Congressman Tom O’Halleran called for tough choices and a bipartisan approach as he fielded questions about inflation, water and border security in an appearance on a Flagstaff PBS station.
Eli Crane, O’Halleran’s Republican opponent in the redrawn Congressional District 2, turned down an invitation to appear on the show.
Crane, a former Navy Seal and businessman endorsed by former President Donald Trump, did not reply to a request for comment through his campaign website.
Congressional District 2 includes most of Northern Arizona, including all of Rim Country and the White Mountains. Redistricting added Republican-rich areas of Gila and Yavapai counties to the district – giving Republicans a registration advantage.
You can see the interview online at https://azpbs.org/horizon/2022/09/tom-ohalleran-congressional-campaign/.
O’Halleran offered criticism of the current federal policies in response to the rationing of water from the Colorado River, as well as efforts to cope with a record-breaking number of people either seeking asylum or crossing the US-Mexican border illegally.
He said that 77% of the bills he has introduced have gained bipartisan support and that he’s a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Group and the moderate Blue Dog Democrats caucus. He has also played a role in forest management and wildfire response efforts in Congress.
“I am a bipartisan member of Congress,” he said. “We’re always talking about how we address these issues. But we’ve had decades of not addressing inflation, of not addressing healthcare, of not addressing water issues.”
He noted that Republicans have criticized Democratic initiatives like the Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, offering no effective alternative policies.
The interview started with a discussion of the current impact of the drought on Arizona’s water supply. Lake Powell and Lake Mead have dwindled to about 25% of their capacity – prompting the federal Bureau of Recreation to reduce Arizona’s allotment by 40%. California – the biggest water user on the Colorado River – did not suffer a reduction, since it has senior water rights.
“Right now, water’s the biggest concern – if you’re in Arizona, you have to worry about water,” said O’Hallern. “I’ve been working on water issues for some 20 years and put forward the statewide plan in 2005 (when he was in the state legislature). Now we have to get the people on the Colorado River to get the job done – come together, work together.”
O’Halleran noted that the current Colorado River compact in 1922 divided up rights to the river among seven western states. The compact overestimated the flow the river – which has since been diminished by a decades-long drought. Arizona’s population since 1920 has grown from 320,000 to 7.2 million.
“We always have to consider how we’re going to grow through an ongoing process, not one crisis at a time,” said O’Halleran. “Right now in Congress, we’re trying to address issues by ensuring money is available (for water infrastructure or to offset the impact of water rationing on farmers). We have still not gotten the message across that we have to look at it from the standpoint of how we keep our economy viable.”
That led to a discussion of inflation, down from its peak a few months ago but still near a 30-year high.
“Republicans say government created inflation by printing money and handing it out,” said the interviewer.
“Who did we hand it out to? We gave it to the American people so our economy would end up the strongest in the world. We’re at almost full employment. Republicans do not do the math very well – other than the $1.5 trillion American Rescue plan they voted for every other (COVID relief) bill.”
O’Halleran said many factors contributed to inflation beside increased government spending. “The pandemic, the War in Ukraine, the federal reserve not moving fast enough.”
O’Halleran did take issue with President Joe Biden’s approval of some $30 billion in student loan forgiveness through an executive order. “I disagree with President Biden that he didn’t go through Congress to spend that kind of money.” However, he also noted, ”we do need to make sure we have a workforce for tomorrow – some of what they’re saying not to spend we’re spending to bring back our market share and bring back our jobs.”
O’Halleran also took indignant exception to the notion that Democrats want to “defund the police.” O’Halleran’s a former Chicago homicide detective and said various relief measures approved by Congress have included billions to support the police. “I’m enraged that anyone would think we want to defund the police. I don’t see that in Congress at all. Americans want safe streets.”
The interview ended with a discussion of the thorny issue of securing the nation’s southern border.
That’s one of the few issues discussed on the show that are also reflected on Eli Crane’s campaign website. Crane’s top issue on the website was election integrity, based on the unsupported claim the last election was marked by widespread fraud. Other top issues on Crane’s website include opposition to vaccine mandates, health-related restrictions on businesses and schools and certain types of research into how viruses work. He also opposes “cancel culture,” including censorship of posts on the internet and critical race theory, while also opposing restrictions on guns. He also listed himself as “prolife.”
Crane’s website position on border security states, “Eli is the only candidate in this race endorsed by the National Border Patrol Council. As a Navy SEAL in Iraq, Eli stopped terrorists from wreaking havoc. As your Congressman, he will work tirelessly to stop human traffickers, cartel drug dealers and terrorists from entering our southern border. There is an invasion on our southern border. Eli believes it’s time we gained operational control of our borders and empower border patrol agents.”
O’Halleran also criticized current policies on the border.
“It’s not an invasion – it’s a bunch of countries in shambles south of us – whether it’s politically or economically – and people are trying to escape. I went to Honduras – and we weren’t allowed to leave the military base without an armored vehicle because it was so dangerous.”
He said the US should expand the border patrol, hire enough judges to hear asylum claims in a timely manner and employ more electronic surveillance to prevent so many people from crossing without getting caught.
“Too many people are escaping: 50% of the people coming across are not caught. We have to do something more about that. We need more electronics, more eyes in the air, more personnel – a court system that works.”
The interviewer pressed O’Halleran on whether Title 42 should remain in effect. This public health order during the since-repealed COVID public health emergency allowed US officials to immediately return people to Mexico or other countries without considering claims for asylum – which is otherwise required by US law.
The Biden Administration has proposed letting the Title 42 automatic return policy lapse. O’Halleran and other Democrats have urged the Administration to leave the rule in place until it can cope with the flood of illegal border crossers through regular systems.
“I haven’t seen the plan yet for how we deal with this. But we have to set something else in place before getting rid of it,” he said.