Tim Steller

Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller

When Gov. Doug Ducey announced the appointment of Martha McSally to the U.S. Senate, I felt a pang of buyer’s remorse.

I had said, on Twitter, not in my column, that McSally would be the “fairest” choice for Ducey to make. On balance I still think so.

But the reality of the selection brought home two downsides. One is that this was a game the governor should not have been allowed to play. Barring a death or incapacitation, Ducey should not have had two bites at the apple of replacing Sen. John McCain after his death in August. The initial pick of Jon Kyl, just as the Supreme Court candidate he had helped required his vote, should have been all that Ducey got.

The other drawback I see is that the state’s voters just rejected McSally. The seat she is taking over looks a little like a participation trophy for running a losing campaign.

The truth is, though, that McSally was probably the best pick Ducey could have made —certainly the best available for Tucson and Southern Arizona.

The last U.S. senator from this region was Tucsonan Dennis DeConcini, who left office in 1995, after three terms and 18 years. In the interim, Maricopa County’s domination of the state has only grown, and Pima County’s influence has dwindled.

So now, we have the benefit of a U.S. senator who not only knows what a stravenue is but helped save mail-processing services at the post office on Cherrybell Stravenue.

McSally knows not just about the enforcement of laws at the U.S.-Mexico border, but has worked to get funding for a new port of entry at Douglas to facilitate the main day-to-day activity at the border — processing travelers and commerce.

It makes a difference to have a senator who knows this stuff and who has shared our hometown.

It also is arguably the fairest choice Ducey could make, considering that he had to appoint a Republican, because that was McCain’s party. McSally won 53 percent of the vote in the 2018 Republican primary. She was Arizona Republicans’ clear choice over Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio.

She was also nearly Arizonans’ choice for U.S. Senate. She took 48.0 percent of the general election vote to Kyrsten Sinema’s 49.7. It’d be fair to say she was Arizona’s clear second choice for U.S. senator — and now we’re getting both our first and second choices.

Also, we can be thankful that McSally isn’t a placeholder like Kyl was. As skilled as Kyl may be at water law and other intricacies of federal policy, Arizona voters, who really ought to have a chance to vote on this office in less than the interval we’re getting, deserve a senator who is planning to run for election. Otherwise, the officeholder is not accountable to the voters.

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Now, Southern Arizona Democrats have grown to dislike McSally intensely — and they’re justified. It wasn’t just McSally’s convenient embrace of President Trump once she decided to run for the Senate in late 2017 that generated Democrats’ enmity, but also her burn-it-all-down general-election campaign.

McSally ran an excessively negative campaign that attempted to disqualify Sinema for her views of 15 years ago more than selling McSally’s own story. She even ridiculously resorted to the T-word — treason. It was a disappointing display from a member of Congress who could have sold herself better.

But Democrats who are angry at McSally should take heart in the fact that they know their likely opposition for 2020 and have strong angles into beating her. By attaching herself so closely to Trump in the primary and general elections this year, McSally has made herself vulnerable to unfolding events that don’t look good for the president. In short, if he goes down, she’s likely to, too.

McSally knows this, so either she will moderate her positions away from the Trumpian ones she took in the campaign, or she will likely lose in the general election, assuming she survives any primary challenge.

So, Southern Arizona Republicans should be happy that one of their own will now be going to the U.S. Senate. And Southern Arizona Democrats should be happy that they know just how to beat her in two years.

And we all can be happy, in the Tucson area, that we once again have a senator from here who will presumably look out for our interests, at least for a couple of years.

There, I feel better already.

Contact: tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

Columnist

Tim Steller is the Star’s metro columnist. A 20-plus year veteran of reporting and editing, he digs into issues and stories that matter in the Tucson area, reports the results and tells you his opinion on it all.