In an interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD, retiring Republican senator Jon Kyl raised some possible reasons why Democrat Richard Carmona, one of candidates vying to win the Arizona Senate seat Kyl is vacating, might be seeking public office. If a past interaction Kyl had with Carmona reveals a motive for the present, it is that the Democrat is seeking the Senate seat for the "perks of the office."
The Arizona senator first clarifies his relationship with Carmona, the Democrat who served as surgeon general under Republican President George W. Bush. “I’ve had some dealings with him,” says Kyl. “We’re not friends. I had some dealings with him when he was surgeon general, and bumped into him a couple times, but it’s not like we’re more than just acquaintances.”
Nevertheless, during the 2006 election cycle, Kyl approached Carmona about running as a Republican for what was then Arizona’s Eighth Congressional District.
“I had one phone conversation with him when the Republican party was looking for a candidate to run in the congressional seat [for the seat close to Tucson], and I talked to him about it,” Kyl tells me.
But the conversation was not fruitful.
“I thought his response was odd and a little off-putting,” Kyl tells me. “He seemed more concerned about the perks of the office; he specifically asked about a house and a car, in the context of, well, he wasn’t a wealthy man and he would need to consider what went with the job. And he also seemed to think that it was just a lot of work for just two years, and having to run again, he thought, well, a position in the Senate would be a lot better to hold.”
Kyl was surprised by his phone conversation with Carmona; it wasn’t the reaction he had been expecting. “I came back and mentioned that to my staff because I thought it was so odd that his primary consideration for running would be about things like that,” says Kyl.
Kyl says he was not sure—beyond the perks—why Carmona was interested in running. “There was never any indication, for example, that he had any philosophical differences with me, with the Republican party, or the president or anybody else on our side of the aisle,” says Kyl.
After that phone call, Kyl reveals, he stopped “pursuing” Carmona to run for that congressional office.
“I didn’t see him after that as someone who would want to be a public servant, who was motivated by any kind of strong desire to serve or ideological point of view,” says Kyl. “It seemed to be more a matter of, well, how would this affect him personally. And I wasn’t interested in pursuing him after that, obviously.”
Now Carmona is running as a Democrat—after serving in the Bush administration. But Kyl refused to speculate on Carmona’s motives.
“I don’t know what motivates him,” Kyl tells me. “I do know, and he’s acknowledged, that he was recruited by Harry Reid and President Obama to run for the office. I do know—what I believe, I’ll put it that way—that he harbors feelings about the Bush administration that aren’t the warmest—and I think that feeling is mutual with some [formerly] in the Bush administration. So, who knows what his motivations are?”
For six years, then, between leaving his position as surgeon general and running for Senate, Carmona took a cushy job with the Canyon Ranch, where a single suite for 10 days can cost a staggering $20,690. That job—unlike the House job Carmona once considered running for—came with perks.
Needless to say, Kyl is not supporting Carmona. He is, instead, supporting and campaigning for the Republican, Congressman Jeff Flake.
“Naturally, I would support the more conservative candidate,” says Kyl, who retires after his term expires at the beginning of next year.