By Sinead Hickey
Special for Cronkite News
With the election just days away, Cronkite News is profiling candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot.
How would you rate Arizona’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
“Arizona is doing a really good job, especially recently,” Lesko said, noting that at the start of the pandemic, no one knew how to respond to this novel coronavirus. She pointed to the drop in Arizona’s number of new cases and hospitalizations since the peak in July.
“You can see schools reopening, business reopening. We are really on a good curve right now.”
If reelected, what steps would you take to help mitigate the impact of this disease?
“I will continue to provide relief for COVID related issues.”
Lesko said she voted for many relief packages, specifically giving billions of dollars to combat COVID-19 directly.
The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March provided about $659 billion billion in Paycheck Protections Loan Program. The loans are forgiven if businesses use the money to pay their workers.
The federal government also gave states money for testing, COVID-19 materials, schools and post offices, Lesko said.
“You name it, we gave money by the billions and trillions quite frankly to help because this is really unprecedented.”
In Maricopa County, the federal government opened at least 13 direct testing centers, she said.
“Businesses were shut down because of government mandates, so I think it’s fair and reasonable that our government needs to step in and assist.”
Lesko said she hopes there will be negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on another relief package to continue supporting businesses until at least the end of the year.
Job numbers and the unemployment numbers reflect Arizona beginning to recover from the consequences of COVID-19, she said.
“We are doing quite well in a really terrible crisis situation.”
Do you have concerns regarding the security of our election?
Lesko, who votes by mail, said Arizona requires voters to request a mail-in ballot and has safeguards in place. Mail-in ballots are verified through signatures, and voters can request text notifications to inform them when their ballot has been received by elections officials.
Sending out ballots to all registered voters can lead to fraud, Lesko said. The voter database does not always have updated addresses, resulting in the possibility of ballots being sent to the wrong people.
In Nevada – which this year mailed ballots to all voters because of the pandemic – more than 223,000 mail-in ballots in the June primary were returned because voter registration rolls were not up-to-date, Lesko said.
“What we have in Arizona is more secure. People request the ballots.”
How could race relations be improved in Arizona?
Lesko this summer supported the JUSTICE Act, which would provide more training to police and establish a database on fired officers to prevent bad cops from being hired in other jurisdictions. The measure did not move past introduction.
Lesko did not vote for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which the House passed and sent to the Senate.
“There are things that I believe Republicans and Democrats can agree on,” she said, including more training for officers, making lynching a federal crime and expanding the use of body cameras.
Lesko, who’s backed by the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, said police chiefs have told her they’re having a hard time finding recruits.
What is the greatest issue Arizona residents face? If reelected, how would you address this issue?
Getting the economy back to where it was before COVID-19, which requires lowering taxes and decreasing government regulations.
Lesko said she plans to continue voting for relief packages to small businesses and some large businesses. The packages would help businesses pay their employees at least until the end of the year, she said, when a vaccine could be available.
The pandemic has made Americans aware of how reliant the United States is on China, which she said produces most of the medication and materials needed in medications. These supply chains need to be brought to the United States, she said.
“We, for too long, for 20 some years, we have just been giving away all kinds of technology and intellectual property to China, and that hurts our Americans.”
Lesko, who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, said her No. 1 issue is stopping intellectual property theft by China. She co-sponsored a bill to investigate and stop intellectual property theft by China and suggested more thorough vetting of people seeking student visas.
“The Chinese government has used not only Chinese nationals, like those who go to universities in the United States, but also American citizens to spy on universities and steal intellectual property and research and development.”
What other issues are important to you and your campaign?
“My Number 1 priority has always been and will continue to be helping the constituents in my district.”
Lesko said she has helped secure $1.6 million in benefits from federal agencies, such as Social Security, Medicare and the IRS, for the people of Congressional District 8.
Arizona had a good economy and record low unemployment before COVID-19, she said, and by continuing to follow the policies that got the state there, things can go back to where they were in February.
Supporting law enforcement is another issue, said Lesko, who also supports more funding and new technology for the border wall.
In a recent appropriations bill, Lesko said, she added an amendment to update one of Arizona’s port of entries with new technology that can more easily detect drugs and human trafficking.
Making health care affordable is another important issue. Lesko said she advocates for expanding health savings accounts to everyone. Currently, only people with high deductible insurance plans can use them.
She is also in support of trade associations being allowed to pool funds to buy insurance plans as an association. That makes health insurance more affordable for employers and employees, she said.
Lesko – who co-sponsored the Keep Education Local Act, which pushes for local control over education – also supports school choice.
“Giving the parents the choice for what is best for their child.”
What in your past work, political or volunteer experience makes you a better candidate to hold this office?
“Just like any job, you get better with experience.”
She credits her time in the Legislature for helping her learn how to make laws and get them passed with bipartisan support. For six years, Lesko served in the Arizona House of Representatives where she was chairperson of the Ways and Means Committee, which deals with tax policy. During three years in the Arizona Senate, she headed the Appropriations Committee.
In Congress, Lesko is on three committees, including Rules, which she said gives her an in-depth knowledge of all the important bills that will be moved forward.
She said she enjoys working across the aisle, noting that she’s working with Rep. Xochiti Torres Small, D-N.M., to provide more funding to detect illegal border tunnels. Lesko said she also has worked with Democrat Karen Bass of California on prison reform, allowing prisoners to give birth without being shackled.
“I am willing to work with Democrats, Republicans, quite frankly everyone as long as we can agree on certain things.”
What is a personal challenge you feel you need to overcome?
Lesko has struggled to maintain a healthy weight all her life and would like to lose weight but loves bread, butter pecan ice cream and mixed nuts.
Please share a quote or advice that you live by
“Work hard, stand up for what you believe in and respect others.”
Campaign website: debbieleskoforcongress.com
Candidate name: Debbi Lesko
Political affiliation: Republican
Position sought: U.S. House of Representatives, District 8
City of residence: Peoria
Career: U.S. representative for District 8; previously served in the Arizona Legislature
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