Amid Kavanaugh furor, Lesko and Tipirneni trade barbs over sexual, domestic violence

Arizona Republic
Ronald J. Hansen

The controversy over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the women who have accused him of sexual assault served as a backdrop Monday as the two rivals in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District race sparred over sexual and domestic violence issues.

On Monday, Democrat Hiral Tipirneni blasted her Republican opponent, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko, for not voicing support for the women claiming Kavanaugh assaulted them.

“Debbie Lesko’s silence on this issue is deafening,” Tipirneni tweeted. “Saying women deserve to be heard is not a partisan issue.”

Lesko responded to Tipirneni by noting she was the victim of domestic violence in her first marriage in the 1990s.

“You should know better. I escaped abuse. I understand what it means to be a victim & a survivor,” Lesko tweeted. “Save the lecture & dont [sic] politicize us victims.”

The back-and-forth gave a glimpse at the way candidates — especially women — are grappling with the bombshell allegations against Kavanaugh just ahead of the midterm elections and in a post-#MeToo culture.

Lesko and Tipirneni are locked in a political rematch of April’s special election in the West Valley district, which runs from New River south to Goodyear and from Peoria west past the Sun Cities.

That traditionally Republican area came within 5 percentage points of voting for a Democrat for the first time since 1980.

Democrats believe that this year they have a chance to make the district competitive again.

“We’re obviously glad (Lesko) was able to escape her situation and we are supportive of all survivors of domestic violence. The whole point of this is to say, ‘Why aren’t you using your platform, Congresswoman?'” Tipirneni said in an interview. “I think it’s incumbent on her to say at least these women should be heard.”

Lesko said she does support that.

“It is important that every voice be heard. It took me years to find my own voice and I am lucky enough to be a survivor of domestic abuse,” she said. “Survivors should be given an opportunity to be heard in whatever forum they want.”

But Lesko wouldn’t let Tipirneni off the hook.

“Hiral’s tweet was beyond the pale of politics,” Lesko said. “She decided to take a swipe at me even though she knows I’m a survivor of domestic abuse. There’s no place in politics for that kind of attack.”

Tipirneni said it isn’t the first time Lesko has taken political sides over women. Lesko, she said, has spoken against Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who has accused President Donald Trump of concealing a sexual encounter with her while he was married.

Lesko publicly backed Kavanaugh the day Trump nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“He has a history of upholding the Constitution & the rule of law. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to fully vet his conservative credentials and swiftly confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the High Court,” she tweeted July 10.

Although Lesko and her U.S. House colleagues can publicly express opinions about Supreme Court nominees, they have no official role in their confirmation, which is the U.S. Senate’s responsibility.

Lesko hasn’t commented publicly about Kavanaugh since Christine Blasey Ford’s accused him of an attempted sexual assault in the early 1980s, when she was 15 and Kavanaugh was 17.

By contrast, Lesko’s colleague, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., hasn’t avoided the Kavanaugh controversy. In an opinion piece Monday for USA Today, Biggs wrote that politics, especially a hatred of Trump, was at work.

“Christine Blasey Ford parachuted in with a 36-year-old allegation of misconduct that is designed to be unanswerable by Judge Kavanaugh. Judge Kavanaugh’s life has been on display for many years. He has demonstrated his capacity and character. But then this confirmation process isn’t about him, is it?”

Tipirneni has weighed in on Kavanaugh’s judicial outlook, and also on the sexual assault allegations as reasons to more closely scrutinize him.

“The Senate needs to honor the complexity of this situation. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation must be given serious consideration before a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court,” she tweeted Sunday.

Lesko, who was a state lawmaker last year, was slow to react when a Democratic colleague said a year ago that he wanted to punch her in the throat over her support for a bill creating a voucher-style system in Arizona’s public schools. She mentioned her own status as a survivor of violence in condemning his remarks.

“As a survivor of domestic violence from a previous marriage, Representative Jesus Rubalcava’s Facebook post saying ‘I wanted to punch her in the throat’ was very disturbing and totally inappropriate especially since he is an elementary school teacher and legislator,” she said at the time.

In the past, Lesko has written publicly on the role that fear, shame and hope plays in keeping women silent on domestic violence.