The taxiway Rep. Martha McSally has traveled for months now has been curvy, bumpy and at times seemed like it was leading into a dead end.

But the Tucson Republican has finally been cleared for takeoff, and the runway ahead looks pretty straight and clear.

McSally will hold events Friday, Jan. 12 launching her new campaign for U.S. Senate in Tucson, Phoenix and Prescott, and the retired fighter pilot plans to fly a historic T-6 airplane between the stops.

The journey to this point has been confusing and awkward. Word repeatedly leaked out that McSally had told people she was planning to run for the seat held by retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, but then she declined to confirm her decision publicly. Rumors circulated that she was waiting for Sen. John McCain, who is sick with a brain cancer that is usually fatal, to make a decision about his future.

This week, though, the erratic winds that buffeted McSally’s aspirations are starting to gather behind her.

First, McSally received a push from former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The ex-sheriff, who was voted out of office in favor of Democrat Paul Penzone in 2016, has long floated the idea of running for U.S. Senate, even though he is 85. Apparently irked that nobody was taking him seriously, Arpaio announced his run and officially filed for his candidacy.

That could be good news for McSally because Arpaio’s supporters are in large measure the same people who support the other Republican candidate for Flake’s seat, Kelli Ward. If that group of voters splits, it gives McSally’s more establishment-based run a better chance at taking the primary.

McSally also has the advantage of being in the game in Washington, D.C., and therefore in the news. This week she took a prominent role in negotiating a bill that could become the solution to the DACA issue.

She was one of four Republican members of the House to sponsor an immigration-related bill that received tentative support from the Trump administration Thursday. Her staff sent out a news release highlighting McSally’s role, Trump’s support, and her five recent appearances on Fox News or Fox Business channels discussing the bill.

Frankly, I think McSally’s bill is quite harsh. It would not grant so-called Dreamers even permanent residence, let alone citizenship. It would simply legalize their current temporary status, forcing them to reapply for legal status every three years. It also buys into the administration’s bogus framing of family-based immigration as “chain migration,” among other problems.

Nevertheless, she is in the game in a way that Ward and Arpaio could only hope to be.

Still, she has a big drawback, besides being an establishment-supported candidate in a party that largely believes Trump’s “drain-the-swamp” rhetoric. That problem: She’s from Southern Arizona.

The last U.S. senator from Tucson, Dennis DeConcini, told me Thursday that he had numerous Phoenix connections that made it easier for him to win support in Arizona’s largest metro area when he first ran in 1976. DeConcini’s father had been a state chair of the Democratic Party. DeConcini himself had been vice chair of the party. He was Pima County attorney but ran a statewide anti-drug task force based in Phoenix. He was even married into a relatively prominent Phoenix family.

“All of that played to my advantage when I ran for statewide office,” he said.

So while the winds have shifted somewhat to McSally’s advantage, she still must fly into the headwind of being a Southern Arizona candidate in a Phoenix-dominated state.

Confederate Clodfelter

Rep. Todd Clodfelter already was facing a tough re-election when his second session as a state representative began this week. He’s a Tucson Republican who narrowly won in Legislative District 10, an east-side district where Democrats hold a sizable registration advantage.

Then came Tuesday. During a mandatory ethics and harassment training session on the floor of the House, Clodfelter had his personal laptop open, and it displayed a large picture of the confederate battle flag as the main desktop image.

Rep. Geraldine Peten, a new legislator and one of two African-Americans in the House, sits behind Clodfelter and said she considered it both disrespectful and intimidating. Initially, Clodfelter said he and his colleague would have to “agree to disagree” about the meaning of the flag.

“All my family and ancestry is from the South,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times. “And my perspective of the imagery of that particular flag is not the same as hers. So from my perspective, it’s acceptable. From hers, it’s offensive.”

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Later, he agreed to leave that laptop at home and not display the flag, though he explained to me Thursday night he continues to have a favorable view of the Southern cause in the Civil War.

To him, the flag “represents sovereignty and freedom and revolution toward tyranny.”

But honestly, it’s probably too late for him. The Democrats have already criticized him for displaying a racist symbol. And I can imagine a “Confederate Clodfelter” label will be attached to him in the coming campaign, making a difficult re-election bid nearly impossible.

Cavanaugh jumps races

Kevin Cavanaugh had been running as the most MAGA (Make America Great Again) candidate of them all in Congressional District 1, the most enthusiastic Trump supporter among a handful of Trump-supporting GOP candidates.

Now he’s not. Cavanaugh, a former Pinal County sheriff’s deputy, suddenly switched at the end of December and jumped into the Congressional District 8 race. While CD 8 is a much more reliably Republican district than CD 1, which is now represented by Democrat Tom O’Halleran, he also has much more competition: 13 total candidates for the Republican nomination to run for the seat vacated by former Rep. Trent Franks.

Beltrones avoids arrest

Former Sonoran Gov. Manlio Beltrones obtained an order this week that prevents him from being arrested as a result of an investigation into the diversion of public money into the campaigns of his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in Chihuahua.

An ongoing investigation into the misuse of millions of dollars worth of public money by the PRI has already resulted in arrests and is threatening the upper reaches of the party, of which President Enrique Peña Nieto is a member, in a presidential election year.

Contact: or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter


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.