Arizona's Senate delegation spoke before a capacity crowd of nearly 600 people in SaddleBrooke on Friday.

It was the Jon and John show, as Republican Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain took turns addressing the crowd and answering audience questions in the Republican loyalist assembly.

"Congratulations on being president of the largest Republican club in the world," McCain told SaddleBrooke Republican Club President Roger Bogard.

The senators were met with a standing ovation as they stepped onto the stage.

McCain, who's facing a primary challenge from former congressman J.D. Hayworth in his bid for a fifth term, told the audience that the 2010 election has the potential to be transformative for the party and the country.

"2010 may be one of the greatest elections in the history of the country," McCain said.

He said its outcome could inaugurate a Republican ascendancy, possibly taking back one or both houses of Congress.

Kyl, the Senate's second in charge, naturally welcomed the notion, saying McCain would again head the Armed Services Committee when that happens.

"There has been no stronger champion of the conservative cause in the United States Senate than my colleague John McCain," Kyl said.

Much of the talk focused on the question of healthcare reform, an issue that has captivated the public for a full year.

McCain reminded the audience that President Obama and Congressional Democrats have not given up their promise to bring major reforms to the country's healthcare system.

"Not only am I proud of my record but of my effectiveness in fighting against Obamacare," McCain said.

Republicans have been largely opposed to the Democratic Party's vision of reform, in particular the perception that the party intends to push reform through the legislative process with or without GOP support.

"To take 51 votes (in the Senate) and change one-sixth of the American economy is an incredible act of arrogance," McCain said.

The senator said Republicans want to work with Democrats to find middle ground on reforming the healthcare system.

"Our message to the president is stop, start over, we'll work with you," McCain said.

Responding to an audience question about why it seemed the GOP had not offered its own solutions to the healthcare debate, Kyl suggested that Democrats had largely shut Republicans out of the conversation.

Kyl told the audience that House of Representatives leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), allowed GOP lawmakers only one amendment to the comprehensive healthcare reform bill that had garnered much attention in 2009.

To that bill, a nearly 2,000-page document, Republicans attempted to add a 230-page amendment. Essentially a rewrite of the legislation, Democrats rebuffed the modifications.

"The president knows what our ideas are," Kyl said.

McCain also spoke about legislative earmarks and pork barrel spending.

Long an outspoken opponent of earmarks, McCain decried the practice as the "gateway drug to corruption.

"Earmarking and park barrel spending leads to corruption and leads to people going to jail," McCain said. The co-author of the McCain/Feingold campaign finance reform bill said that legislation sought to stave off political corruption.

Kyl was mostly silent on the issue of earmarks and pork barrel spending. In the past, he has been criticized for his own use of earmarks to funnel government projects to Arizona. In May 2009, Kyl was questioned on Fox News Sunday about $118 million worth of earmarks he sponsored in an omnibus spending bill.

Both men seemed to agree on illegal immigration.

McCain proposed a guest worker program that would allow foreign workers to come to the U.S. for jobs that can't be filled by American workers. Under his proposal, McCain said employers would have to keep track of workers and send them back to their native countries once their employment terms end.

"This would place the burden on the employer," McCain said.

He likened the plan to the Bracero Program, a formal guest worker agreement between the U.S. and Mexico. Thousands of workers from Mexico participated in the program, which began in 1947 and lasted until 1964.

The day wasn't all cheers and agreement.

During the question-and-answer portion, an audience member challenged McCain, saying he was unsure if he would support the senator in the primary.

"I believe that you have drifted to the center and left," said Wayne Larroque, a retired SaddleBrooke resident.

Echoing an often-leveled charge against McCain, Larroque questioned the senator for working with Democrats.

"My job is to get things done in Washington," McCain said.

Kyl told the audience that McCain's history of reaching across the aisle was an asset to party. He said McCain had contacts and friends in the Democratic Party that most other senators did not.

The senator also told the crowd that he too was working with the Democratic majority. Kyl said he and Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln had teamed up to reform estate tax laws.

"We don't have a chance to reform the death tax without eight or nine of these Democrats," Kyl said.

Asked whether he had changed his mind about McCain after the exchange, Larroque said he was still unsure.

"I'm still evaluating," Larroque said.

Notable audience members included Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, State Treasurer Dean Martin and Pinal County Supervisor Bryan Martyn.


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.