Tom O'Halleran, candidate for new congressional district, shares legislative priorities

Tom O'Halleran
Tom O'Halleran

The Arizona Republic asked 2nd Congressional District candidates Rep. Tom O'Halleran, D-Ariz., and Republican Eli Crane questions about policy issues such as water rights, the war in Ukraine and other top issues.

O'Halleran represented the 1st Congressional District since 2017; post-redistricting, he is running in the new 2nd district.

Below are O'Halleran's responses, which were submitted in writing. Crane did not respond. The story will be updated with Crane's answers if he provides any.

Arizona is facing massive cuts in its water rights from the Colorado River after decades of drought. What, if anything, should Congress do to manage this issue for the state?

As a key advocate for Arizona’s water for the last 20 years, I know just how important the actions we take right now will be to the future of our state. In August, I appeared alone on an Arizona PBS “debate” that my opponent declined to attend, and this is the issue I identified as the highest priority for Arizonans. Water in the Colorado River is drying up and we are seeing dangerously low water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell; we’ve known this for years, and yet political stalemate and a failure to plan for the future has led to an unacceptable period of inaction.

In 2005, while serving in the state Legislature, I wrote and championed legislation to ` create our first statewide drought plan and water management plan; I’m no stranger to the ins and outs of Arizona water policy. I will always fight to ensure our families and farmers get the best deal possible amid our changing climate. That means states like California need to step up and start doing more. Basin state leaders and the Bureau of Reclamation need to come to the table and stay at the table until a deal gets done to ensure rational and fair solutions can be identified.

I have sent letters to the Bureau requesting they work closely with state, local, and Tribal governments and assist in tracking quantity and quality of water, storage of groundwater, and the long-term sustainability of water supplies, and have requested a briefing regarding current drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin and Department efforts to obtain Basin-wide response. And recently, I voted to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, which invests $4 billion in drought funding for Colorado River States like Arizona. I’ll never let partisanship get in the way of securing Arizona’s water future.

What are two things you most want Congress to do to impact immigration or border security in the U.S.?

Since coming to Congress in 2017, I have fought to bring attention to the needs of our southern border. Making many trips to crossings in southern Arizona, most recently this summer, I’ve seen firsthand how overwhelmed our border agents and our port of entry infrastructure has become. We need a comprehensive overhaul of our immigration system that guarantees families seeking asylum their fair shot at a new life and that keeps bad actors and dangerous drugs from crossing.

To do this, we need:

Investments in 21st century border technology that is both functional and humane, and we need new funds for recruiting, hiring, training, and supporting our hardworking border patrol agents. In 2021, I voted to pass the Bipartsan Infrastructure Law, which included billions in funding for land ports of entry to update buildings, agricultural processing centers, and general crossing infrastructure that is no longer a match for the amount of people at our southern border, be it folks coming across to work and going home at night, or families seeking to immigrate permanently.

A detailed plan in place from DHS and the Biden Administration on what next steps for Title 42 are, as well as for longer-term needs at our border — court processing for asylum seekers, better enforcement of drug trafficking, and more.

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What is your district’s biggest unmet need? What would you do to address it? 

While Arizona’s soon-to-be Second Congressional District is populated by many different communities, each with their own distinct concerns, I have found an unmet need in our district I hear time and time again is the lack of high-speed broadband at an affordable price.

In our ever-changing world, the internet connects us to work, health care, and education. Without a fast and stable connection, seniors can’t video-chat their doctors, small businesses can’t get online, and students fall behind in school, unable to keep up on their homework.

In Congress, I am a champion for the affordable expansion of broadband for rural and tribal communities, and am recognized as a leader on this, both in our state and nationally. In every major piece of legislation the House has passed in the last few years, be it the CARES Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, or our annual appropriations bills, I have worked to successfully include funding to expand access to affordable internet for all Arizonans, no matter their ZIP code.

This work has only just begun. Broadband needs are bipartisan, affecting rural districts represented by members of both parties — that’s why fixing this issue has seen such promise and success in policymaking in the last five years. I’ll keep building on this important, collaborative work next Congress to ensure that the funds that Congress has allocated reach the rural and tribal communities that they are intended for.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion rights, what, if anything, should Congress do on this issue?

I believe that a woman’s health care decisions should lie solely between her and her doctor. Now, women across Arizona are being forced to navigate a legal minefield in which an 1860s law — with no exceptions for the heinous crimes of rape or incest — is working its way through the court system. Doctors are being forced to determine when they are legally allowed to save the life of a pregnant woman.

In the House of Representatives, I have already cosponsored and voted to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify the rights previously guaranteed by Roe v. Wade into federal law. Now, I’m working to ensure restrictive state bans do not supersede federal statutes like the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act–ensuring that doctors must act in the best interest of patients whose health is at risk —protect the private health care data of women using period- and cycle-tracking apps, and ensure that no federal or state law bans or makes more difficult traveling across state lines to obtain needed health care. I have also cosponsored and voted to pass legislation guaranteeing the right to birth control and contraceptives in this now uncertain future.

As a husband, a father, and a grandfather, I want my wife, my daughter, and my granddaughters to have agency over their own lives and private health care decisions, and I will continue to fight for those rights at the federal level.

What can Congress do now to help Arizona’s economy and Arizonans struggling economically?

Our state is growing rapidly, with families coming from all over the nation to put down roots in Arizona. I can’t blame them — we have so much to offer. That’s why I’ve always fought to ensure that the bills that Congress is passing create good-paying jobs bills in industries that directly benefit Arizona.

Recently, the CHIPS and Science Act, our bill to bring Made-In-America manufacturing back and to ensure that American businesses are able to compete with China, was signed into law. Our new law invests in the rapidly-growing semiconductor manufacturing industry that employs so many Arizonans and bolsters our state’s economy.

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Similarly, as a champion of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’ve seen new jobs that support a family pop up all over our state, searching for skilled workers to complete projects and incentivizing new companies to hire Arizonans for their openings.

More can always be done — that’s why I’ve been an advocate for career and technical education training programs and commonsense matched-savings programs for students seeking to attend two and four year colleges and to work toward a fulfilling career.

Additionally, since I came to Congress, my team of dedicated caseworkers has worked to return more than $4.6 million in backpay and benefits to constituents struggling with issues with their Medicare, Social Security, VA benefits, unemployment, and more. We are dedicated to ensuring Arizonans have the resources they need to secure their economic futures.

Are you in favor of continued U.S. support of Ukraine in its war with Russia? Why or why not?

I am in favor of continued U.S. aid to Ukraine. Innocent civilians are facing war and destruction at the hands of a corrupt dictator, and this story is not new. We cannot afford to make the same mistakes that were made in the 1930s and 40s when the U.S. looked the other way until war was brought to our shores. We must continue, with our allies, to isolate Russia and ensure that sanctions have the maximum effect to show Vladimir Putin and other brutal dictators that actions have consequences. Providing aid to the Ukrainian people is our moral privilege as Americans and our duty as the world’s example of democracy.

The FBI raided former President Donald Trump’s residence after he repeatedly failed to turn over hundreds of pages of government documents, including top-secret information. What should happen as a result of this?

No one, regardless of position of power, is above the law, and mishandling of top-secret documents is a serious allegation. I will be following reports as the FBI completes its investigations into possible wrongdoings by former President Trump.

What policy issue OR what personally distinguishes you most from your opponent?

Personally, I am someone who works with members of both parties to get things done. I’m a former Republican, a former police officer and homicide detective, and a former small business owner. I am willing to make compromises and I am willing to set aside my own ego to do what is best for Arizona families. I am consistently rated as one of the most bipartisan members of Congress by third-party, nonpartisan organizations. My opponent has stated and shown that he wants to represent the farthest right wing of his party; I do not believe he would be a bipartisan policymaker in Washington.

The Phoenix area has been a hot spot for inflation in the U.S. and Arizonans have felt the effects of rapidly rising prices for more than a year. What specific steps by Congress do you think would be most effective in bringing down inflation?

Inflation is an issue communities across our nation are facing this year. Phoenix, while not in our district, is a community that has been hit hard, as have areas I represent–Flagstaff housing prices, gas costs for folks that travel hundreds of miles across vast tribal lands, and more.

In February, I introduced the Gas Prices Relief Act, legislation to help lower high gas costs for Arizona families by temporarily suspending the 18.4-cent federal gas tax until Jan. 1, 2023.

This year, the House voted to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, a bill named for what it will do. This legislation finally empowers Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, which lowers government spending and helps pay down the national debt, and improves tax compliance to stop the wealthiest from avoiding paying their fair share. The Federal Reserve must also act to address interest rates appropriately to ensure families see lower prices.

As the Co-Chair of the House Blue Dog Coalition, I lead a group of fiscally responsible Democrats. Together, we work to identify bills, amendments, and measures that will sensibly pay down our debt and deficit, and keep our economy stable and growing.

Tara Kavaler is a politics reporter at The Arizona Republic. She can be reached by email at tara.kavaler@arizonarepublic.com or on Twitter @kavalertara.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Rep. Tom O'Halleran, 2nd District candidate, shares priorities