U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick came to Green Valley on Saturday to listen.
She was outside the Safeway on Continental Road for a Congress On Your Corner event, her first in the area since her November election. I spent some time with her afterward.
It's clear that Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, still has more questions than answers on some key issues facing Congress. Here's a rundown of what she heard and where she's headed.
In Green Valley
Medicare and Social Security. Hands-down, that's what they wanted to talk about Saturday. Kirkpatrick told me everybody asked her to guard the programs and fight any plans for cuts.
She likes the idea of offering a Medicare buy-in option for those who are at least 55 (there are about 40 million Americans between ages 55 and 64). The so-called “Medicare at 55 Act” was pushed down the priority list during the 2018 election but it's regaining traction. How to pay for it remains a question, but Kirkpatrick believes it has a real possibility of happening.
Prescription drug prices also drew a lot of concern. She supports legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices just as the VA does now. Under current rules, that's not allowed.
President Trump got the ball rolling in earnest last summer on lowering Medicare drug prices, and we'll likely see a payoff this year. But there are a lot of ideas out there to drop them lower. It's extremely complex and will take a bipartisan effort to pull off, but this is the closest we've come.
It's the hot issue on Capitol Hill and legislation is in the works to go after scammers and those who make illegal robocalls. Kirkpatrick says it's a priority, particularly given Green Valley's vulnerable population.
There were an estimated 48 billion robocalls in the United States last year, and there is no single answer to ensure relief. It'll be part legislation, technology and — when it comes to scammers — common sense. The bipartisan TRACED Act would allow for bigger fines and criminal charges and would require phone companies to identify and track spam callers. This should be a no-brainer for Congress to get behind.
Kirkpatrick isn't anti-mining, “but I'm against this mine.”
She thinks Rosemont, which recently was approved to dig after a 12-year process, needs citizen oversight before and after it launches the project.
She and others are troubled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned thumbs-down to the project in 2016 then reversed itself this year, approving a water permit. Critics say it was abrupt and without explanation. Kirkpatrick said getting the answer to why that happened could come down to a hearing in Washington.
The House and Senate approved the Colorado River drought contingency plan April 8, which addresses the problem of a shrinking water supply in the West.
“Nobody's happy, but it had to be done, and quickly,” Kirkpatrick said.
Conservation will only take us so far, she said, calling water an “extremely complicated” topic. She's right. Everybody wants their share — agriculture, tribes, developers. But something has to change.
Kirkpatrick wonders aloud whether we should approve future developments — she says the 100-year water source that developers have to show to get a project OK'd really guarantees nothing. She believes Gov. Ducey's Water Augmentation Council is a good step toward looking at long-term, best-use practices for the state.
“It's a stupid idea.”
That's how Kirkpatrick sums up President Trump's plan to close the border to get Mexico's attention on immigration. Ducey flipped and supported a closure after some arm-twisting by the president.
Kirkpatrick says Arizona gets 40 percent of its economic juice from south of the border, reason enough to go at the problem from a different direction. (Border communities rely on it a lot more than that.)
But is there a crisis on the border? Humanitarian, yes, Kirkpatrick says.
But security? “I honestly don't know.”
Much of what's going on there now — refugees flooding the border — is the result of instability in Latin America, she says. She said she recently spoke to a Guatemalan man and his 9-year-old daughter who fled north after the cartels made threats against the family.
“The life stories of some of these people are tragic,” Kirkpatrick said.
Short term, she wants quicker processing of asylum-seekers at the border. What else? “Thoughtful, bipartisan solutions that address the real problem and not just knee-jerk public stunts.”
Pima County turned down Operation Stonegarden money last year and could do it again this year despite approving it in the past for more than 10 years. The vote is May 7. The money encourages collaboration among local and federal law enforcement and goes toward equipment and overtime.
Kirkpatrick has long been a supporter of Stonegarden, saying smaller agencies rely on the money.
She said she's sorry it has come to Pima County rejecting the money but understands its insistence that there be accountability for how the money is spent. She thinks it will eventually be worked out.