Four candidates are battling for the Republican nomination for Martha McSally’s seat in Congress, and they are all new to the campaign trail. One of them could end up representing the residents of Congressional District 2, which covers the eastern half of Tucson, Green Valley, Catalina Foothills, Casas Adobes and extends south to all of Cochise County. Tucson Local Media recently spoke with three of these candidates to hear what they hope to accomplish in Washington, D.C.

Casey Welch is about as unconventional as a politician can get. He hails from Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona, but when he was still young he moved with his family to Cairo, Egypt. After attending school overseas and earning a degree from Arizona State University, Welch joined the Peace Corps and set off to Nicaragua. There, he started companies that grew into national brands producing beef jerky, hot sauce and dog bones.

After that, because of his familiarity with Middle Eastern culture, Welch went to Afghanistan and was embedded with NATO forces and US Army units in war-struck communities. He worked to help civilians in the area create self-sustaining towns to avoid dependence on nearby terrorist organizations.

Now, Welch recently moved back to Arizona with his family, this time in Tucson, to run for McSally’s seat.

“I’m only 41, and after living close to 20 years overseas and visiting over 60 countries, speaking three languages and [earning] three masters degrees, I come with a lot of experience,” Welch said. “A lot of different experience to seeing solutions to problems that people have not even tried or thought about looking at.”

High on Welch’s priority list is balancing the budget and promoting fiscal responsibility. Referencing next year’s $674.6 billion defense bill and the $323 billion in federal interest payments, he said, “You can go broke as a government, and it seems like that’s the route we’re definitely on.”

The other item on Welch’s list is immigration policy reform. He believes that along with closing loopholes that still exist in federal law, the country’s foreign affairs funding, infrastructure projects and expertise should go to countries like Honduras and El Salvador.

Welch said valuable “soft power” engagement in those countries and surrounding ones could stabilize their communities and give immigrants and asylum seekers less or no reason to leave in search of a better life.

Next up is Brandon Martin, a southern Indiana native who first got a taste for the southwest when he was stationed at Fort Huachuca in 2004. After serving in Afghanistan for 15 months, he came back to the US and moved to Sierra Vista, where he has lived permanently since 2006.

Since he first arrived, Martin has been heavily involved in the operations of Fort Huachuca. He has worked as an instructor, a civilian training coordinator and has managed some of the post’s budgets.

“I understand how the Army post and the Air Force base work, I understand what their missions are,” Martin said. “So I want to bring meaningful missions to Davis Monthan and to Fort Huachuca. I want to make sure that there’s a national security plan that supports the post and the base so that way they stay operating for those national security interests.”

Martin sees these two military operations as a top priority. He believes they are the key to stopping crime at the border, and they are necessary to keeping Arizona communities safe.

He does not put federal projects like Medicare and Social Security in the same light. If elected, Martin hopes to make strides towards ending these programs permanently and turning their operations over to state governments or private entities.

Martin said the Constitution doesn’t require the federal government to provide health insurance, so he wants to start looking at alternative options. If healthcare was privatized, he believes that more options would be available to the consumer, which would effectively drive down prices.

He also has a plan for dissolving Social Security that would ensure those 62 and older the money that they paid into the program, then allowing those between the ages of 18 and 62 to “opt out.” The federal program would no longer be offered to future generations.

When asked about his stance is on federal education funding, Martin said he wants to work towards dissolving the US Department of Education as well.

“I believe education is a local matter, and I don’t believe it’s a federal issue,” he said. Martin would like to see the funding for the Dept. of Education expire over a period of five to ten years, which would end their operations for good.

Our third candidate, Danny Morales Jr., was born and raised in Douglas until the age of 12, and after attending middle and high school in Massachusetts, he returned to his hometown to start serving the community.

He graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in biochemistry. Then he joined the Navy in Tucson in 1998 and served 12 years in active duty. After that, he won a 2016 campaign for Douglas City Council in Ward 1. In August of that same year, Morales was appointed to Vice Mayor. He’s the only Republican running for this position with any experience as an elected official.

Morales said his ward includes the first five to eight streets of Douglas. This area includes the US/Mexico border, which is a quick three blocks away from his house. He also lives just five blocks away from the Port of Entry.

Morales wants to support the state’s current military and Raytheon operations and expand them to bring in more high-skilled jobs. Referencing high employment opportunities in aerospace, Morales said he would even support the president’s push for a sixth military branch, the “space corps,” and try to land those operations in Arizona.

He also wants to support new agricultural and biotechnology projects — “support our farmers,” as he put it. Although, it’s unclear how he would be able to allocate funding for military, agriculture and infrastructure, especially when you consider his position on federal spending.

Like most Republicans, Morales wants to “cut the fat” out of the federal budget. He calls for an end to pet projects and entitlement programs. With these cuts and his anticipation of more tax revenue in the future, he believes balancing the budget is possible.

If elected, Morales hopes to streamline immigration and trade operations via federal Port of Entry projects that would modernize the process.

“When President Trump and Vice President Pence see me, they’ll [think] ‘Hey that’s the Port of Entry guy,’” he said. “I want to see it sooner rather than later. There’s billions of dollars worth of binational trade that comes through here, just five blocks away from my house.”

The last candidate is Lea Marquez Peterson, who has emerged as the front-runner in this race. Her most well-known accomplishments are tied to her position as CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Tucson. As of this print deadline, Peterson has not responded to multiple requests for an interview, but her website says that she plans to use her experience in the chamber to “create jobs and attract new business to Southern Arizona.” Like her opponents, she supports the border wall plan and increasing border patrol security, but took a firm stance against the president’s decision to end the DACA program last year.

The winner of this race will face off against one of seven candidates in the crowded Democratic primary for CD-2, where Matt Heinz and Ann Kirkpatrick are pulling ahead in support with Billy Kovacs, Mary Matiella, Barbara Sherry, Bruce Wheeler and Yahya Yuksel trailing behind.

Kathleen B. Kunz is a Tucson Local Media freelance reporter.

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