Sharpe to the Point: Pilot vs. Pilot?

Jim SharpeMarch 2019
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When former Arizona attorney general – and former Republican – Grant Woods made his anticlimactic announcement on KTAR that he wouldn’t be seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, I was a bit flummoxed.

I assumed he switched parties specifically so he could run against Martha McSally. And I imagined her now-unflinching support for Donald Trump (a president who continues to say not-nice things about Woods’ former boss, the late Senator John McCain) would be his biggest motivator.

But then he copped to something that really stunned me: Woods wasn’t going to run because he had no desire to participate in a primary for the Democratic nomination – something he was told by party leadership he’d face.

What? The Democrats thought they could do better than Grant Woods – a moderate who won two statewide elections and started out in politics as McCain’s right-hand man?

A few days later, the picture became a lot clearer when retired astronaut Mark Kelly announced that he would run for McCain’s old Senate seat.

A real-life astronaut? Gee whiz! When I was a kid, I had big space dreams. I loved science fiction and read everything I could of the real stuff: the U.S. space program.

Even if a person was, say, a card-carrying communist Creed fan, if they were also an astronaut, I’d have to at least consider voting for them if they ran for office because, well, astronaut! I’m like the guy in the Bud Light ad that played during the Super Bowl a few years ago. A couple sees a man on the side of a darkened road who’s holding a 12-pack of Bud Light and an axe. When the driver asks his lady friend if they should pick him up, the woman yells, “He has an axe!” To which the man replies, “Yeah, but he has Bud Light.”

But there are many more reasons Kelly is an appealing candidate, other than the fact that he piloted two space shuttle missions and commanded another two – mainly, that he’s not viewed by reasonable people as a nutty left-winger. You have to be a moderate to be elected to a statewide office as a Democrat in Arizona, and while some of my right-wing friends would disagree, he certainly fits that bill.

Yes, he supports gun control – but after his wife, former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, was shot by a crazed guy, you can understand why. Plus, he says he’s still a gun owner and supports the Second Amendment. Those two values can coexist.

Plus, he’s not just a space hero: He’s also a war hero. Like his potential Republican opponent, former Air Force Colonel McSally, United States Navy Captain Kelly flew combat missions for the U.S. – specifically, 39 missions during the Gulf War.

During his time as a naval aviator, he not only performed 350-plus aircraft carrier landings, he served as a test pilot and flew 50 different aircraft. Collectively, these accomplishments were probably more dangerous than his 54 days in space and his four shuttle landings.

It’s hard to be much braver than putting your butt on a giant, controlled explosion – a rocket – and being sling-shot into a weightless, airless environment, but his medals and ribbons prove he is.

So, there’s a good chance we could see fighter pilot versus fighter pilot in Arizona’s 2020 special U.S. Senate election. Cool. Either way, we send a badass to D.C.

But there’s someone who has a lot more in common with Kelly than McSally does. Someone who gives Kelly a big advantage on the road. His twin brother, Scott Kelly, is also a retired astronaut – and a campaign manager’s dream. If no one is the wiser, you could get twice as many rallies, campaign stops and maybe twice as many media interviews on the docket.

Interestingly, Scott Kelly’s famed “Year in Space” aboard the International Space Station changed his DNA by about 7 percent. And that makes me a little more comfortable with Mark Kelly getting elected: Now there’s a way to double-check to make sure it’s Mark and not Scott Kelly who takes the oath of office.

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