Richard Carmona’s spat with the man he hopes to replace took a new turn as the two presented starkly different interpretations of a letter Kyl wrote the Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful in 2005.
Kyl, a three-term U.S. senator who is retiring at the end of the year, said the letter does not refute his statements that he and Carmona only had one phone conversation about Carmona possibly running for office as a Republican. Carmona has presented the letter, first reported Monday by Politico, as evidence that Kyl wasn’t being truthful – that his efforts to recruit Carmona consisted of substantially more than one phone call.
“I saw the release that they put out. It doesn’t contradict anything I said,” Kyl told the Arizona Capitol Times.
Carmona said the handwritten letter from February 2005 shows that he and Kyl had more than one conversation about running for office. Carmona released the letter to Politico, along with letters from Gov. Jan Brewer, then Arizona’s secretary of state, and former Congressman John Shadegg.
In the letter, Kyl tells Carmona, “For someone who’s ‘not so political,’ you sure leave an audience in awe. Thanks for all you did for me in Phoenix last week. I look forward to continuing our discussion at your convenience.”
Kyl said he and Carmona had attended a dinner hosted by HomeBase Youth Services. After Carmona spoke about his compelling biography, Kyl said many attendees at the dinner and at he and Carmona’s table were buzzing about what a strong candidate they thought Carmona would be.
Kyl said he and Carmona did not discuss a specific office until a later phone conversation.
“It was probably the first time, at that time, that I said, ‘We ought to at some time get together and talk about your future, what your future plans are,’ because people at the table were saying, ‘Hey, he should run for office,’” Kyl said.
While some prominent Arizona Republicans urged Carmona to run for governor in 2006, Kyl said he only spoke with Carmona about running for Congress. Kyl said he and other Republicans knew at the time that former Congressman Jim Kolbe was planning to retire, though Kolbe had not yet announced his plans.
Kyl said he was turned off by the phone conversation he had with Carmona later on. Kyl told the Weekly Standard recently that when he spoke with Carmona about possibly running for Congress, the then-surgeon general was mostly interested in perks of the office, such as whether he would be provided with a house and car in Washington.
“It was a long time after (the dinner), I don’t know how long, that we talked by phone and had the … key conversation, which is the one that turned me off about him,” Kyl said. “I would never have supported him after I had that conversation.”
Kyl said he stopped trying to recruit Carmona after the conversation.
Carmona denied Kyl’s claim, saying he and the senator had several conversations about running for office.
“It’s quite inaccurate,” Carmona said during a conference call with reporters on Monday. “We had many discussions, Sen. Kyl and I. I can’t tell you specifically over time, but there were many discussions over time about me being recruited as a candidate.”
Carmona spokesman Andy Barr also denied Kyl’s description of his 2005 phone conversation with Carmona, in which the surgeon general asked about the perks of being a congressman. Barr said Carmona mentioned housing and transportation for members of Congress, but was only inquiring about it as a logistical issue.
“He’s talking about a guy who served his country as a soldier, worked for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department for a dollar a year, by the way. It was basically a volunteer gig working SWAT and search-and-rescue. The idea that that’s what motivated him is ludicrous,” Barr said.
The back-and-forth between Carmona and Kyl is the latest chapter involving hostility between the Democratic candidate and Arizona’s two Republican senators. Last week, Carmona released an ad that featured Kyl and U.S. Sen. John McCain praising Carmona during his 2002 confirmation hearing to be President George W. Bush’s surgeon general.
Kyl and McCain slammed Carmona for what they deemed a “dishonest” ad that they claimed was meant to give voters the impression that they were supporting his candidacy. Both are supporting Congressman Jeff Flake, Carmona’s GOP opponent.
In an ad released Monday by the Flake campaign, Kyl and McCain tout Flake and bash Carmona for his latest ad.
“Richard Carmona’s latest ad is the most shameful of all, implying Jon and I support him. We don’t,” McCain said in the ad. “His ads prove Carmona lacks integrity.”
“We support Jeff Flake. He’s a proven reformer. And he’s honest,” Kyl said.
Kyl and McCain have said Carmona was qualified to be surgeon general and that they supported him because he was an Arizonan. But that doesn’t mean he’s qualified to be a senator, Kyl said.
“I didn’t say, ‘Boy, this guy would be a great U.S. senator.’ I endorsed him for surgeon general,” Kyl told the Arizona Capitol Times.