Senator Jeff Flake weighs in on presidential election

Senator Jeff Flake speaks at a town hall event at the new ASU law school in downtown Phoenix Friday. (Chelsea Shannon/DD)

By Ashlee Larrison and Chelsea Shannon

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake addressed water issues, deforestation, immigration reform and fair trade during a town hall Friday in downtown Phoenix, but it was the presidential election that piqued local residents’ interest.

Rows of intent listeners at ASU’s new law school drew closer as Flake spoke of the two presidential candidates.

According to the Republican senator, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton need to rethink their positions on free trade.

“If we don’t trade, we die economically,” Flake said. “Particularly in a state like ours that relies on cross-border trade.”

Flake said he’s not voting for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but he made clear that he’s not yet embracing his party’s nominee either.

“It’s not a comfortable position for me to be in,” Flake said.

He’s hoping Donald Trump will change the stances he’s taking and his tone so he can vote for him, but he said he’s not there yet.

“I am very concerned about the future Republican Party if we embrace the kind of positions, language and rhetoric that has been used,” Flake said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the Republican Party overpromising.”

Flake said his party is just giving Hillary Clinton the victory this far into the election. Unless Trump apologizes for his comments throughout the course of his campaign, Flake admitted he “doesn’t know if Trump can do it.”

“Americans are forgiving people,” Flake said, emphasizing his stance on the need for an apology from the Trump Campaign.

Megan Fisk, a communications instructor at ASU, said she was not pleased with Flake’s responses on the topic of immigration.

“I wish he had a more definitive stance on immigration,” Fisk said. “I think he should be more persevering, and wanting to continue to fight for our state.”

The community meeting was hosted by the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at the Beus Center for Law and Society in downtown Phoenix, the new home for ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

RELATED: New ASU law building opens to the public

In a nearly full Armstrong Great Hall, former democratic congressman Ed Pastor introduced Flake, saying he’s working to make positive change for Arizona through his work in the Senate.

Flake believes we are making strides at the state level to change the discrimination in Arizona, but there is still progress that needs to be made on the federal level.

Audience members throughout the event broke into applause at comments Flake made, such as “We’ve got to pass meaningful immigration reform.”

He said Arizonans know too well that the federal immigration policy “does not square with reality.”

Flake addressed the drought in Arizona and impact of the forest fires, stressing the importance of a healthy watershed and forest restoration. He said 20 percent of Arizona forests have been lost due to forest fires, which adds to the problem of water shortages.

Fisk applauded his interest in taking national leadership on those issues.

Gonzalo de la Melena Jr., president of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, praised the broad range of topics that Flake addressed, and said he was satisfied with the event, which drew Hispanic business leaders, students and local residents.

He said his organization plans to do more events to encourage civic engagement.

James Garcia, director of communications for AZHCC, said the Hispanic Chamber wants to provide its membership and other local voters the opportunity to “communicate with people that are making decisions for them.”

Clarification: August 29, 2016:

A previous version of this story identified Megan Fisk using her position with the Center for the Future of Arizona. Fisk was not attending the event in the capacity of her position with the Center.

Contact the reporters at Ashlee.Larrison@asu.edu and crshanno@asu.edu.