Incumbency, immigration and allegations of extremism are taking center stage in the Republican primary for southern Arizona’s 8th Congressional District seat.
Rep. Jim Kolbe, seeking his 11th term, faces his most serious party challenge in more than a decade in the Sept. 7 primary.
Conservative state Rep. Randy Graf, his opponent, calls Kolbe too liberal for the district on some issues and not active enough in dealing with illegal immigration problems plaguing the southern Arizona border, the busiest illegal entry point along the U.S.-Mexico frontier.
“He is extreme in his pro-choice views,” Graf said. “I don’t think he represents the vast majority of the district on border issues.”
Kolbe’s reply: “Randy Graf is definitely a fringe candidate.”
Kolbe pitches the advantages of long-term incumbency, “the ability of a congressman to use his or her experience to bring home resources” to the district’s voters, nearly 80 percent of whom live in central or eastern Pima County.
The 8th District also incorporates much of Cochise and part of Santa Cruz counties, as well as part of Pinal County. The district had nearly 14,300 more registered Republicans than Democrats as of March 1, the most recent date figures were available.
Three candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination: Eva Bacal, a retired assistant attorney general; Tim Sultan, a former congressional aide to California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and Jeffrey Chimene, a self-employed computer consultant. Libertarian Robert Anderson of Tonopah also is on the ballot.
Graf has focused on illegal immigration to give voters “a choice on whether we want to continue with the status quo or go with someone who actually will do something about securing our border and protecting the people living along it.”
He wants greater use of military technology and military patrols on the border, but insisted, “I’m not talking tanks and land mines and things like that.”
Graf said some 10,000 Border Patrol agents nationwide protecting 5,000 miles of border with Mexico and Canada equates to fewer than two agents for every five miles when vacations, holidays and all work shifts are factored in.
“Is there any question why it’s so easy to come across?” he said. “The terrorist implications are just another reason why the federal government absolutely has to secure this border.”
Kolbe said he’s helped achieve a 500 percent increase in Border Patrol manpower over 10 years and cited the agency’s strong push this summer to gain control of the Arizona border _ including the addition of unmanned aerial vehicles and more helicopters.
He touted three pieces of legislation: a bill in Congress for more border technology and infrastructure; one passed that will reimburse Arizona hospitals $42 million for treating illegal immigrants; and proposed guest worker legislation that closely tracks a plan by President Bush.
Graf said a guest worker bill will simply provide amnesty for 8 million to 12 million illegal immigrants and is the wrong way to go until the border is secured.
Graf has been a key adviser to Protect Arizona Now, which is sponsoring a ballot initiative asking voters to require proof of citizenship when someone registers to vote or seeks social services.
Supporters say it’s intended to combat voter fraud and welfare. Foes call it racist and unneeded. Kolbe opposes the initiative.
Kolbe considers the war on terror the No. 1 election issue. Others of prime importance for him: the future of area military bases, and the federal government’s role in assuring quality education for all children.
Kolbe, the only announced gay Republican congressman, is pro-choice and believes gay marriage is a state matter, not a federal one.
“We should be in the business of encouraging stable relationships,” he said. “I don’t care what the relationship is.”
Graf opposes abortion and supports a federal constitutional ban on gay marriage.