A slew of state and local candidates — from governor to the state house of representatives — showed up for a Payson lunch in the park hosted by Rim Country Democrats.
The Democrats this year have contested primaries even in previously solid Republican seats. Republicans currently hold every single statewide office and strong majorities in the state House and Senate.
But a string of unexpected Democratic victories elsewhere has energized voters and convinced candidates with strong backgrounds to mount efforts to unseat seemingly entrenched incumbents.
The three-hour afternoon session in Rumsey Park featured candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, Congressional District 4 representing Rim Country, state superintendent of education, U.S. Senate and State House District 6. The primary is in August and the general election in November.
Here’s a brief summary of the speakers and their races.
Governor: Steve Farley
Veteran state lawmaker Steve Farley revved up the crowd with a call to arms, in an effort to unseat incumbent Republican Doug Ducey. In the primary, the graphic designer with 12 years experience in the Legislature faces U of A professor and former legislative analyst David Garcia and activist and nonprofit executive Kelly Fryer.
“Democracy dies of neglect — we have to elect people who care about us, not a couple of Kansas billionaires,” said Farley, a shot at Ducey’s support from “dark money” groups connected to the Koch Brothers — oil billionaires.
Farley said the state should do more to boost education funding, provide affordable access to healthcare and provide job training and an affordable college education. He maintained that while the state has a $10.4 billion budget — the tax code exempts some $13.7 billion in annual sales from sales taxes, mostly to assuage special interest groups and corporations.
“If we repealed $3 billion of those give-aways, we could lower the overall sales tax rate and still provide an additional $2 billion for education,” said Farley. Arizona remains near the bottom nationally in per-student funding, even with extra money this year for a 10 percent teacher raise.
“Some 52 percent of the teaching positions are vacant or held by someone without proper credentials and qualifications. This is the year we get it done.”
State House, District 4
Retired Col. Felicia French, of Pine, is running to either fill the seat vacated by Republican Brenda Barton or unseat incumbent Republican Bob Thorpe. Also running on the Democratic side, but not at the picnic, is Holbrook Mayor Robert Taylor.
Republican Bob Thorpe is running for re-election. Walter Blackman, a 20-year combat veteran who lives in Snowflake, is also running for one of the two seats in the Republican primary.
On the Senate side, Barton is hoping to unseat incumbent Sylvia Allen in the Republican primary. The winner will face will face Holbrook Vice Mayor Wade Carlisle, running unopposed in the Democratic primary.
French, a third-generation Arizona native, is a combat veteran, helicopter pilot, registered nurse and professor. She’s campaigning on a platform that calls for broader access to affordable healthcare, creating sustainable jobs and increasing early-childhood education.
She said the election of Donald Trump “hit me like a bazooka.”
Congressional District 4
Three Democrats are vying for the right to face incumbent Paul Gosar, a Prescott Republican and dentist, Dr. David Brill, a doctor who headed up the Veterans Administration in northern Arizona spoke. So did Delina DiSanto, a nurse and hospital administrator. Ana Maria Perez, a Sedona architect, did not.
Dr. Brill, also a former teacher and businessman, offered a rousing speech, vowing to reduce the national debt by enacting “fair taxes,” which raise rates on wealthy to finance better support for the middle class. He said Congress must open the doors to debt-free college and universal, affordable healthcare coverage.
“I am mad they have been fleecing us,” he said of the health care industry, especially drug companies. “I am mad and I will fight.
He criticized Rep. Gosar for saying at a town hall in Payson it was “not his job” to provide better Internet and broadband coverage for rural communities like Payson.
“He said, ‘it’s not my job.’ My response is — I agree. It’s not Gosar’s job — but it will be my job.”
DiSanto was born in New Jersey to Irish immigrant parents with seven kids, she has lived in Arizona for 13 years. She and her husband operated a construction company in Colorado, but when she moved to Arizona she went back to school to become a nurse. She has worked as a nurse and a hospital administrator and said she’s seen the struggle of people to obtain healthcare first hand. But she said Republicans in Congress have been trying to take away healthcare while giving corporations huge tax cuts.
She decried the “shameful, deplorable” comments made by a White House aide about Senator John McCain not mattering politically because he’s dying.
“We have to speak louder and stronger. I will fight for you. I will be strong on the issues.”
Attorney General: January Contreras
The former Arizona assistant attorney general is running unopposed in the Democratic primary and hopes to unseat incumbent Republican Mark Brnovich in the general election.
Contreras worked alongside then Gov. Janet Napolitano and followed her into the federal government to work for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration. She then returned home to Tucson, where she started a legal aid society.
She criticized Brnovich for making the attorney general’s office far more partisan, by seeking to overturn laws intended to expand voting — laws mostly favored by Democrats as a way to get poor and minority voters to the polls.
“The attorney general is the lawyer for the people. The office now has a very partisan agenda. So he closed the Arizona Consumer Protection Office, but went to court to defend Exxon Mobil in another state.”
She noted that Brnovich has also resisted efforts to force disclosure of “dark money” political spending by corporations and special interest groups — after having benefited from dark money spending when he was elected.
Secretary of State: Mark Gordon
A lawyer who grew up in Phoenix, Gordon has spent his career working in campaigns as a strategist, advisor and speech writer — but never run before. State senators Katie Hobbs and Steven Montenegro are also running in the Democratic primary, hoping to win the right to challenge incumbent Michelle Reagan.
Gordon said in his 26 years in politics, he’s never seen so many problems with elections as have plagued Reagan in her first term.
He cited the six-hour lines to vote in the last election in Maricopa County and the five-hour lines in Cochise County, partly because the secretary of state’s office failed to challenge a decision to dramatically reduce the number of polling places — which has a pronounced effect on low-income areas less likely to vote by mail.
In another controversy, the secretary of state’s office failed to mail out voting pamphlets to some 200,000 voters.
“That is not protecting your rights,” he said. “This is about you and your right to vote. It’s not about creating a political stepping stone” to higher office.
“We’ll make it easier for people to vote. Do you know it’s now a felony to take someone’s signed and sealed ballot to the mailbox?” he said, in reference to state laws banning “ballot bundling.” Groups in Hispanic neighborhoods had mounted an effort to go door to door to urge people to fill out, seal and send in their mail-in ballots — attempting to boost low voter turnout. Lawmakers banned the practice, then repealed the law when a ballot referendum got enough signatures to go to the voters. Lawmakers then re-adopted the ban on ballot bundling, sidestepping the referendum.
A judge recently upheld the ban on ballot bundling. The judge ruled that even though the state had presented no evidence of fraud related to the practice, the Legislature acted legally to impose restrictions to reduce the potential for fraud.
(Future articles will look at the U.S. Senate, Arizona Superintendent of Education and Arizona Corporation Commission races.)
Contact the editor: email@example.com