Richard Carmona, the former surgeon general under President George W. Bush and the current Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona, recently came under scrutiny after Senator Jon Kyl revealed a memorable conversation the two had about the perks of being a member of Congress. It happened in the 2006 election cycle, Kyl revealed to this publication last week, when Carmona was briefly recruited to be a Republican congressional candidate in the district outside Tucson.
“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 told me.
“I thought his response was odd and a little off-putting. ... 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.”
It turns out, according to congressional testimony from Carmona's former boss, Cristina Beato, that Carmona took full advantage of the perks of his job as a federal employee--the surgeon general of the United States.
In testimony to Congress, Beato says that she formed a committee to review Carmona's travel.
"I was extremely concerned about the number of visits being paid to southern Arizona and southern California, to the exclusion of the rest of the Nation," Beato testified. "And Dr. Carmona has a summer home in Coronado Del Mar, near San Diego, and has a home in Canyon Ranch, in Tucson, Arizona. And, conveniently, a lot of these travels would be over weekends. And he would travel, literally, with two or three people, when the rest of us would travel with one or naught."
The surgeon general's boss was concerned that Carmona was taking advantage of official travel, which she calls "questionable." Then, Beato reveals why she formed the committee to look into Carmona in the first place.
"Let me tell you why I formed this committee," she says. "I got word that the driver was going around picking up his dry cleaning, okay? I about fell out of my chair. And on my watch, I wasn't going to have anything like that happen."
Beato says Carmona's actions were "inexplicable" and not "appropriate at all."
"So these were concerns both of cost and of appearance?" the questioner in the testimony asks Beato.
Carmona's former boss responds, "Well, yes, absolutely. First of all, as to the budget, it's taxpayers' dollars. As to appearance, there is no way, I mean, there's just no way I'm going to have some driver go pick up somebody's laundry. And that's what somebody told me. I didn't even want to know the rest."
Beato's testimony can be read here.
After Kyl's memorable conversation with Carmona, the senator from Arizona recounted, he stopped "pursuing" the surgeon general to run as a Republican. Six years later Carmona is hoping as a Democrat to win the seat long held by Kyl, who is retiring at the end of his expiring term.