Arizona U.S. Senator Mark Kelly paid a visit to Parker on Tuesday, Nov. 23. Kelly, a Democrat, said this visit completed his goal of visiting every county in Arizona during his first year in office. La Paz was the only county in the state he hadn’t visited since he was elected, although he had been to the county a few times before that.
Kelly’s first stop was at Arizona Western College’s Parker Learning Center. He met with the staff, discussed higher education issues in small communities, and toured the campus. He also discussed workforce development with AWC’s Associate Dean for La Paz Services, Katheline Ocampo.
Following his tour of the college, Kelly met with the leadership of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, stopped by the Parker Community/Senior Center, and then met with leaders of La Paz County and the Towns of Parker and Quartzsite for lunch. He also visited Parker Dam and met with Bureau of Reclamation officials.
La Paz County District 2 Supervisor Duce Minor said the meeting with Kelly went well. He said they talked about a variety of issues, including water issues, concerns with the recent U.S. Census, and Planet Ranch Road, and the issued of housing federal inmates in the La Paz County Jail so the jail district will be able to support itself. The final issue was raised by Sheriff Will Ponce.
“We brought our concerns to him in a respectful way,” Minor said. “He seemed tuned in and responsive to the concerns raised. He did what a Senator is supposed to do: he asked his staff to look into all this. We also thanked him for his support on the Bureau of Land Management land conveyances.”
Parker Mayor Karen Bonds also said the meeting was productive.
“Along with other local elected officials we had an opportunity to discuss community concerns and share ideas,” Bonds said in an email to the Pioneer. “Senator Kelly and his staff were very receptive to what was discussed.”
Kelly also sat down for a time with the Parker Pioneer. One of the subjects he wanted to talk about was the recent infrastructure bill that passed Congress, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. He said there was a lot in this $1.2 trillion bill that will benefit Arizonans.
Among the benefits to Arizonans will be funding for drinking and wastewater infrastructure. There will also be $8.3 billion for water infrastructure in western states, including funds for repairing aging dams in Arizona and funding the Drought Contingency Plan. The infrastructure bill also settles many of the Tribal claims regarding water.
One item from the bill that Kelly mentioned to Ocampo was $65 billion to expand high-speed internet access, with an estimated $100 million going to Arizona. This came up after Ocampo told him about the difficulties the college has with remote instruction from their Yuma campus.
The bill also includes funds for highways and bridges, public transportation, passenger and freight rail, and airports. The bill also includes $3.85 billion for land ports-of-entry. In Arizona, this means $178 million for the San Luis Port of Entry, $216 million for the new Douglas port-of-entry, and $184 million to rehabilitate the current Douglas port-of-entry.
Another provision of the bill is it would provide $65 billion for improvements to the electrical grid. This would also allow for the increased usage or renewable sources of energy.
“We’ve never had this kind of investment in infrastructure before,” he said. He added the bill also provides funds for maintaining infrastructure.
Kelly also promoted President Joe Biden’s budget plan, or “Build Back Better.” He said the bill will bring positive changes for Arizona families on child care and health care. It will also help people get back into the workforce.
“It will reduce expenses for middle-class families,” he said. “It will be paid for by taxing wealthy corporations.”
Kelly was asked about the problems on the U.S.-Mexico border. He said the federal government has failed the border states.
“We need an administration that will tackle this problem, but do it in accordance with our values,” he said. “We need to treat immigrants with respect.”
At the same time, Kelly said border security is a must. He said this could mean walls and fences in some areas, and greater use of technology and adding more personnel to the Border Patrol.
“We must have control of our borders,” he said.
Kelly said the big illegal drug cartels are also involved in transporting people to the border and in smuggling them across the border. He said human trafficking is just one of their many criminal enterprises.
“They are a threat to our national security,” he said.
Kelly said he works with the Department of Homeland Security on border issues, and often meets with administrators from the Border Patrol.
“I ask them, ‘What do you need?’” he said.
One major need, Kelly said, was for more judges to adjudicate asylum claims.
When it came to the border, Kelly said, “We can do better.”
Kelly acknowledged the partisan divide in the nation and said it’s hurting America in the long run. He said one thing he tries to do about is reach across the aisle to his Republican colleagues in the Senate. He said he’s worked with some of the most conservative members of the Senate.
“It’s important to listen to people on the other side of the aisle,” he said. “We won’t agree on everything, but there is a lot we can agree on.”
“We need to get people talking again,” Kelly said of the polarized state of American society today. “We can talk to each other in a respectful way. We’ve got to bring people together.”