PHOENIX — The two candidates running to represent Arizona’s sixth congressional district faced each other on stage Friday evening in what turned out to be one of the most interactive debates so far.
The debate, hosted by the Arizona Republic’s Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Arizona PBS’s Ted Simons, was described by the former as an “open exchange of ideas” and “opportunity for give-and-take” meant to facilitate conversation between the candidates — and it certainly did.
U.S. Representative David Schweikert, the Republican, has represented Arizona’s sixth congressional district since 2013. (He had represented the fifth congressional district from 2011 until redistricting.) Anita Malik, the Democrat, has worked in media and marketing.
One of the first topics of discussion: The tax relief package signed into law in 2017. Schweikert, who voted for the legislation, touted his elevation to the House Ways and Means Committee. The committee, chiefly responsible for overseeing tax policy, is a coveted position on Capitol Hill.
However, the Democrat called Schweikert’s position on the House Ways and Means Committee “a concern.” Malik — a C-suite executive, vice president, and graduate of the private University of Southern California — called herself “part of the working class” and claimed that the legislation is not helping middle-class workers.
“That tax bill is not supporting the middle class,” Malik said, “and that is why I believe the GOP is trying to pass ‘version two’ of that tax bill right now — as a political tool right before the November elections.”
Schweikert countered that wealthy Americans are actually paying a larger portion of income tax revenue now, after its passage.
“Ms. Malik, I’m sorry, but your math is quite wrong,” Schweikert responded. “Under the old tax code, with all of its gimmicks and its loopholes, the top 20 percent of income earners paid 84 percent of all the federal income tax. Today, under the revision, the rewrite, they no longer pay 84. They pay 87.”
Malik also dismissed the economic benefits of tax reform, stating that the “average person” will only receive about $1,000 per year in tax relief and are “not feeling that.”
“The tax reform was actually designed to maximize vitality in the economy,” Schweikert said. “And, look, the early data is pretty impressive right now.”
In Arizona, the legislation allowed Arizona Public Service (APS) to seek a $119 million rate decrease and companies like Cox Communications to free up money for bonuses and permanent pay increases for their employees.
Malik repeatedly attempted to tie Schweikert to the Trump administration, contrasting it with what she described as her independence.
“It is time that we start to put this party politics aside,” she said. “We need to stop using negative campaigning and soundbites.”
However, critics have pointed out that Malik’s partisan rhetoric on the campaign trail — such as claiming about Republicans on Twitter: “Weapons are their priorities not people” — has told a different story.
On stage, Schweikert defended his record and pointed out that he outperformed President Trump in the district by double digits in the general election in 2016.
“We have the healthiest economy right now in the world,” the Republican said. “Our productive gains are finally starting again. The reinvestment in capital equipment, particularly in this community, is wonderful and stunning and actually creates a fairly bright future for us.”
The conversation then turned to health care. The candidates talked about the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act and Bernie Sanders’ plan to provide free health care for all.
Asked by her opponent, “Do you support ‘Medicare-for-all’ or nationalization of health care?” Malik answered: “I do.”
“The way I look at getting to a universal system is that we start today,” the Democrat said. “You take Medicare, where it is now, you bring in the public option — something that was stripped out of that original plan, the [Affordable Care Act] — you let people buy in … We don’t have to do it overnight, but we need to get there.”
While Schweikert agreed with the general goal of increasing access to affordable health care, he added: “My fear is that nationalized health care is a horrible way to move that needle.”
The debate touched on issues like trade policy and border security — to which Malik responded, “I’m definitely against the wall” — as well but more or less focused on whether Arizona is doing better today than it was yesterday.
“We’ve come so far,” Schweikert said, “and my desperate hope is we can continue to adopt policies that continue to bring this renaissance to our community.”