Top Rim Country leaders took advantage of a breakfast meeting with Sen. John McCain on Thursday to win fresh commitments to push for a Forest Service land exchange to allow construction of an ASU campus here and more help protecting Rim communities from forest fires.
McCain also ran through a genial, personalized version of his stump speech in his battle for re-election against Randy Glassman, a former Tucson council member who has worked to make an issue of McCain’s sharp shift to the right. Recent polls give McCain a 20-point lead over his challenger.
The longtime incumbent and former Republican presidential nominee teased and charmed his audience, which included a bevy of local officials including Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin and Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, who McCain singled out for praise as a “good friend.”
McCain vowed to continue working on the Forest Service to clear barriers to the exchange of 300 acres for a college campus in Payson, construction of the Blue Ridge pipeline and thinning a dangerously fire-prone forest. He then riffed into sharp criticism of recent health care reforms, the current administration’s efforts to revive the economy, and the federal government’s effort to secure the border.
“The tax and spend policies of this administration have been a failure,” he said. As an example, he cited the recent halt in foreclosures by many major lenders nationwide due to widespread problems with paperwork.
“Wall Street this year reported $14 billion in profits, but we’ve still got 10 percent unemployment in Arizona and 23 percent unemployment in Yuma and 30 percent in Superior.”
He said he felt “guarded optimism” that Republicans will regain control of Congress. However, he noted that if Republicans do regain control they must get the economy moving again, cut federal spending and reduce taxes, or disgusted Americans will turn to some third political party movement —like the current Tea Party.
McCain noted that public approval for Congress has declined to 17 percent. “That’s blood relatives and paid staff level of support,” he quipped. “The Tea Party movement is real. The average citizen is fed up with the way things are,” said McCain.
He didn’t so much as mention Glassman, who has struggled for traction. The polls suggest that McCain didn’t take much damage from his bruising primary battle with former representative J.D. Hayworth. Glassman has tried to capitalize on McCain’s seeming abandonment of his reputation for bi-partisan cooperation and independent positions on things like immigration reform, campaign finance reform and global warming. McCain has retreated from most of those positions as the Republican base has shifted to the right and has instead often taken the lead in outspoken opposition to almost every major initiative by the Obama Administration.
The big benefit of the hastily scheduled stop at Tiny’s Restaurant for local officials was the chance to update the senator on key local initiatives, most of them involving the Forest Service.
Evans sought McCain’s public embrace of the plan to build an ASU campus here, providing the Forest Service will sell Payson 300 acres of land earmarked for sale by Congress.
McCain replied, “I’ve discussed (the Payson campus) several times with (ASU President) Michael Crow, and he’s a supporter,” said McCain. “Whatever I can do to make it happen, I’m happy to do.”
Supervisor Martin handed McCain a packet of information about the 4-Forests Initiative, an effort by a coalition of local officials, environmentalists and timber industry representatives to convince industry to build biofuel plants and small-diameter wood mills to dramatically reduce the cost of thinning dangerously overgrown forests. Martin pleaded for McCain’s help in convincing the Forest Service to offer the timber industry 20-year contracts for a guaranteed wood supply.
McCain accepted the packet and embraced the initiative, although he also went on an extended rant against “radical environmental groups” that have repeatedly sued the U.S. Forest Service.
He singled out the Centers for Biological Diversity, which had filed a lawsuit that delayed a timber project near Flagstaff. That lawsuit alleged that by cutting too many large trees, the Forest Service would harm the ecology of the forest. During the delay caused by the lawsuit, said McCain, the Shultz Fire denuded the slopes, causing damaging mudslides in Flagstaff.
Ironically, the Centers for Biological Diversity is one of the chief partners in the 4-Forests initiative, which would leave the big trees intact and focus on the small trees.
McCain spent most of his time attacking policies of the Obama Administration and did not articulate any major new initiatives to control job losses or reduce the deficit — beyond extending the Bush tax cuts for all taxpayers, even those making more than $250,000 annually. He said the Republicans should do everything they can to block the implementation of the recent health care reforms, but did not propose any alternative programs to either control costs or extend health care coverage.
He did advocate his 10-point plan to seal the Arizona-Mexico border, with a $4-billion combination of more border patrol agents, more fencing and high-tech surveillance.
“I’ve been to Israel — I’ve seen how you can secure a border,” he said.
He cited the recent murder of a man jet skiing in Texas and the beheading of the Mexican police official investigating the crime as an example of the carnage on the border.
“We’ve had 11 (Mexican) mayors assassinated along the border this year,” said McCain.
“I resign,” said Mayor Evans promptly, getting up from the table — and drawing a round of laughter.
As the meeting concluded after about an hour of back and forth, McCain patted Evans on the shoulder saying, “This mayor has been a good friend.” Then turning to Supervisor Martin with a trace of his impish humor, he added. “And I respect the work you do too. I have to, or I have to hire someone to start my car in the morning.”