A 90-minute forum in Green Valley gave the six Democrats running for the open Congressional District 2 seat a chance to define themselves — and for some to set themselves apart in the crowded field.

The moderated town hall-style forum before 400 people Sunday touched on a number of hot-button topics that often had the candidates agreeing with each other, although several made bold proclamations.

Former two-term Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick often disagreed with her political rivals, being the lone Democrat to say she does not support the legalization of recreational marijuana, won’t support a single-payer health-care system until Congress identifies a way to pay for it, and will not co-sponsor U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva’s legislation to block the Oak Flats land transfer in an effort to block a proposed mine on what some tribes say is sacred land.

Former state Sen. Bruce Wheeler, emergency room physician Matt Heinz, businessman Billy Kovacs, retired Cochise County rancher Barbara Sherry and retired Assistant Secretary of the Army Mary Matiella disagreed with Kirkpatrick’s stance on those topics.

After the forum, Kirkpatrick offered a clarification to the media, claiming she misheard a question related to Resolution Copper’s expansion and the Oak Flats legislation. The San Carlos Apaches and other groups are fighting Resolution Copper’s efforts to build the U.S.’ largest copper mine on what’s now a recreational area at Oak Flat near Superior.

“The expansion of this 40-year-old mine will create thousands of jobs in an area of Arizona that desperately wants and need these good jobs. In Congress, I fought to ensure, as a condition of the mine expansion, a full EPA review and requiring Resolution to comply with all environmental standards. I also was able to achieve permanent federal protection for Apache Leap, nearby sacred tribal land,” she said.

Moderator Dylan Smith asked a Kirkpatrick several follow-up questions during the forum, asking her to elaborate when her political stances conflicted with previous statements or votes she made in the House while representing Congressional District 1.

Kirkpatrick, who once had touted her A rating from the NRA, told the audience that she had “changed her mind about guns” after a number of school shootings.

All six candidates said they support stronger gun control measures.

Wheeler remarked the idea of arming teachers in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting was “insane.”

The former member of the Tucson City Council and the Legislature was highly critical of military spending — telling the audience the United States should stop wasting billions of dollars on the F-35 aircraft that doesn’t work and focus on beefing up the country’s cyber-security defenses.

Sherry, a relative newcomer to the race, said she was inspired to get into politics following the Charlottesville, Virgina, rally last August that turned into a violent confrontation between white nationalists and counter-protesters, which ended in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

She argued President Trump failed to properly address the issues raised by the incident and said the country is in “chaos” due to his political actions.

Sherry argued against any expansion of the Davis–Monthan Air Force Base. Kovacs criticized Democrats and Republicans for approving unnecessary increases to the defense budget over decades. However, he said he hopes that if elected, he could continue to the tradition of the CD2 representative serving on the House’s Armed Services committee.

On the issue of health care, Matiella told the audience that she remembers vividly where she was in the Pentagon on the day the Affordable Care Act passed. She blamed the Trump administration’s recent tax cut package for stripping away the ACA's individual mandate requirement.

Heinz suggested that while Congress builds support for Medicare for everyone, that Democrats should also focus on smaller, incremental steps.

He suggested allowing people to buy into Medicare early, saying it would be a boon to older Americans.

The winner of the August primary will face one of five Republicans also vying to replace U.S. Rep. Martha McSally in the general election in November. McSally is running for Senate.

They Republicans are Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Lea Marquez Peterson, civilian contractor Brandon Martin, former Douglas City Councilman Danny Morales, Peace Corps veteran Casey Welch and small-business owner Marilyn Wiles.

The forum was sponsored by alliance4action, the Democratic Club of the Santa Rita Area and the Democratic Club of Quail Creek.

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


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