Combustible Carmona

Democrat for Arizona Senate seat has history of fiery behavior

June 14, 2012

Richard Carmona, a former U.S. Surgeon General and current Democratic candidate for U.S. senate in Arizona, has a history of feuding with employers, intimidating coworkers, and letting his temper get the best of him in the workplace, behaviors that may complicate his electoral chances this November, insiders say.

Carmona’s highest profile conflict while in government was with Cristina Beato, his supervisor at the Department of Health and Human Services. She testified to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2007 that Carmona was guilty of shoddy job performance, sexism, and violent office demeanor during his tenure as Surgeon General from 2002 to 2006.

Former Bush Administration officials confirm that there was heated conflict between Carmona and Beato.

"It was definitely known that Carmona and Beato were having a disagreement," Tevi Troy, former Bush White House policy adviser and former deputy secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services, told the Free Beacon. Troy is currently an adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Most Department of Health and Human Services employees from that period most likely would now support Beato in her dispute with Carmona, even if they were hesitant to do so at the time, Troy added.

"I impose my hindsight on the way Carmona left when I consider that period, and that situation," Troy said. "I think that most Department of Health and Human Services employees from that period also would impose that hindsight on the situation and say, now, that they support Beato in the disagreement with Carmona. But back then? I don’t know if they necessarily did."

Beato testified that Carmona came to her house in the middle of the night on two occasions and banged on her door, demanding they discuss previous days’ disagreements. She said she felt "threatened" by Carmona’s actions and did not open the door.

Carmona has "serious problems" with women, Beato said. She claimed he had insulted and belittled her behind closed doors as a result of his "difficult time having a female Hispanic supervisor."

Beato also said she was forced to form an ethics committee to monitor Carmona’s frequent trips to Canyon Ranch in Arizona and southern California, where he owned homes. Carmona would bring "two or three people" with him on his trips, according to Beato.

"He was unethical and he cheated and he tried to take our money as taxpayers to go to his little San Diego—whatever—Coronado Del Mar home that he bought, a multimillion-dollar home, after suing Maricopa County, too, by the way. I mean, it's not good," Beato testified.

Carmona was accused of using his official driver to perform personal tasks such as fetching his dry cleaning. He reimbursed the Department after an investigation.

Carmona’s campaign called Beato’s testimony "baseless allegations."

Carmona testified before Congress in 2007 that officials in the Bush administration forced him to politicize his role as Surgeon General. He named Beato as one of the offenders.

"It reflects his scientific value," Pima County Democratic Party chair Jeff Rogers told the Free Beacon. "That’s why Carmona can’t be a Republican. He believes in science."

Carmona’s difficult time in the Bush administration was nothing new.

"I’ve known Dr. Carmona for at least 20 years. I can’t imagine anyone more ill-equipped to run for the U.S. Senate," Bruce Ash, an Arizona Republican national committeeman, told the Free Beacon.

"Our kids used to play sports together," Ash said. "Soccer. Baseball. There’d always be a group of moms and dads congregated around the stands. Carmona would breeze in 20 or 30 minutes later, stand 15 feet away from us, never talk to us, never engage with us, and leave. That’s Carmona. He’s aloof. He’s uncomfortable talking with people. He has a tough image. ‘Shoot, fire, aim’ is usually his reaction to others. He’s just not a very likeable guy."

"He’s a bright guy. Very impressive resume," former Arizona GOP chairman Mike Hellon told the Free Beacon. "But there are people who know him better than I do who speculate that he can be a bit of a loose cannon and have a potential for saying things that won’t help him."

University of Arizona surgery professor Charles W. Putnam wrote a letter to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy in 2002 that claimed Carmona was unfit to serve as U.S. Surgeon General due to his divisive and unprofessional workplace behavior. Carmona "was removed from his two previous administrative appointments ... because he could not work in an effective or even a civil manner with health professionals and other constituencies of those positions," Putnam wrote in the letter.

Putnam told the Free Beacon that his letter was written solely in regard to Carmona’s 2002 Surgeon General nomination, and that he has no comment on Carmona’s current Senate candidacy.

Carmona took over as head of the Tucson Medical Center’s new trauma unit in 1985, and within a year had sued the Center over a contractual dispute. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

Carmona twice failed the exam for board certification to practice general surgery. He did not pass the exam until May 1993, two months before his post was eliminated in July 1993. He subsequently filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Tucson Medical Center. The suit was settled for $3.9 million in 1993.

"Dr. Carmona never really made a lot of money except through the lawsuits he won," Ash said.

Carmona’s troubles continued in the position he took two years later as chief executive officer and medical director of Kino Community Hospital in Tucson, where he feuded with home health-care workers whose pay he threatened to cut from $10 to $6 an hour despite raising the pay of his top aides.

Carmona threatened to transfer the jobs of the home health-care workers to the private sector after the workers complained to the press. Carmona also accused the workers of having "maliciously and falsely spread rumors … in hopes of discrediting us and/or destabilizing our organization."

Kino Community Hospital chief of surgery Eric Ramsay resigned from the hospital in March 1996, a year into Carmona’s tenure. Ramsay had worked at the hospital for 37 years.

"Clearly you need a lot of help and instruction in how to manage your current position for which you have had no training or previous experience," Ramsay wrote in a letter to Carmona on the day he resigned.

"Never in my entire medical career have I seen such gross interference by a hospital administrator without the slightest attempt to reach a cooperative understanding," Ramsay wrote.

In 1997, Carmona became chief executive officer of the Pima County (AZ) health system. He resigned in July 1999 as the system "continued to lose millions of dollars," according to Time magazine.

Carmona is one of three candidates pursuing the Democratic nomination to fill the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Jon Kyl. The primary is in August.

The Carmona campaign did not return a request for comment.