Rep. Harry Mitchell (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: July 18, 1940, Phoenix .
Education: AZ St. U., B.A. 1962, M.P.A. 1980.
Family: Married (Marianne); 2 children.
Elected office: Tempe City Cncl., 1970-78; Mayor, 1978-94; AZ Senate, 1998-2006.
Professional Career: High school teacher, 1964-1992.
The congressman from the 5th District is Harry Mitchell, a Democrat elected in 2006 who was, at 66, the oldest freshman of the 110th Congress (2007-08). Mitchell grew up in Tempe when it was still a small town, and earned two degrees from Arizona State University. For 28 years, he taught American government and economics at his alma mater, Tempe High School, and was also an adjunct professor at ASU. In 1970, he was elected, at age 30, to the Tempe City Council and served eight years before becoming mayor in 1978. He held that job for 16 years, leading efforts to revitalize the downtown area and expand mass transit, and setting in motion the Rio Salado Project and Tempe Town Lake. After he left office in 1994, the city erected a 35-foot steel statue of Mitchell and renamed its government center for him. In 1998, he was elected to the state Senate, where he focused on education issues and job creation and was assistant minority leader.
|Harry Mitchell (D)||149,033||(53%)||($2,324,598)|
|David Schweikert (R)||122,165||(44%)||($1,416,883)|
|Warren Severin (Lib)||9,158||(3%)|
|Harry Mitchell (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (50%)
In 2006, Mitchell challenged 5th District incumbent J.D. Hayworth, a 12-year incumbent. There was a stark difference in tone between Hayworth, a combative conservative partisan whose rhetoric particularly on immigration irritated Democrats, and Mitchell, who had spent most of his political career in nonpartisan city government seeking to build consensus. The Arizona Republic’s endorsement of Mitchell ran under the headline, “Mitchell Over the Bully.” That editorial encouraged the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to put more money into the race to support Mitchell. Immigration was a major issue. Hayworth said Mitchell supported “amnesty” and Social Security benefits for illegal immigrants. Mitchell supported the 2006 immigration bill debate in the Senate, which provided a path to legalization for illegals and created a guest-worker program. He criticized Hayworth for doing little on the issue other than writing a book titled, Whatever It Takes.
Mitchell said he agreed with 3rd District Republican Rep. John Shadegg that “divisive and emotional rhetoric is not helpful to [the immigration] debate.” Hayworth said that “enforcement is a proven strategy” and that Mitchell did not favor strict measures to secure the border. Mitchell focused heavily on Hayworth’s ties to GOP House Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose Indian tribal clients contributed about $100,000 to Hayworth. Mitchell appealed to affluent voters who took moderate positions on cultural issues. He won 50%-46 %.
In the House, Mitchell took moderate stands on issues. He was one of 13 Democrats who voted against the Democratic budget resolution in 2007, and in November 2007 he voted against a bill raising taxes on private equity firms and hedge funds. With Republican Chris Shays of Connecticut in 2007, he sponsored a bill to reduce capital-gains and estate taxes. He was one of two Democrats who provided the margin of victory for the Democratic leadership in its battle against a GOP amendment barring housing aid to illegal immigrants. With Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, Mitchell co-sponsored a resolution in January 2008 to block the annual pay raise for members of Congress. When that failed, he donated his raise to local charities. He voted against the $700 billion bailout for the financial markets in 2008, which he called “fundamentally flawed” and with “no oversight, no protection for taxpayers, and little accountability.”
The Democratic leadership made Mitchell the chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, which was a hot seat after the Washington Post published a series about poor conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Mitchell presided over hearings about Walter Reed and other veterans’ facilities and led the first congressional trip that followed the trail of injured soldiers from battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan to military hospitals in Germany and on to veterans’ care facilities in the United States. He co-sponsored a version of the new G.I. Bill similar to that sponsored by Virginia Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, which passed both houses and was signed into law in 2008. Unlike prominent members of the Arizona delegation such as Republican Sen. John McCain and GOP Reps. Jeff Flake and John Shadegg, Mitchell supports congressional earmarks, and obtained $200,000 for the SkySong research center, $1.3 million for Williams Gateway Airport in Mesa, and $90 million for the Valley Metro light-rail system.
In 2008, national Republicans targeted Mitchell, but there was a fractious six-candidate Republican primary, in which Susan Bitter Smith charged the front-runner, former Maricopa Treasurer David Schweikert, with mismanagement and said he was responsible for the bankruptcy of two local school districts. Schweikert won the September primary by only a narrow margin, 29%-27%, over Bitter Smith. In the general election campaign, Mitchell spent $2 million and got yet more financial support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Mitchell’s campaign attacked Schweikert for supporting a national sales tax. Schweikert emphasized his support of offshore oil drilling, but Mitchell had cast votes in favor of it as well. Mitchell emphasized his work on veterans’ issues and local projects. He won 53%-44%.