Graf focuses on border issues to secure Congressional win - The Explorer: Import

Graf focuses on border issues to secure Congressional win

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Posted: Tuesday, October 24, 2006 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:52 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

October 25, 2006 - At the Northern Pima County Republican Party headquarters on Oracle Road, just north of River Road, a handful of volunteers gathered on a Wednesday in early October for a Randy Graf call night.

A mass mailing party at Graf's downtown headquarters had swept away most of the volunteers, a paid Republican Party staffer said.

But alone at a table snacking on a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, Paul Pak, a 23-year-old volunteer and Raytheon engineer, made a few calls.

"We can't lose a vote," he said after making a note on his call sheet to ring an 80-year-old voter on another day, hopefully after she had gotten over her cold.

"She said she's going to vote, but she doesn't know too much about the candidates," Pak said. "I tried to tell her about the issues, but she just kept coughing. We'll call her back."

Pak, probably an anomaly among most 23-year-olds, said he took a particular interest in this election because he's concerned about stolen cars.

Recently moving to Tucson from Ventura, Calif., he said he thought car insurance would be cheaper here. It's not, he said.

"And it's because of car theft," Pak said, and he attributes that to an unsecured border and too many illegal immigrants.

Pak's right that Arizona has a lot of car thefts. In 2002, Arizona had the highest car theft rate of any state in the country.

An Arizona Criminal Justice Commission study of auto theft released in 2004 attributed the high ranking largely to Arizona's close proximity to the Mexico, where car thieves sell stolen cars whole or disassembled.

The study also found that 43 percent of those arrested for car theft were Hispanic. The study didn't differentiate between U.S. residents and non-residents.

Regardless, Pak is just one of many Southern Arizonans frustrated with the government's inability to control illegal immigration - a problem that Republican District 8 Congressional candidate Randy Graf says drains resources from Arizona hospitals and schools.

The border is the single issue driving Graf's campaign.

Beating out moderate Republican Steve Huffman, who had the financial backing of the Republican Party in Washington, Graf, a pro-life, pro-gun-conservative has said securing the border is why he's running.

"I'm in this race because of the border," Graf said. "That's why I ran two years ago, because I noticed a problem."

Graf is referring to a 2004 Congressional primary against the now out-going Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe, who held the seat for 22 years. But Kolbe, a moderate, is retiring, leaving an open seat in a district that Democrats want.

With the election just two weeks away, and Graf still down in the polls - the latest Reuters/Zogby poll has his Democratic opponent Gabrielle Giffords up eight points - Graf espouses his concern about the border wherever he goes.

At a debate in Sun City Vistoso in Oro Valley, Graf told about 100 voters in his opening statements that he first fully realized the affects of illegal immigration while serving in the state Legislature. Graf represented District 30 in the state House from 2000 to 2004.

"I saw the impacts on our schools, on our hospitals and our healthcare system," Graf said calmly. "I saw impacts as they relate to the taxpayers, on our criminal justice system and our prisons. I certainly saw the 25 million pounds of trash left in our deserts. And I certainly saw the tragedy of over 200 people a year dying in our deserts."

But he didn't see anyone in Washington doing anything about it, he said.

Graf spits out the numbers routinely.

"Last year border patrol apprehended a little more than 1 million immigrants, 50 percent of those come right through Arizona. Border Patrol admits they only apprehend one in four, so that means 550,000 were apprehended, but 1.5 million evaded those apprehensions."

Graf doesn't support a handful of new laws, particularly the bills going through the U.S. Senate and the House right now, to tackle the problem. He said he doesn't support a guest worker program, like Giffords. He often refers to that as amnesty for immigrants who have broken the laws.

"We have laws on the books, but the laws aren't followed," he said. "The laws against people illegally taking advantage of our welfare system have to be addressed."

Instead of a guest worker plan that could potentially lead to citizenship, Graf said the United States already has enough visas that make it possible for non-citizens to work in the country.

And when asked at a Pima Community College debate about the lack of American workers willing to fill low paying agriculture jobs, Graf said he still thinks there are enough visas to let people work legally, and didn't comment on the specific needs of the agriculture industry.

"The border issue is huge, and Mr. Graf has a better handle on that," said Bryan Conger, a 23-year-old University of Arizona student and a Graf volunteer. "Stop the flow then deal with what to do with them."

Conger said Kolbe's lack of action on the border, "completely failed the people of Arizona."

Conger said Giffords has good policies, but he has trouble trusting her to get things done. He said he trusts Graf with his money, and trusts that he will get something done with the border.

"I'm a third generation Mexican," Conger said. "We're not intolerant. We understand these people are here to improve their lives." But the current system is not working and the country needs immigration reform, he said.

Two bills are stalled in Congress currently dealing with immigration. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) proposed the Senate version, which allows illegal immigrants who have been in the country five years or more to remain and apply to become legal residents after paying back taxes, fines, fees and learning English.

Giffords said she supports this plan. Graf does not.

Although the Republicans differ hugely on immigration, McCain still endorsed Graf in early October, issuing a statement that said he and Graf agree on other important Republican issues such as reducing taxes, supporting the military and reigning in election and welfare fraud.

Graf's campaign manager, R.T. Gregg, said he told the Arizona Daily Star at the time that it was a good sign of attracting "other Republicans" to support Graf.

A few weeks later, at the Pima Community College debate on Oct. 17, Gregg said Graf is closing in on his opponent.

"I know we are," Gregg said. "I can tell she's getting nervous."

In interviews and debates, Graf seems relaxed. He usually gives a standard introduction about himself, a former golf pro, and his family's move to Green Valley in 1994. He tells crowds about his stint on the school board. He talks about getting into the state Legislature and becoming House majority whip, after which he breaks into the border talk.

After the border though, it's tough to nail down a lot of problem-solving specifics from Graf.

On the war in Iraq, Graf says he sticks by President George W. Bush, and doesn't offer any suggestions of ways to do things differently.

"Our troops deserve our support," he said, and then pointed to the successful Iraqi election in December 2005. "Ms. Giffords has called what our troops are doing in Iraq a disaster. That's not the kind of language we need from our citizens here in this country and not the kind of language we need from a Congressman."

Head-to-toe in red clothing and with a Graf sticker plastered to her forehead, Nina Samuels, a Graf supporter, was furious with Giffords' comments about immigration and the war in Iraq after the Pima Community College debate.

"I would die for this country," Samuels said. "Our survival from the Islamic fascists depends on supporting President Bush. Yes, I am angry. Yes, I am a conservative."

But the Iraq war is expensive. Graf said the country's deficits have a lot to do with spending on the war and unexpected spending on Hurricane Katrina.

The Iraq war has cost the country $320 billion so far, with a 17 percent increase expected this year, the Washington Post reported in April. Combined with the Afghanistan war, the cost is more than $811 billion. According to the Office of Management and Budget, Congress has appropriated $62 billion for Hurricane Katrina, but only $13 billion has been spent so far.

Outside of those costs, Graf said Congress has done a pretty good job on discretionary spending. It's the entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare that are eating up the budget and have to be reformed.

"These types of programs are basically on auto pilot and as more baby boomers are retiring, more people are going on to these programs," he said. "You've got a fiscal train wreck that we can see in advance."

That said, Graf said he isn't suggesting cuts to any of these programs. He has said he supports partial privatization to Social Security.

Graf then conceded that Congress could do more to control discretionary spending, specifically better controlling earmarks -funds legislators tag on to bills to pay for specific projects, usually to benefit their constituents. And some federal programs should be eliminated and handled by the states, he said.

"We need to look at some of the programs that are being dealt with on the federal level that perhaps don't need to be," Graf said.

When asked what specifically, he said the Department of Education.

"Nobody from Washington D.C - the Department of Education -has ever taught a math class," he said. "They don't come out of Washington D.C. to teach math or science or history. They're good at telling districts what they have to do but not at providing them the money to do it."

On the most partisan issues, Graf is hard-lined. He said he's against embryonic stem cell research, against gay marriage and wants to renew Bush's tax cuts. He said he also wants to control the federal government's growth by freezing non-essential spending and not creating any new programs.

Without the financial backing of the Republican Party, which pulled it's $1 million in advertising in late September, Graf has fallen short of Giffords' hefty collections. Graf has raised $773,782 as of Sept. 30, compared to Giffords' $1,767,291.

Graf's campaign manager said less money than Giffords hasn't hurt the campaign, it simply means they have to spend it more efficiently.

With two weeks left in the race, Gregg said Graf would continue shrinking Giffords' lead in the polls. He said he believes that Graf's tough immigration message will deliver him to Washington.

"As we go door-to-door, we're finding independents and Democrats concerned about immigration," Gregg said. "They feel that Randy Graf is the last chance they have to send a message to Washington to stop illegal immigration - particularly in the areas where your newspaper goes."

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