Relaxed and friendly, former Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona was right at home--literally--in front of an audience of about 60 Democratic Party faithfuls and elected officials at a recent Tucson event.
In one of his first campaign appearances since he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, Carmona told fellow Tucsonans why he should replace retiring Senator Jon Kyl as Arizona's junior Senator.
Carmona spoke for approximately 10 minutes and answered questions from the press and the audience for another 30 minutes. With humor, humility and forthrightness, Carmona offered personal anecdotes and fielded queries on everything from his party affiliation (he recently switched from Independent to Democrat) to climate change; healthcare coverage for Americans; immigration reform; and his political strategy going forward.
"I could have run for any party or as an independent," commented Carmona, a long-time registered Independent who was actively recruited to run for the Senate by Republicans and Democrats--including President Obama. "When I looked at the big issues facing Arizona, yes, it's the economy, jobs, and so on, but when I looked at health issues --particularly seeking some type of healthcare for all Americans -- immigration, and women's issues, the Democratic Party clearly resonated more closely with my views."
Homeless for a time as a child, Carmona said he "lived with the health disparities" that many Americans currently experience and understands their struggles. On the issue of universal healthcare, Carmona said he stays away from "highly charged phrases like universal healthcare or single-payer" because those words can shut down conversation and negotiation. He said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (AKA "Obamacare") includes worthwhile ideas but definitely can be improved upon. Carmona didn't mince words when he added that all Americans should have some basic health coverage, prompting hearty applause from the audience.
When asked how he will deal with Washington's sometimes "fact-free environment" and the personal attacks that often come with a campaign, Carmona said he worked "both sides of the aisle" to change health policy as Surgeon General, knows what he's getting into, and is ready to tackle Washington politics to serve Arizonans.
Carmona, son of Puerto Rican immigrants, had a hard scrabble upbringing in Harlem before he dropped out of high school to join the military. In addition to his tenure as Surgeon General, Carmona is a decorated Vietnam War veteran, a trauma physician, a former local law enforcement officer, and a staunch public health advocate.
Although the audience asked tough questions, Carmona was well-received at the Tucson event. His talk and the Q&A session were interrupted several times with applause. The Legislative District (LD) 28 meeting may be one of the friendliest audiences Carmona encounters along the campaign trail, since LD 28 is likely the bluest district in a very blue county, in a purple state, with voter registration split in thirds between Republicans, Democrats and Independents.
Carmona faces an uphill battle as he organizes his staff and plays catch-up with Don Bivens, a Phoenix lawyer and former chair of the Arizona Democratic Party who has been campaigning for the Senate seat and raising funds for months. In 2011, Democrats held back in declaring candidacy for a few months because of the buzz about a potential Senate run for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot a year ago while meeting with constituents in Tucson.
Arizona has been represented by Republicans Jon Kyl and John McCain in the US Senate for years. As they do every few years, Democrats are gearing up for the Senate race; with Kyl's retirement, they're hoping for a different outcome in 2012.
Pamela Powers Hannley is a Tucson-based writer and political activist who holds a master's degree in public health. Her political blog is at http://tucsoncitizen.com/tucson-progressive/. If you would like to contribute as a citizen journalist to The Huffington Post's coverage of American politics and the 2012 elections, please write us at www.offthebus.org.