Science Dispute in Heated Arizona Race

A dispute over President George W. Bush’s politicizing of science is reverberating in a close Arizona Senate race. The Republican is highlighting a personal attack against Democratic candidate Richard Carmona that was first raised to blunt his criticism of Bush’s politicization, writes William Boardman.

By William Boardman

The 30-second attack ad begins with a shot of the U.S. Senate candidate approving it. The rest of the ad is a close-up showing a composed, mature woman making an unsupported, inaccurate, inflammatory, scripted, personal attack on the candidate’s opponent. The complete text:

“There was an angry pounding on the door, in the middle of the night. I’m a single mom. I feared for my kids and for myself. It was Richard Carmona and I was his boss. Carmona is not who he seems. He has issues with anger, with ethics and with women. I have testified to this under oath to Congress. Richard Carmona should never, ever be in the U.S. Senate.”

Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona Richard Carmona, as Surgeon General of the United States. (Photo credit: Department of Health and Human Services)

The candidate approving the ad is six-term Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, 50, who put up the ad statewide in Arizona, in Spanish as well as English, on Oct. 11, at a time when he appeared to be about three points behind in the polls. Amplified by a national Republican website, this is the harshest attack so far in an increasingly vituperative campaign. And despite its falsehoods (see below), media outlets like USA Today continue to give it free, uncritical, and unrebutted replay.

The candidates for Arizona’s open Senate seat are competing hard for the women’s vote as well as the Latino vote, giving the ad particular potency as it pits a woman of Cuban heritage against a Democrat who is a man of Puerto Rican descent.

The ad’s target is Dr. Richard Carmona, 63, who was President Bush’s Surgeon General for one term (2002-2006) and who is running as a Democrat in his first bid for elected office. In 2006, Republicans asked him to be their candidate for Congress and he refused. The seat was won by Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, who was severely wounded in a 2011 assassination attempt and subsequently resigned from Congress.

The day after the Flake campaign ad launched, Dr. Carmona responded at a news conference that his accuser had “lied.” And in an 11-minute interview with a quietly hostile and uninformed interviewer on Arizona Republic’s Channel 12 in Phoenix, Dr. Carmona calmly rejected all allegations and called on Rep. Flake to pull the ad “because it’s false.” The Arizona Republic has endorsed Rep. Flake.

Colleagues Under Bush

The woman in the ad is Dr. Cristina V. Beato, a former Bush administration Acting Assistant Secretary of Health, U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) (2003-2005), when she was Dr, Carmona’s superior and supervisor most of that time. Her nomination to be full Assistant Secretary stalled in 2004 over the reliability of her resume. Given the number of apparently false claims in the resume, the Senate never formally considered her nomination.

Dr. Beato has alleged that, during 2003-2005, when both doctors lived near each other on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, Dr. Carmona came “pounding” on her door at night on two occasions. She does not specify dates or times, or much other detail, and she made no formal complaint at the time.

She first reported the alleged events to five congressional staffers in a secret two-and-a-half hour interview session in November 2007, with no congressmen present. This was part of a congressional investigation into alleged manipulation of science for political ends during the Bush administration, in which Dr. Carmona was a prime accuser.

Congressional staff assured Dr. Beato in 2007 that her interview would not become public.  Politico obtained and published a copy of the transcript in May 2012.

Both the Flake campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) refer to this staff interview as if it had been before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which never called Dr. Beato as a witness.

Not “Under Oath”

Both the Flake campaign and NRSC refer to Dr. Beato’s interview as sworn testimony. Dr. Beato says in the ad, “I have testified to this under oath to Congress.” But as the transcript shows (page 4), attorney Naomi Seiler, the committee’s counsel, advises Dr. Beato: “Because this is not a deposition, you will not be placed under oath, but you are required to answer questions from Congress truthfully.”

But at the time of the interview, it was already four months after Dr. Carmona had made headlines by criticizing Bush administration political appointees in HHS for trying to make the agency’s science fit their political agenda.  Although Dr. Carmona refused to name anyone, the New York Times reported in early July 2007 that: “more than a half-dozen former top health officials said in interviews that the official most likely to have interfered was Dr. Cristina V. Beato.”

The Times also reported that former officials were saying that “Dr. Beato was widely seen within the department as trying to advance conservative agendas” and that “Dr. Beato was more ideological and more right-wing, less objective and more political [than Dr. Carmona].”

Later in July 2007, the Washington Post reported that a different Bush political appointee had suppressed another Surgeon General’s report that called on Americans to help solve global health problems. Dr. Carmona had commissioned that 65-page report and testified to a House committee that the Bush political appointee told him that the report would either become a political document, or it would not be released.

Ultimately, the House committee looking into politicization of the Surgeon General’s office issued no report, nor did it reach any conclusion on Dr. Beato’s allegations about Dr. Carmona.  Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, who chaired the committee, later said the committee was aware of the allegations but could not confirm them. Dr. Beato’s allegations have no known independent support.

When congressional investigators interviewed Dr. Carmona, he denied that the events Dr. Beato described had ever happened. So far, everyone who has come forward with personal knowledge of circumstances at HHS during 2003-2005 agrees that, at best, Dr. Beato and Dr. Carmona did not get along well.

Another character assassination ad was released by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) that runs 1:17 and is titled: “The Carmona Files Volume 1: Women in the Workplace” featuring Dr. Beato’s allegations and other, older reports that were considered by the Senate before they voted 98-0 to confirm him as Surgeon General.

Near the end of her 2007 interview with congressional staffers, Dr. Beato said one reason she was scared of Dr. Carmona was that “the guy had already killed somebody” (page 95), which is also one of the items featured on the NRSC website. Then she added that she thought his mother had been an alcoholic. The staffers did not follow up on these details and the interview ended moments later.

In fact, Dr. Carmona, who is a decorated Vietnam War vet, had indeed killed someone in 1999, when he was working as a deputy for the Pima County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona. Responding to a car accident, he confronted a mentally ill man who was assaulting another person in the car he had just rear-ended. Ordered out of the car, the man shot at Carmona, grazing his head, and he responded with seven shots that killed the man.

It later turned out the man was suspected of having stabbed his father to death earlier that day.

Three years later, after his nomination to be Surgeon General, one of Dr. Carmona’s fellow doctors raised questions about the event, framing it as a moment when Dr. Carmona should have behaved more like a doctor (“first do no harm”) and less like a law-enforcement officer.  Senators did not ask any questions about the incident.

William Boardman lives in Vermont, where he has produced political satire for public radio and served as a lay judge.

3 comments for “Science Dispute in Heated Arizona Race

  1. word2thewyz
    October 18, 2012 at 10:18

    Why is anyone listening to Beato? She has plenty of her own ethical baggage:

    Doctor requests return to work at UNM hospital
    Published 5:28 p.m., Tuesday, August 21, 2012

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A doctor who lost her bid for a high-level federal job amid allegations she padded her resume and denied medical care to immigrants, which she refutes, wants to return to work at the University of New Mexico.

    Dr. Cristina Beato, a former UNM School of Medicine administrator, has been on unpaid leave since 2001, when she started a stint at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she’s seeking a job at UNM so that she can care for her 91-year-old father and because she has always had a desire to return to New Mexico.

    UNM Health Sciences Center Chancellor Paul Roth said he’s unsure whether administrative leave guarantees Beato the right to again work at UNM, but that will be answered by a review of her request.

    “Given her long history in health policy, her role on the faculty — if she were to return — would very likely involve some aspect of health policy and/or global health,” told the Albuquerque Journal ( ) in an email.

    Beato currently serves as the chief medical officer for the firm, Ernst & Young. Other work experience includes deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization and senior adviser on international nutrition policy in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

    She was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2003 to serve as assistant secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, but her confirmation was stalled. Opponents, including the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., challenged her credentials and record in providing health care for immigrants.

    Beato said Tuesday that she submitted a resume for the post that she should have updated to reflect formal titles, but she performed all the work listed. She was criticized in particular for a hospital case in 1999 in which a pregnant 16-year-old had seizures and entered a vegetative state, she said. The girl was kept alive for several months to allow the baby to be born.

    Afterward, the teenager required convalescent care. Beato said she made arrangements for the girl to be transported back to Mexico, at the request of her family. But the plane was turned back at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the girl later died at a hospice center in Albuquerque.

    Beato said the hospital did not provide convalescent care and characterized the case as unfortunate and complex.

    Still, some who have worked with the hospital do not want to see Beato return.

    Michelle Mendez, who was on the hospital’s Board of Trustees from 2006 to 2011, said she feels that Beato would undermine policies at UNM to ensure care for the uninsured and improve care for those living in the country without legal permission to the detriment of New Mexico’s population.

    Beato said she doesn’t discriminate against anyone as a health care professional but also believes that people shouldn’t rely solely on government handouts.

    “I take care of people, I don’t ask if you’re documented or undocumented,” she said.

  2. October 16, 2012 at 20:28

    I’m not sure exactly why but this weblog is loading incredibly slow for me. Is anyone else having this issue or is it a issue on my end? I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

  3. Jym Allyn
    October 15, 2012 at 13:34

    Being a Republican seems to have become a benchmark for another medical condition called “Fecalis Mentalis.”

    Unfortunately that Republican status also is getting mixed up with it’s philosophical base which is NOT “conservatism” but rather the 46% of the US population that believes in Creationism.

    Those people seem to be at home with the Taliban because they both have 12th Century views of the world.

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