McCain says 'fire and water' Arizona's biggest issues
Former Presidential candidate talks Verde River water, Oak Flat mining, Trump
COTTONWOOD - Monday, former Presidential candidate and current Arizona State Senator John McCain spoke about Donald Trump, Verde River water rights and mining of the Oak Flat sacred area.
"Fire and water. Those are our two biggest issues," said McCain.
The 79-year-old McCain is running for re-election this November in what could be his 30th year as a Republican U.S. Senator representing Arizona.
His Verde Valley home
Newcomers to the Verde Valley may be surprised to learn that McCain calls Cornville home.
"It's near the Page Springs Fish Hatchery on Oak Creek. We've been here for 30 some years," said McCain.
"We have planted trees and flowers and are really very happy there. Our kids have grown up there and one of our sons is going to get married there in April," he said.
It's not unusual for locals to spot McCain enjoying his two favorite pastimes: hiking and dining out.
"We've hiked all over this place," said McCain. "And there's some really quality restaurants here. We have dinner out quite often."
"I see all my friends at Safeway at Starbucks. There's a group of old guys that are veterans that hang-out and I always enjoy shooting the breeze with them," he said.
"Over time I've watched this place grow enormously. I think it's done very well," said McCain.
'Fire and water'
When asked what he views as the most important issues to Verde Valley residents, McCain sums it up as "fire and water."
"We are going to have to make some very difficult decisions. If they were easy, we would have made them long ago. Those are our two big issues," McCain said.
Beginning with fire, McCain had this to say:
"Twenty percent of our national forests have been consumed by fire in the last 10 years," said McCain. "Obviously, we are not going to live the way our children or grandchildren have."
As for water, McCain echoed the concerns of many local stakeholders:
"There are studies showing the Verde River is going to go dry," he said "We are going to have to address the water issue."
"Hopefully we can get people together. Until you allocate the Indian water supplies, you don't know what the supplies will be," said McCain.
Controversial Oak Flat sacred area mining bill
One of the most controversial bills sponsored by McCain involved mining an area held sacred by Native Americans (and previously protected by presidents of his own party, including Eisenhower and Nixon).
Environmentalists as well as the San Carlos Apache Nation blasted the bill, which grants through a land exchange federal land known as Oak Flat to international mining company Resolution Copper. Opponents say it was slipped-in at the last minute as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Obama in December 2014.
McCain is unapologetic.
"I am more proud of that bill than most anything I've done," he said. "I believe a copper supply that is domestic is a matter of national security. That's why I put it in the defense bill."
"This mine will supply 25 percent of the nation's copper supply. I mean, it is a $6 billion investment and they are going to hire hundreds of young Native Americans," said McCain.
Since the mining directly involves members of the local community, what is their view of the issue?
"I've asked the San Carlos Apache leader, 'Would you sit down and at least talk to them?' and they've refused to," McCain said. "I had conversations where I said, 'If you won't talk, I will have to act, because I believe it's important to the economy.'"
The Hispanic vote and the Republican Party
With 32 percent of Cottonwood residents being Hispanic (according to City-Data.com), where does their voice stand with Republican representation in Washington, D.C.?
"I've watched this state evolve since I first ran in 1982 and one of the things that I have seen that we in politics probably don't appreciate as much as we should is the very large, significant part of the Hispanic voter," said McCain.
"If you are Republican and want to see a healthy Republican party, you have to have an outreach and candidates that are representative; have involvement in that Hispanic community and not alienate a significant portion of voters," he said.
"That brings us around to immigration reform," said McCain.
McCain lost support among Republicans for joining with Senator Ted Kennedy in backing the failed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which included guest worker and legalization provisions.
Building bridges instead of walls
Managing Editor Bill Helm of the Camp Verde Bugle wanted to hear McCain's perspective of how the two-party system appears to be drifting further away from one another in reaching common ground.
Over the years, McCain has been known to reach agreements across party lines in order to build bridges rather than walls.
For example, he joined Democratic President Bill Clinton in supporting a 1998 bill raising tobacco taxes, as well as supporting Clinton's Supreme Court nominee Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Most recently, he worked on a bill alongside Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (whose daughter is a Sedona resident) in giving veterans a "choice card" to seek treatment from non-VA hospitals.
"If there is a common cause, then you have to sit down and come to an agreement," McCain said. "But you don't have to get personal defending what you believe in."
In what some view as an increasingly polarized Republican party experiencing a tug-of-war between traditional conservatives and Tea Party reformers, this may have cost McCain the support of his party - as well as financial contributors.
"I am neither ashamed nor embarrassed to have reached across the aisle for the betterment of the people of Arizona and this country," said McCain.
Conflicts with the Obama administration
Where some say McCain strays from building bridges is in his current working relationship with Democratic President Barack Obama and his administration.
"Frankly, it's not good with the President," said McCain. "I'm probably his most persistent critic on national security issues."
"There will be another attack on the United States of America. For the first time in history, they have a base here now," McCain said.
As for the gridlock of a Republican-majority in both the House and Senate stalling Democratic bills from reaching the President, McCain agrees with this perception, admitting that Congress has a 14 percent public approval rating.
"Yes, it requires compromise. Are things better? Yes. Do we have a long way to go? Yes. We still have a lot of pork barrel and gridlock," said McCain.
McCain's view on Donald Trump for President
When Verde Valley Newspaper's Photojournalist Vyto Starinskas asked McCain if he would support Donald Trump as the Republican nominee, McCain answered, "I would support the nominee unless I have a reason not to. I have to respect the process," McCain said.
"Mr. Trump has had a longevity that a lot of us never predicted. There is anger out there and frustration," said McCain.
"A lot of Americans are no longer looking for work anymore. A lot of them saw no real benefit from the recovery which has been the slowest since the Great Depression. There's a lot of anti-establishment and anti-Washington," he said.
As for his choice of the Republican Presidential nominee, McCain said, "I'm staying out of it. Lyndsey Graham was my main guy."
In the past few days, Graham removed himself from the 2016 Presidential race.
Senate accomplishments and hopes
With his upcoming November election in sight, McCain spoke of accomplishments, including a Sonoran Corridor linking Sonora, Arizona with Canada; education and budget reform and gaining a retirement process for military personnel after their second year of service.
"The world is in more crisis then since the end of World War II," said McCain. "You can defend principles and reach agreements, but you have to stand on principle, or what are you?"* McCain, age 79, was born August 29, 1936 in the Panama Canal. Both his father and his grandfather were Navy admirals.
* He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1958, beginning a 23-year military career that included 17 decorations and medals.
* While flying an Oct. 1967 mission over Hanoi, McCain's bomber was shot down and he endured periods of torture as a Prisoner of War until his release in March 1973.
* He was married to his first wife Carol Shepp, a model, from 1965-1980.
* After meeting his second wife Cindy Hensley of Phoenix at a naval function, McCain retired as Captain in 1981, moved to Arizona and entered Republican politics.
* McCain's political service includes the U.S. House of Representatives (1982-1986); U.S. Senate (1986-present) and Republican Presidential Nominee (2008).
* His best-selling 1999 autobiographical book Faith of My Fathers was made into a 2005 TV film.
* During the 2008 election, McCain lost to current Democratic President Barack Obama by 7 percent of the popular vote (53-46), but earned less than half of the Electoral College votes (365-173).
* Currently Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain is up for re-election to the U.S. Senate in November, 2016.
* McCain keeps a residence on Oak Creek in Cornville, where he entertains his wife and seven children (among them, John McCain IV, who carries-on his name and aviator wings).