Harsh criticism starts debate between 3rd congressional district candidates

TUCSON, Ariz. - Harsh criticism was heard just minutes into the debate between southern Arizona's 3rd Congressional District candidates during Tuesday night's event on Arizona PBS.

Incumbent and Democratic candidate Raul Grijalva sat across Republican candidate Nick Pierson in an hour long debate ahead of the November 6th general election.

Ted Simons with Arizona PBS and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez from the Arizona Republic were moderators.

Following opening statements, Simons asked the Republican candidate why he was running against an experienced member of Congress. "I've been watching the incumbent since I was in college, " Pierson stated, "and he's not a good example of a Mexican. He's not a good example of a Mexican-American and he's not a good example of an American. He's not a good role model for the people of this community. That's why I'm running."

In response, Rep. Grijalva said "my heritage, my Mexican-ess is not something that I put up for sale or barter in any political election. That's part of my being. When I've stood up for things, whether it's fairness in immigration, whether it's issues of discrimination, when I've spoken on civil rights on behalf of the Latino community, I've done so because it's the right thing to do." 

Grijalva continued by saying that people cannot serve in Congress and not advocate for something. "I'd hope people understand that one person's criteria about what a good American is, is not the binding criteria for all of us. We all have a right to disagree, that's in our Constitution. We have a right to be representatives in a style with values that the people support. That's what's happened and that's what continues to happen."

Pierson was then asked by moderators what brought on the harsh criticism. In response, he said "during the 16 years he has been in office, the standard of living in the district has gone down, wages have not kept up. Our district has high pockets of unemployment and underemployment, all because you have person who kills jobs. He chases away jobs."

Pierson also made mention that Grijalva has been "drunk on the job" and has had people who have witnessed this. Grijalva defended himself saying he has not been drunk on the job. Grijalva also added that the Office of Congressional Ethics recommended charges be dropped pertaining to the matter because there was no evidence.

"I'm so glad that Mr. Pierson decided that civility would be part of any discussion and that's what he's going to bring -- character assassination, character attacks," Grijalva rebuttled. The Representative also added that if Pierson cares so much for the district, he should live in it and be more active.

Before moving on to cover other topics, the moderators asked Pierson to give a definition of a "good Mexican" following the criticsm against Rep. Grijalva.

"I'm very familiar with the Hispanic culture and in the Hispanic culture there is a properness that people should report. It's not just education, it's what you have from your upbringing in your family," said Pierson. "People in the community are looking at us as a laughing stock."

Pierson also added that he was not attacking Grijalva's family but him specifically.

Pierson was born in Nogales, Arizona. During the opening statements of the debate, he said his mother was from Sinaloa, Mexico and his father's family was from Sonora. The Republican candidate says he grew up on the White Mountain Apache Indian reservation, graduated from the University of Arizona, served in the Army Reserve for eight years and worked more than 40 years as financial advisor. 

Rep. Grijalva has served the 3rd congressional district since 2003 and says he was born, raised, lives and has raised his family in the same district. He says he wants to continue to defend his seat and wants to be a part of the change voters wish to see.

To watch the whole debate, click here.

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