative, saying public lands should continue to be protected and criticized decisions by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to downsize several monuments.

“Right now, this administration has made public lands a one-dimensional resource for extraction — oil, gas, and mining,” Grijalva said.

Meeting with reporters, Grijalva said Pierson’s immigration proposal was largely unworkable, noting that he’d have a hard time convincing Republicans to back it.

He said Pierson’s proposal is better than other Republican plans but says Republicans in Congress and Trump are mainly responsible for inaction on comprehensive immigration reform for the last two years.

“I don’t have the confidence,” Grijalva said, arguing that Republicans have made immigration a wedge issue for this election cycle.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@tucson.com or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson.

Reporter

Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.