SALT LAKE CITY, April 17, 2012 — Retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally is looking to shake things up in Arizona and in Washington.
In the special election being held today to fill the Tucson-area seat of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), McSally brings a feistiness and competency that has already made her a star in the Air Force.
“People are tired of DC,” she says. “I have a record of standing up for what’s right, and getting things done.”
She has weathered battles of culture and combat, coming out victorious each time. She hopes today will make her venture into politics similarly successful. Her main Republican rival, Jesse Kelly, was the Republican Party candidate who narrowly lost to Giffords in 2010.
McSally insists he has the name ID, but she had made a name for herself long before she entered the race to fill the Arizona 8th congressional district seat vacated by Giffords.
She has a distinguished Air Force Career as a combat fighter pilot, squadron commander, and flight instructor.
If her attainment of the rank of colonel speaks to her ability to follow orders and be an effective part of a well coordinated team, it masks her inner maverick. McSally made national headlines a decade ago by refusing to submit to a U.S. military policy that required American servicewomen on duty in Saudi Arabia to wear Muslim garb while off base.
When she was getting ready to deploy to Saudi Arabia, she made inquiries about the policy, then formally challenged it. At the time she was the highest ranking female fighter pilot in the Air Force.
“You don’t just wake up in the morning and decide to file a lawsuit against the Secretary of Defense,” she said. “I took my time to find the facts. Is it law? If so, when was it reviewed? If not, who instituted the policy? I don’t get emotional, I just do my research.”
McSally boldly told her commanding general that she believed the policy to be unconstitutional and inappropriate. Threatened with a court martial, she proceeded with her protest and eventually won an endorsement by the House of Representatives, when it passed a bill prohibiting such a policy in 2002.
She saw the misguided policy in Saudi Arabia as an example of the bureaucracy having taken on a life of its own. “My oath was to the Constitution,” she said proudly. “When one branch fails there are two others that should be ready to remedy the situation. I only filed suit after many years of exhausting all other options.”
Her persistence has always paid off. And if she emerges as the Republican Party nominee for the 8th district, she will be poised to take the seat in June, as the district currently leans Republican.
In fact, “posture” is McSally’s watchword.
When she first entered flight school, she told her instructor that she would fly fighters in combat.
“Everyone dismissed me, they laughed at me,” she remembers. “But I refused to let the dream die just because people couldn’t look beyond the here and now.”
A law prohibited females from flying in combat, and Defense Department policy reflected the law. In 1990, two days after Iraq invaded Kuwait, McSally began flight training.
“I wanted to be postured so that when the policy changed I could go.”
The next year, Congress repealed the ban, and in 1993 the Defense Department reversed the policy. McSally was chosen, along with six other female pilots, to go through fighter training.
Now, after a 24-year career in the military, she is positioned to step into the job of congresswomen immediately, should she win. She was the last one to declare for the race, yet her campaign says she has raised over $200,000 in only a few weeks.
“The pressure is on,” she concedes, “but I work well under pressure, and I’ve certainly been under more extraordinary pressure in combat.”
Representing a district that is home to two large military bases—David-Monthan AFB and Fort Huachuca—gives her a leg up. She says that a number of active and retired military gave her seed money.
McSally is optimistic about a Republican primary victory.
“We’re the only campaign with momentum right now,” she said yesterday. “There’s been some polling that puts us in a good position; we’ve been consistently neck and neck with Kelly, but he’s falling behind and we’re surging ahead.”
If her surge produces a victory today, the Republicans could pick up the seat in June and run an incumbent McSally in November.
And if that happens, Congress ought to watch out, because Martha McSally doesn’t back down.
Correction: An earlier version of this stated that McSally was a retired lieutenant colonel. In fact, she retired as a full colonel.
Learn more about the author at Rich-Stowell.com
Rich is a teacher and a soldier. In addition to writing the “Rich Like Me” political column at the Washington Times Communities, he is the author of Nine Weeks: A Teacher’s Education in Army Basic Training; Tunnel Club; and Not Another Boring Textbook: A High School Students’ Guide to their Inner Conservative.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.