Tom O'Halleran
U.S. Rep. Tom O'Halleran supports President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate.

Arizona Congressman Tom O’Halleran supports President Joe Biden’s order for mandatory COVID-19 vaccine rules for large companies but told InMaricopa in an exclusive interview that he doesn’t believe businesses should be on the hook for the costs.

“I support the president and what he wants to do,” said O’Halleran, the U.S. representative from Congressional District 1, which includes Maricopa. “I think if we’re going to mandate things, we shouldn’t have businesses paying for it.”

Historically, he noted, vaccines have eradicated serious disease in this country and the world, saving lives.

“The underlying thing is, we beat smallpox by vaccine, we beat polio by vaccine,” O’Halleran said. “These are major things and I hate the thought process that we have to force people to take a vaccine. We’ve lost almost 700,000 people in our own country and many, many more have been impacted on a permanent basis.”

O’Halleran also said people should not discount the potential health effects from the Delta variant of the disease.

“People may think, well, this is a variant, we’ll beat this variant and we don’t have to worry,” he said. “These variants are going to be creeping up from time to time, so scientifically, we’re getting a jump start on scientific research, much more than we’ve had in the past.”

The congressman discussed a number of other relevant topics – the water shortage in the West and the future of State Route 347, among them – in a far-ranging Zoom interview. (Watch the full video of the interview below.)

InMaricopa: Is there hope for farmers in Pinal County with the Central Arizona Project cuts looming?

O’Halleran: I’ve been working on water issues in Arizona now for 21, 22 years. When I was in the (Arizona) legislature, I ran a lot of bills in relation to the management of water in the state as far as conservation and addressing drought, things like that. We got those passed.

For Arizona, losing 500,000-plus acre-feet of water is not a good thing.

Are we going to desalinize? Whether it’s the brackish water underneath Arizona, which there is a lot of – it’s not a permanent source but the technology is there now – or are we going to go to a more appropriate source? I feel like that could be the Sea of Cortez. (We could) do the desalination down there (and) not transport that water all the way up to Arizona, but transport it out of the Colorado River and replace what we do through desalination into Mexico, where we have a 1.5-million acre-foot requirement.

InMaricopa: Are there transportation improvements in our future?

O’Halleran: We’re moving in the right direction, whether it’s the 347 or Interstate 10.

The 347 needs to be a major arterial highway built as a freeway, not just what we’ve seen over time. I know we’ve seen in my time in Congress, the Gila River and other entities were having a bit of tension because of the lawsuits around the (Loop) 202, but that’s over with. And now their attention has turned in a cooperative way to address the issues of the I-10 and the 347.

InMaricopa: How will the proposed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill benefit Maricopa and Pinal County?

O’Halleran: I’ve supported it all along. I helped design it. The broadband piece of it is a lot of my work over the last four years. We’ll have $65 billion that’s going to go into areas like Maricopa and Pinal County, rural and tribal areas around the state, for people who don’t have the ability to compete economic development-wise. It’s not that they can’t compete, but let’s let them compete on a level playing field.

There has to be a subsidy to make sure that every child in America doesn’t have to go to a McDonald’s or the public library at nighttime to do their homework.

InMaricopa: Any idea how redistricting will change the makeup of CD-1?

O’Halleran: That is out of my purview – whatever happens, happens. I would love to keep Maricopa and Casa Grande in my district.

InMaricopa: Any progress on Lower Santa Cruz flood plain remediation?

O’Halleran: I know the city and Pinal County and I have been working hard with the Army Corps of Engineers on this. We’ve been very aggressive, and what we have the ability to do is get appropriation money to them to be able to address that situation.

Obviously, (the current flood plain map) affects a large amount of land in the city of Maricopa and we want that dealt with appropriately, and we want the Army Corps of Engineers to be able to protect that land.

InMaricopa: How are you able to stay in touch with your constituents in such a large district?

O’Halleran: We have staff that are out in the district. My job, when I’m not in Washington, is to get out and do what I do best, and that’s to be out with the people. You don’t represent a big district like this and think you can just do it by Zoom or by calling people up. You have to be out there letting people look you face to face.