Originally Published: October 30, 2012 9:59 p.m.
Looks like the race between our candidates for U.S. Senate, Jeff Flake and Richard Carmona, is very tight. Both this paper and the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson have endorsed Carmona.
I'm not a fan of Jeff Flake but if he wins, it certainly could be worse. He has his pluses and minuses. The plus is he's not one of the fringe people who thinks blue-helmeted U.N. soldiers are going to sweep across the country confiscating guns or similar crazy notions that waste legislative time. It's also a plus that he has largely acted on his principals, so he's predictable. The minus is those principles lead him to be so libertarian that he lets Arizona get shortchanged in the competition for federal funds. I know earmarks are supposedly not allowed anymore but legislators still find ways to steer a lot of money to their states. I understand his opposing that game, but as long as that is the game it hurts Arizona to refuse what could help us here.
In this season of silly campaign ads, the ads against Carmona have tried to paint him as a big spending liberal, which is pretty funny given his history. He was a Republican for a long time. He left them out of principled pique that, while Surgeon General, the Bush administration tried to get him to water down warnings about tobacco smoke. Then he was an independent for years. He only became a Democrat for this race.
If anything Democrats should be wary of him. In an interview just last week he said, "In an old Republican Party, I might have been able to go with a fiscal conservative approach, and smaller government. I'm OK with that." Then he continued, "But when you look at what's happened in our state, and the nation, and where the Republican Party has gone; most of my friends who are moderate Republicans, are embarrassed..."
You have to assume that someone with his background has a pretty practical, hard-nosed approach on how to run things; a poor, hardscrabble childhood, a Special Forces medic in Vietnam with two Purple Hearts and more, a surgeon, a nationally awarded SWAT team leader, the vice chairman of a health company, and U.S. Surgeon General.
He's been in Arizona for much of the last 25 years, heading up a private medical program, and called on by state medical and university leaders to both start-up and head-up non-profit medical programs, and as a professor at U of A, and as a deputy sheriff in Pima County and as their department surgeon.
At the moment there's a controversy about Carmona using some favorable quotes from the past from Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain; glowing endorsements from both of them when he was up for nomination to be U.S. Surgeon General. Kyl and McCain are upset about the use of the quotes. I understand they are backing Flake. I could understand them saying that was then and this is now. What seems disingenuous is to accuse Carmona of doing something wrong in using those quotes. I've seen the ad. It makes it very clear these quotes are what was said when he was up for that nomination. The senators have nothing to complain about.
In fact, Republican admiration of Carmona went a lot further. In 2005, Kyl himself tried at length to get Carmona to run for a seat in the U.S. House. Around the same time, then Secretary of State Jan Brewer tried to talk him into running for governor against Janet Napolitano. Apparently, top-level GOP people thought Carmona could be a great leader and a good candidate for high office. I guess seeing all that skill and talent swing the other direction, because he became disenchanted with some of the extremeness of the GOP, really stings.
I think they should be thrilled at their success. At one time such a race would have been between a Republican and a Democrat. Now it's between a libertarian running as a Republican, and a moderate Republican running as a Democrat.
Still, he's a much better choice, and I hope he becomes a good Senator for our state.
As I noted in a previous column, a debate between Carmona and Flake from Oct. 10 can be viewed at the Channel 8 website, azpbs.org, under the Horizon show archives.
Don't forget that control of the Senate is at stake. Which party will have control of it is up in the air and this is one of the close races that will decide that.