SCOTTSDALE, AZ — Arizona’s 6th Congressional District encompasses Phoenix’s Northeast suburbs. A combination of manicured yards, desert views, and good schools. For the last ten years, David Schweikert has represented the district in Congress. But as the coronavirus exposes the weaknesses in our health care system, faults in the economy, and access to education, the Congressman’s record is coming under attack. Once again, Democrats are gunning for his seat.
“I’m Karl Gentles. I’m running for Congress,” the new candidate says in his political ad. Gentles is one of four candidates running in the CD6 Democratic Primary.
It is a campaign that is playing out largely on social and digital media. So, it was a rare sight during the pandemic, to see a candidate hustling votes at on the street at an intersection. That was what Karl Gentles was doing recently in Scottsdale.
“I’m running because government is fundamentally broken,” Gentles said. “The institutions designed to work for us are working against us.”
Gentles spent five years working on Senator John McCain’s staff. He’s worked with non-profits to raise money to help 250,000 Title One elementary school children get access to better education. During a stint with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, he helped attract companies and jobs to the Valley.
“I think you should run on the things you actually accomplished, not the things you wish to do.”
Gentles says if he is elected, he will work for criminal justice reform, better access to health care and rebuilding the economy after the pandemic.
“There is so much at stake. It’s not just this viral pandemic that’s obviously had a great impact on Arizona,” says Dr. Hiral Tipirneni.
A former emergency room doctor and cancer researcher, Tipirneni has raised more money than any candidate running, including Schweikert. Tipirneni points to Schweikert consistently voting against the Affordable Care Act and refusing to support lowering the cost of prescription drugs. These are votes she believes hurt seniors and small business owners.
“We need leaders who are committed to the greater good of our community. Not committed to their donors or corporations,” Tipirneni said.
She promises pragmatic, common-ground solutions and a commitment, “to making our community healthier and safer.”
“The relationships that we were working on when I became active are still the initiatives we’re working on,” said candidate Stephanie Rimmer.
Rimmer and her husband own a Scottdale light fixture business. She has volunteered, donated and advocated for candidates and causes during her 30-plus years living in the valley. The family’s business benefits from U.S. trade agreements. When Congress delayed passage of the U.S.M.C.A. for seven months, she decided it was time to run against Schweikert.
“We were all hurt by the delay in passage,” Rimmer said. “It occurred to me Congress doesn’t equate the everyday person with the jobs that we work and the money that we make and what we do with it.”
Rimmer also believes Congress should have done more to figure out ways to help businesses stay open and keep people working during the pandemic, rather than pay people to do nothing. Schweikert, she says has been in office too long with nothing to show for it.
“He’s wasted ten years not building influence. He doesn’t have a lot of pull,” Rimmer said.
Since March, the connection between candidates and voters in CD6 has largely been made thru Zoom conferencing, Facebook chats, Twitter and Instagram. Anita Malik’s comes from the Tech world. She is born and raised in Scottsdale. This has always been home.
“I think what’s happening is people are very angry. They are frustrated with both the leadership on the state level and in D.C.”
Education, social justice and health care – specifically surprise medical billings – are all topics Malik is ready to talk about with voters.
“Let’s make sure no one in this country faces hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and risk being in bankruptcy for the care they needed whether it be for a catastrophic event or a life-threatening event.”
It was Malik’s strong showing two years ago when she first ran against Schweikert that led her to run again.
Democratic turnout for this primary is up 5% from 2018. More importantly, perhaps is Democrats have a 4% lead over Republicans in early voting. However, Republican Political Consultant Stan Barnes warns against any talk of Congressman David Schweikert’s demise.
“I think it’s aspirational Democrats believe they can get that seat,” Barnes says. “They’re reading their own memos together and they think this is a Democratic wave and Schweikert is somehow wounded.”
Barnes says as we approach the final days of the campaign, the Democratic primary is a toss-up.