The Fighter Pilot

A chat with Martha McSally, GOP candidate in the CD 8 special election

Martha McSally

Martha McSally, the first female American Air Force fighter pilot to fly in combat, and the first female to command an Air Force fighter squadron (here at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base), is one of the Republicans seeking the Congressional District 8 seat that opened up with the resignation of Gabrielle Giffords.

McSally also plans to run for the new Congressional District 2 seat later this year.

McSally attracted national attention after suing the Pentagon over regulations that required her to wear Muslim garb while off-base in Saudi Arabia. The lawsuit resulted in a change to Pentagon policy.

Since leaving the Air Force in 2010, she has been teaching at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, in Germany.

Last week, McSally grabbed national headlines after telling Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy that she'd like to kick GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum "in the jimmy" over comments the GOP presidential contender made regarding women in combat.

McSally sat with down last week with the Tucson Weekly for an interview. Here are some excerpts; a longer Q&A, including her thoughts on Iraq, Afghanistan and U.S. border security, can be found at online.

When you hear Rick Santorum say the Pentagon is moving in the wrong direction regarding women in combat, you must disagree with him.

I look forward to talking to him about that when he's here next week. He's out of touch with reality. We're at a time when we need to make sure we have the best and most-capable all-volunteer fighting force for our nation. In order to do that, you have to be recruiting from the widest pool of people in our society. ... So if you meet the standards, you should recruit people as individuals, and whatever that individual brings to the combat capability, they should be able to bring. Restricting them just because they are women is like fighting with one hand behind our back.

What did you think of the decision to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?

This is a hot-button issue. On similar lines of civil military relations, of looking at people as individuals, and as long as they are not degrading combat capability and are bringing skills to the table, that was studied by military leaders, and it appears that this generation doesn't—it does not matter to them as much as it did to the generation before. The issue is good order and discipline and cohesion, and it always has been. So if the military has taken a hard study, and said, "We think military cohesion and military capability are not impacted because people are bringing certain skills," then we'll see how that decision actually executes and if that was actually a good assessment.

What do you think of the Obama administration's handling of Iran?

These are not simple situations. A nuclear Iran is not something that is in anyone's best interest—not the U.S., our European partners or anyone in the region. So, the complexities of what you do in order to stop that: It's a combination of looking at all of the options that are available economically, diplomatically and militarily, and making those tough choices. Finally, at least our European allies have gotten some sort of unity on the sanctions, but the jury is still out about how effective that's going to be. It's not simple. (To say,) "Rah-rah, it's not working; let's go do something militarily oriented"—well, that's complex as well. We need to make sure that we are engaged. We need to be working with our partners in the area.

The Paul Ryan budget: What are your thoughts?

Paul Ryan budget? Who's Paul Ryan? Sorry, I've been overseas for a while.

He's the congressman who has proposed the House alternative budget to what the Obama administration has proposed. Many Republicans have gotten behind it.

I'm not familiar. I apologize. I just arrived here 2 1/2 weeks ago after quitting my job, and I'm looking for a place to live and running for Congress.

There's a proposal from Republicans that we should move to a voucher system for Medicare rather than continuing under its current system; people would buy private insurance. Any thoughts on that?

As I'm getting my campaign off the ground, there's a myriad of issues that we need to look at, and I'd like to hear from all sides on many of these issues to try to come up with a thoughtful, analytical approach that looks at the math of what we're facing right now with our national debt, and figuring out how we can get our national debt under control. So as I hear from different experts on their proposals in order to deal with a variety of these different issues, including Medicare, I'd be happy to listen to them and make an assessment.

But that's policy you haven't delved into yet?


Social Security?

Again, we need to take a look at our national debt. ... We need to take a hard look at what we should be spending money on, and what the federal government should be doing, what should be left to the private sector, to be left to the state and the local government, and figure out how we can rein it in so we're not borrowing 40 cents on every dollar we're spending.

The Rosemont Mine. Have you had a chance to study that?

No. I'm going to go down there and take a tour, and then get a briefing from the Save the Scenic Santa Ritas (group). ... I'm not helping you on all the controversial issues. ... I'm a public servant, not a politician. I think I can make reasonable assessments on things when I hear different sides of a problem, and we can look at it unemotionally and figure out what's best for our community and what's best for our country.

Let me ask you about abortion issues. Under what circumstances do you believe abortion should be legal?

I believe in the sanctity of all human life.

In cases of rape or incest?

I believe in the sanctity of all human life.

So even under those circumstances, you would say abortion should be illegal?

No, that's not what I said.

OK. So what ...

That is my personal belief.

But in terms of legislating that: In cases of rape or incest, should women have a right to an abortion?

The legislators are not really involved in this issue right now. We have a Supreme Court decision, and so I'll be focusing on things that the House of Representatives needs to be doing.

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