Citizen Staff Writer
U.S. HOUSE DISTRICT 8
Editor’s note: This is the first of two articles on the District 8 congressional race. A profile of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will appear Wednesday.
State Senate President Tim Bee touts himself as a maverick, independent leader who can work across party lines to get things done.
The four-term Republican legislator is running against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a freshman Democrat, for a seat in Congress representing southeastern Arizona.
He’s predicated his campaign on the work he’s done in Phoenix with Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and his Senate colleagues on the left.
In 2007, Bee decided early in the session to bring Democrats into the budget negotiating process and worked with Napolitano on the budget.
He negotiated the spending plan line by line with Democrats and got tough with Republicans who threatened the final deal.
“He has a genuine respect for his colleagues,” said Rep. Jennifer Burns, R-Avra Valley. “He recognizes that everybody has good ideas.”
This year, Bee opted to work with House Republicans, who for six months could not agree on a budget. When it became apparent legislative Republicans could not put a budget together and a possible state government shutdown loomed, Bee said he sensed danger and worked out a deal with the Democrats.
Republicans turned on Bee for agreeing to a largely Democratic budget.
“There were some of our colleagues who have the view that you should only work with your own party,” Burns said. “That’s gotten both of us in trouble.”
Bee’s work in 2007 drew praise from even a partisan Democrat such as state Sen. Paula Aboud of Tucson.
Still, the bipartisanship began and ended with the budget.
“I like the guy but I can’t say that he worked in a bipartisan way except on the budget,” Aboud said.
In Congress, he would go from being a top leader at the state level to a rookie on the national level.
Bee said he’s not worried about a dip in the pecking order and promises boldness in dealing directly with leadership on both sides.
“I’d be planted in the (Republican leaders’) office waiting to talk to them,” Bee said, before getting really bold. “If the Congress remains under Democratic control, I’m not at all intimidated by going directly to the speaker (of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.).”
Despite the bipartisanship talk, Bee has spent the campaign outlining how he would be different than Giffords.
He criticized Giffords for failing to “leverage her vote” to improve the $700 billion federal economic rescue plan passed earlier this month.
Bee said he would have voted against the bill, but recognizes something must be done to fix the credit crisis in the U.S. economy. Giffords voted against the bill the first time and for it when it came back for a vote a week later after numerous additions were made, including an extension of a solar tax credit that she had championed.
Bee’s goal would have been to help craft a bill that took a more hands-on approach, seeking to have the credit institutions right themselves without exposing the taxpayers to more risk.
“I would have wanted a work-out more than a bailout,” Bee said.
Bee said he would have gone along with House Republicans who wanted to suspend certain taxes to encourage investing.
“If we could get the market going in an upward direction, that could help a lot,” he said.
The $10 trillion federal debt has hurt the value of the dollar and further weakened the economy, Bee said. The $700 billion exacerbates that debt and could inhibit the free market, he said.
“When the government gets into something, I always worry, when will the government get out of it?” Bee asked.
Before the markets tanked, the biggest issue in the campaign was the high cost of oil, and it’s still a threat to the economy.
He cited Giffords’ failure to work with Republicans to allow offshore drilling.
“We need energy independence,” Bee said. “We need to stop sending $700 billion (in oil revenues) a year to countries that don’t like us. We have to be investing in oil production and in the alternatives to oil.”
It will take more than a decade for alternatives such as solar and wind power to have any real effect on domestic energy markets, Bee said.
Before oil prices spiked to $147 a barrel over the summer, health care seemed the pivotal issue in the race.
Bee prefers to allow small businesses to band together and purchase health care plans across state lines and is wary of universal health care.
“I don’t want to have a federal bureaucrat standing between the patient and the doctor,” Bee said.
Back when 2008 was very young, Iraq seemed a possible pivotal issue.
Bee defended the decision to invade Iraq and chastised Giffords for opposing the troop surge that played a big part in reducing the violence in that country.
“You can’t support the warrior without supporting the mission,” Bee said.
He promised to support the commanders in the field.
“I don’t believe that Congress should be overseeing strategy,” Bee said.
Two other issues hold big local concerns.
First, Bee has pledged not to seek federal earmarks, public works projects that are approved outside the normal budgeting process. This year, Giffords requested nearly $120 million in earmarks; not all of them made it into the budget.
“It’s important to fight for dollars for your district that are federal responsibility,” Bee said, “but those dollars need to go through the appropriations process.”
On immigration reform, Bee pointed to his record of pragmatic leadership and suggested the best way to break the logjam is to deal with the issue on three fronts.
He would work toward a temporary guest worker program to provide needed labor for the economy. At the same time, he would work to complete a multibillion-dollar border construction project to help seal the line between the U.S. and Mexico. Finally, he would work to speed up the legal immigration process.
That leaves interior enforcement and what to do with the 12 million or so illegal immigrants working in the country.
He would not provide a path to citizenship for people who came into the country illegally, nor would his guest worker program offer such a prospect.
“I define amnesty as the granting of citizenship to someone who has entered the country illegally,” Bee said. “The guest worker plan in my mind does not become a path to citizenship.”
Such workers would be free to apply for citizenship through normal channels. The approach would be enough to move the issue forward, Bee said.
Bee has every advantage to run a strong race.
The Republican Party announced it would back Bee’s candidacy, and President Bush flew here to help Bee raise more money in one day than any other candidate for office in southern Arizona history.
Bee is running in a district where 38 percent of the voters are Republican, 35 percent are Democrats and most of the balance are independents.
It’s the district Republican Jim Kolbe held for 22 years before retiring in 2006.
In March, the influential handicapper Stuart Rothenberg billed Bee as “a slice of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy election cycle” for Republican candidates.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee – House Republicans’ campaign operation, – didn’t seem to exaggerate when he said in August that: “Tim Bee is one of our best challenge candidates in the country.”
And yet the race now seems on no one’s radar.
The Washington Post and the Web site Real Clear Politics have been tracking 24 fight-to-the-finish races across the country and Giffords’ seat is on neither of their lists.
Even Rothenberg’s March analysis of the race warned that “Bee will have to run a race like none other” because Giffords “is a hard worker and has left no stone unturned.”
Democrats have closed the registration gap by 10,000 voters since Giffords was elected two years ago. And the economy has made prospects worse for Republicans.
“This is a bad year for Republicans,” said Kate Kenski, a University of Arizona political communications professor and national polling expert. “When the economy is bad, voters punish the party in the White House.”
Bee takes it in stride.
“I don’t think Republicans are in nearly as much trouble as people think,” he said. “Voters are going to hold both parties and incumbents responsible. I hold them responsible.”
Tim Bee Bio
The 39-year-old is a native Tucsonan, attending Tanque Verde Elementary School with his opponent, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and was valedictorian at Palo Verde High School. He attended the University of Arizona but did not graduate. He owned a printing company from 1989 until he was elected to the state Senate in 2001, representing Tucson’s East Side and Green Valley. Since then, he has helped his brother Keith with his school bus company. Tim Bee and his wife, Gracie, have six children.
In the state Senate, Bee was majority leader for two terms before becoming Senate president in the 2006-08 term, the first person from southern Arizona to hold the position in more than 30 years.