Each of the U.S. congressmen, Raúl Grijalva and Juan Ciscomani, represents the district where he grew up in Southern Arizona.

Perhaps based on appearances, it would seem that the two don’t have much else in common. On Tuesday, they shared a stage for a bipartisan policy discussion in Tucson.

Ciscomani quoted Reagan. Grijalva quoted Truman.

Ciscomani is a Republican who represents District 6. He wore a blue suit, purple tie and American flag socks. The freshman congressman joked about his “vast experience of eight months,” while sharing his vision and acknowledging he is learning a lot. 

Grijalva is a Democrat who represents District 7. He wore a bolo tie with his blazer and often looked at the audience over the rim of his glasses. Grijalva has been in Congress since 2003 and is the longest-serving member of the Arizona delegation.

It seems that the old saying never judge a book by its cover holds true with Latino congressmen in Southern Arizona, even when they sit on opposite sides of the political aisle. The pair found more common ground than their favored politico quotes first signaled.

They found some things to agree on, discussed differences, and joked around a bit at the one-hour appearance hosted by the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the Pima Community College Aviation Technology Center.

Ciscomani told a story about a phone call with Grijalva, when he first took office. The Republican and Democrat – from a state roiled in voting conspiracies and battles over whether a red stronghold has turned purple – came to an agreement of sorts.  

“We’re going to be on different ends of the political spectrum, and we’re gonna disagree more than agree on policy issues,” he said, recalling the chat. “But we also talked about keeping it civil and never going personal and just sticking to the issues.”

By the end, the two congressmen agreed Tuesday’s session was indicative of their brokered deal to keep conversations constructive, healthy and respectful. 

Here’s more on what the representatives shared about key policy issues. 

On the economy

Grijalva emphasized government investments in jobs and communities by way of pandemic recovery and relief packages, the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act.

“We’re not where people would want us to be, but if we were to pull that investment out now … I believe then we will circle back to where we were,” he said.

Ciscomani talked about Southern Arizona’s assets as economic drivers, including border trade, the University of Arizona and military bases. He said the cost of living is too high and the government should focus on setting up an environment where business can thrive and create jobs.

Karla Bernal Morales, Raúl Grijalva, and Juan Ciscomani are seated on a stage in front of a backdrop that has a repeating logo for the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. On either side are an American flag and an Arizona flag.
Moderator Karla Bernal Morales (left) introduces a topic to the U.S. Congressmen from Southern Arizona Raúl Grijalva (center) and Juan Ciscomani (right). Credit: Becky Pallack

On the budget

The two agreed a government shutdown must be avoided and that collaboration will be critical to ensuring stability.

Ciscomani said voters in his district — in the southeast corner of the state including parts of Pima, Cochise, Graham, Greenlee and Pinal counties — are about a third Republicans, a third Democrats, and a third independents. “It’s a district that demands and calls for working across the aisle and getting things done,” he said.

He wants to avoid a continuing resolution, which is a temporary fix, but added he believes the budget talks will go on beyond September.

Grijalva said an appropriations bill that includes a “cultural grievance agenda” and cuts funding for education and climate action would be very difficult for Democrats to support. 

A continuing resolution would buy time and avoid a government shutdown, he said.

On immigration

Both expressed frustration about the enduring lack of progress on this issue. They shared support for increasing workforce visas and supporting Dreamers, a nickname for undocumented college students.

Grijalva’s district includes most of Arizona’s border with Sonora, including parts of Yuma, Pima, Maricopa, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties. 

“It’s a painful acknowledgement on my part: This has been, in my career in Congress, one of the most vexing, difficult and politically charged issues that I deal with,” Grijalva said, further predicting it will be the most-discussed issue of the 2024 election cycle.

“What can we do? We can do something,” said Grijlava, who supports comprehensive immigration reform. 

He also said ugly, racist rhetoric is preventing progress on immigration. He called out Arizona Republican Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs for making insulting and “if not racist, right on the border (of racist)” comments about Latino people.

Lighthearted moments between the freshman and veteran

Among the audience members were Grijalva’s daughter and Ciscomani’s mother — who drew an adoring “aww” from the crowd when she was introduced. Ciscomani joked that his family calls Mom “la ley” and Dad “el jefe,” “because even the boss abides by the law.”

Ciscomani tried to challenge Grijalva to a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide who would speak first to the audience. He invited Grijalva to disclose his walk-up song, and Grijalva sang a few bars in Spanish. 

As the two jostled a bit to have the last word, a monsoon storm caused a brief power outage. The audience gasped, and laughed. 

“God has spoken!” someone yelled out, and people began gathering for handshakes and selfies with their elected congressmen.

Karla Bernal Morales is holding out her hands with palms facing up in a gesture to ask the audience for more applause. She is standing with Raúl Grijalva and Juan Ciscomani on a stage where they will discuss policy issues.
Moderator Karla Bernal Morales (left) gestures to the audience for more applause while introducing the U.S. Congressmen from Southern Arizona Raúl Grijalva (center) and Juan Ciscomani (right). Credit: Becky Pallack

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Becky Pallack is the Operations Executive at Arizona Luminaria. She's been a journalist in Arizona since 1999.