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Adventures in Government - Adopt a District

The Rincon High School auditorium, packed with sign-waving citizens.

The Rincon High School auditorium, packed with sign-waving citizens.

May 9, 2017

I'm still way behind on my accounts of my political activities, but that's not as much of a problem as it has been. For the past few weeks I've been catching up on work at my day job, so I haven't actually done anything political in a while. At this point I've only got two events left to recount including this one, so I can give each of them their proper due.

On May 9, Representative Ruben Gallego, who represents a large section of Phoenix, came down to Tucson to give the people of District 2 the town hall meeting so many of its residents have been demanding. It was a pretty huge event, taking up most of a large high school auditorium. Many big names in the community were there, including many people running or thinking about running for Martha McSally's seat.

Naturally, I had to attend as well. It's not often that these types of events happen so close to home. The town hall took place in the auditorium of Rincon High School, which is just a couple of blocks from my house. So, rather than fighting for parking space, I simply biked there.

On my way, I saw a familiar face: Dr. Matt Heinz (the guy who ran against McSally last year) was crossing the street still wearing his iconic scrubs. I'd never seen him in person, but I was surprised at how well I knew his face.

After parking my bike, I made my way into the auditorium and started looking around.

I suppose I should have taken this chance to start talking to people; introducing myself to potential voters, networking, and so on. I didn't. I'm still in the habit of seeing these events as belonging to other people; why should I be trying to make it about me?

That's a difficult question for me to overcome. Nothing is about me. Nothing should be about me. Or so I keep telling myself. I've got to overcome my tendency toward self-denial or else this campaign is doomed to failure. Yet I'm uncomfortable pushing myself toward what feels to me like selfishness.


I was happy to say hi to Kristen of Indivisible Southern Arizona, as well as to finally meet Marion of McSally Take a Stand. There were other groups there as well, circulating petitions and trying to sign people up to learn to be Precinct Chairs--folks whose job it is to make sure people in a given area are informed about upcoming elections, how to register to vote, and so on.

My wife Laura arrived to join me, and we went to find seats as people took to the stage.

The event began with the Pledge of Allegiance, and many people shouted "INDIVISIBLE!" louder than the rest of the pledge, proudly proclaiming their affiliation with the grassroots group. I thought that was clever of them. I wonder if that was pre-planned or just something a bunch of people happened to all decide at once? Maybe both? Well done, in any case.

There were a couple of speakers before Rep. Gallego, and frankly I think Dr. Larry DeLuca's speech outshone even the star of the show. Dr. DeLuca, as I understand it, works in an emergency room, and nothing is as powerful as a first-hand account--especially a first-hand account from someone as passionate and well-spoken as Dr. Larry DeLuca.

You can get the gist of the case Dr. DeLuca made from this video, taken during one of the many protests held outside of Martha McSally's office in the past few months:

If you can't or don't want to watch the video for whatever reason, the main thrust is this: cutting Medicaid (as expected from the AHCA) does not save the taxpayers money. Rather, instead of going to the doctor regularly and receiving preventative care as they should, the people who lose Medicaid will only go to the doctor when they're experiencing life-threatening conditions that require a trip to the emergency room. And, as per the law, emergency rooms must provide the care patients need in order to make them stable, regardless of their ability to pay. And, if they can't pay (as is generally the case if you would otherwise qualify for Medicaid), then the bill goes to the government. And here's the thing: emergency room care is far more expensive than regular care. 

So, without Medicaid, people receive less health care, suffer more, and end up costing taxpayers just as much. How much clearer does it have to be?

In short, Dr. DeLuca was a tough act to follow. Representative Gallego did well, though, all things considered.

I personally wanted to get a more thorough understanding of what was in the AHCA, and Gallego delivered somewhat. After all, this wasn't a class of law students ready to pour over a piece of legislation; this was a crowd of people upset that their representative is hiding from them.

At this point, I should point out how unusual this whole thing is. Generally speaking, representatives stick to their own districts. To go into another representative's district and speak to their constituents is, well, rude. That said, failing to meet with the people you claim to represent is worse than rude, so I think only people really offended were McSally herfself and the rest of the Arizona Republicans. If McSally wouldn't talk to her constituents about the AHCA, Gallego would.

Simply put, by going into hiding, Martha McSally has lost control of the narrative.

I didn't take the copious notes I normally would have, which may indicate that most of what Rep. Gallego had to say wasn't particularly surprising. Mostly, it was just a kind of pep-rally against Martha McSally and the AHCA.

I have a note here, separate from my other notes, that reads, "We have to run for something, not just against something." I don't think this was something someone actually said, but I can't be sure. Still, it seems like the sort of thought I'd have after something like this. Yes, the AHCA is bad. Yes, McSally is a bad representative. However, I hope I can provide an alternative; I want to run and win because I stand for something rather than just against something. I want to be constructive, not destructive.

That said, I don't want to make it seem like this was an ugly event. Certainly there was no "lock her up!" style mongering or unwarranted criticisms, I think. Perhaps this is simply how it should be at this point in the campaign: people need to see what they should be angry about, and later we can have candidates that can present an alternative. Build up the energy now, then direct that energy later. Or maybe I'm just thinking too far ahead.

In any case, after giving his speech, Gallego took questions from the audience. He was short on time, though, so he laid a few ground rules: basically, he only wanted questions--not comments--and the questions should be short and to the point. These rules seemed pretty reasonable to me.

However, the very first "question" came from Bruce Wheeler, another candidate hoping to run against McSally. He used the opportunity to basically announce his candidacy. I don't remember if he even had a question.

In response to his announcement there were a few scattered claps, but I got the impression many felt, as I did: that this wasn't a good time for that. "This isn't about me," I had told myself earlier, and now I looked at Wheeler and thought, "this isn't about you, either." Still, it was awkward, but forgivable. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't briefly considered doing something similar.

Mr. Wheeler's comment was hardly the last, and many questions were long and rambling to the point where it was difficult to tell what exactly the question was. Which is all pretty standard for a Q&A session.

When everything was done, I stood in line to leave like everyone else. I had an opportunity, of course, to talk to these people on their way out, but again I didn't take it. "This isn't about me," I thought still. Was this a missed opportunity? Should I have been more bold? I still don't know.

After the event, though, I saw an article in the local paper that covered the event. The coverage noted the attendance of Matt Heinz, as well as some of the current candidates: Bruce Wheeler and Billy Kovacs. The article also noted the attendance of Ann Kirkpatrick, who ran against John McCain last year, losing both that senate race and her existing seat as the representative for Arizona's District 1 in the process. She's since moved down to Tucson, and word is she did so specifically with the intention of running against McSally. Adding her to the list of other candidates makes it clear that we're looking at a crowded field.

The article did not mention me. This didn't offend me, as I didn't exactly go out of my way to stand out, and I'm not exactly well-known to the press yet. However, when I wrote to the reporter to introduce myself, I was surprised to discover that he had just assumed I was a joke candidate since my last name is that of a local bird. (Which, by the way, is why I use that bird symbol--that's a Verdin.) He apologized, but I couldn't really blame him. It really is an odd last name.

Mostly, it just reminded me of how much work I have to do. Name recognition is my biggest obstacle right now. Hopefully it's something I can overcome over the course of the next year.


Here's one more picture from the event: