By Rebekah L. Sanders
The five Republican candidates running to represent Congressional District 9 faced each other Tuesday night in their first debate.
Arizona's controversial immigration-enforcement law known as SB 1070, which is before the U.S. Supreme Court this week, took front and center stage in the debate, with each candidate agreeing it should be upheld as constitutional.
The candidates also agreed that the federal government should have a smaller role in people's lives and that many of its agencies, such as the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, should be dissolved.
Health care is not a right for Americans, they said, and competition among insurance companies should drive down costs, not legislation such as President Barack Obama's health- care reform.
The event was sponsored by the Ahwatukee Republican Women, a growing political force in the area.
The Phoenix neighborhood near South Mountain is considered one of the key battlegrounds in the Aug. 28 GOP primary.
Paradise Valley Councilman Vernon Parker said he always has supported SB 1070, which among others things gave police the power to question and arrest suspected illegal immigrants encountered during police stops.
"It's not about race. It's not about color. It's about protecting our border, and it's about doing what the federal government has failed to do," Parker, a small-business consultant, told the crowd of about 100. "This is a national-security issue. People can walk across the border and bring weapons of mass destruction that can harm our citizens."
Wendy Rogers, a retired Air Force pilot and home-inspection business owner, said the government should build a longer wall because "a nuclear weapon can easily come across" the border with Mexico. She also said businesses across the country should be required to check their employees' immigration status.
Rogers agreed the concern is national security. Republicans, she said, cannot "allow the left to frame the conversation as a poor family looking for a better life in America."
"That's not the threat," she said.
Travis Grantham, an aviation businessman and Arizona Air National Guardsman, said he supports former state Sen. Russell Pearce, who wrote SB 1070, because the federal government isn't doing its job.
"We can secure the border between North and South Korea. Why can't we secure ours? It's unthinkable. It's unconscionable," Grantham said.
Former Chandler Councilman Martin Sepulveda, a Navy and Marine Corps veteran and real-estate developer, said he doesn't believe nuclear weapons are a risk at the border but said the federal government has failed to enforce immigration law.
And Leah Campos Schandlbauer, a former CIA agent, said she believes a "modernized" immigration system is needed in addition to greater enforcement.
The urban District 9 was added this year to reflect Arizona's population gains in the past decade. It includes north- central Phoenix and Arcadia, south Scottsdale, Tempe, west Mesa, west Chandler and Ahwatukee Foothills.
Both parties are competing for the swing district, which has slightly larger Republican voter registration but voting patterns that have favored Democrats.
Three are running in the Democratic primary: Sen. David Schapira, former state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and former Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Andrei Cherny.