The first female fighter pilot in combat is now immersed in a new battle – trying to win a tight Congressional race for the seat formerly held by Gabrielle Giffords.
Martha McSally is a military pioneer. In addition to becoming the first female fighter pilot to see combat, she was also the first woman to command a fighter squadron. In addition, she also fought – and won – a battle against the Pentagon after the government initially ordered female service members to wear traditional Muslim dress when off base in Saudi Arabia. She was most recently serving in the national security industry in Europe when she decided to come home and run for office.
“I care deeply about my country and our freedoms,” said McSally. “I’m very concerned about the direction we’re going, concerned about what’s going on in Washington, D.C. I feel like we need leaders with moral courage and experience to sit down and solve the complex problems that are facing our nation right now. That’s just not happening. They’re failing. So I really felt this call to duty to step up and serve.”
McSally faces a tough challenge against incumbent Democratic Rep. Ron Barber. Barber won a special election earlier this year to complete the term of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who resigned to focus on her recovery from horrific gunshot wounds. Barber is a former Giffords staffer, who is strongly endorsed by his former boss.
McSally is sensitive to the emotions toward Rep. Giffords in the district but says those emotions willnot be a major factor in her race against Rep. Barber.
“This election is about the future, who is the right person to represent the people of southern Arizona,” said McSally. “We elect unique people. We’re independent thinkers, and we’ve had a tradition. Whether it’s Mo Udall, Jim Kolbe, Gabby Giffords, of electing people who are successful people who can think on their feet on their own right and represent the independent-minded people of southern Arizona. I complete that picture. Ron Barber is a staffer who completed her term. The choice is very clear.”
McSally is quick to point out that Barber’s background proves he’s not much of a leader.
“He’s been a lifelong bureaucrat,” she says. “So you have a very clear contrast between a leader and a follower, a pioneer and a bureaucrat, a commander and a staffer.”
She says Barber’s brief stint in Congress is more evidence that he’s not much of a leader and simply does the will of Democratic leaders.
“Eighty-nine percent of the time, he’s just voting the line. He’s a foot soldier. He’s a follower, just doing what he’s told” said McSally.
She also accuses Barber of dragging out tired talking points that don’t even apply to this campaign.
“In an editorial board interview, while I’m sitting next to him, he said, ‘The Republican Party is essentially a bunch of white guys with big money.’ And I’m sitting next to him as a middle class woman who’s a retired military officer. And I’m like, ‘Ron, the talking point doesn’t stick. This is just not helpful right now. You’re throwing out the divisive rhetoric that is what’s wrong with Washington, D.C.’ He literally became a politician overnight.”
McSally says many issues prompted her to run, from a weak economy to mounting debt to international challenges. She would not offer many specifics on her economic positions, refusing to say whether she would oppose future increases in the debt ceiling. Instead, she says all of these issues require leadership and the determination to “knuckle down” to solve problems.
She did get more specific on immigration reform, which is always a front-burner issues in southern Arizona. Once again, McSally touts her experience as a major asset compared to Rep. Barber.
“It’s a public safety issue. It’s a national security issue,” she said. “I’ve been serving for 26 years in the military all over the world. I understand these transnational threats and how we need to combat them. I understand how we need to use a combination of barriers and fences and manpower and sensors and airborne assets in order to actually have intelligence-driven operations to secure our border. I can provide that oversight to the Department of Homeland Security based on my experience and my leadership, and Ron Barber needs a staffer to prepare him on those issues because he doesn’t have that experience.”