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Heinz plans congressional run to fill Giffords’ seat

Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson. (Cronkite News Service photo)

Tucson state Rep. Matt Heinz is the first Democrat to formally enter the special election race to replace U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who resigned Jan. 25 to focus on her recovery from an assassination attempt more than a year ago.

“Nobody can replace Gabrielle Giffords. Period,” he said. “But what we can do is take the opportunity to honor her strength and convictions to govern like she did… and not get caught up in partisan bickering.”

Heinz said his record as “a moderate legislator” and consensus builder in the Arizona House of Representatives makes him the best candidate to carry on Giffords’ legacy.

Though Heinz is the first Democrat candidate to announce his candidacy for the special election, he is unlikely to be the last. Other Democrats considering runs include state Sen. Paula Aboud, Pima County Supervisor Ramón Valadez and pecan farmer Nan Walden.

Republicans Frank Antenori and Jesse Kelly, whom Giffords narrowly defeated in 2010, are also running.

The special primary election will be April 17, and the special general election will be June 12.

Though the campaign schedule is expedited, Heinz said he does not plan to resign from the Legislature.

“I don’t think that’s best for my district or my constituents,” he said, adding that he has “eliminated almost all conflicts” with his job as a doctor at a Tucson hospital.

In addition to tapping into the Tucson area’s medical community for contributions, Heinz, who is gay, said he will also be seeking financial support from gay advocacy groups, “which have been generous to my campaigns in the past.”

Within two hours of Heinz’s announcement, a prominent national Republican group chided the lawmaker for describing himself as a moderate.

“Sorry, but calling yourself a moderate doesn’t make it so. Rather than running for Congress, Heinz might be better off applying for a job as Obama’s spokesman because he already appears to be doing it free of charge,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Daniel Scarpinato. “Heinz has been a leading voice for the government takeover of healthcare, and has consistently stood in the way of any and all efforts to make sure government doesn’t spend more than it takes in.”

Heinz said he has not spoken with Giffords’ camp about an endorsement, though he is hopeful she will throw her support to him. If she instead endorses one of his opponents, Heinz said he would “want to respect her opinion,” though he stopped short of saying that would cause him to re-evaluate his candidacy.

The Tucson lawmaker also said he plans to run in the newly drawn 2nd Congressional District, which takes in a vast swath of southeast Arizona that includes Sierra Vista, parts of Tucson and the Catalina Foothills.

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