Rim country voters who cast ballots in the Sept. 12 primary election will be making history by participating in Gila County's first ever open primary.
While voters also will select the candidates whose names will appear on the November general election ballot, several incumbents are running unopposed. In fact, the only contested race in Gila County is the Democratic contest for sheriff, in which John Armer and Dennis McCarthy are squaring off.
"An open primary allows a voter who is registered as an independent, who has indicated no party preference, or who is a member of a political party not on the ballot to select a ballot from either the Democrat or Republican party," Dixie Mundy of the Gila County Elections Department said.
It does not allow registered Republicans and Democrats to cross over and vote in one another's primaries.
Open primaries are being held for the first time across Arizona as the result of a proposition passed by state voters in the 1998 general election.
The following profiles on Gila County's 11 candidates for office include their backgrounds, qualifications, and what they hope to accomplish if elected:
County supervisor, Dist. 1, Ron Christensen (Rep.)
Expected to retire at the end of this year, Christensen, who is completing his third term, cited "unfinished business" as the reason he is running for a final four-year term.
"There is a lot of work to be done in some areas I'm really interested in," he said. "The Gila County Water Alliance, which involves a number of agencies working together, is up there near the top.
"Our economy is another area I'm concerned about. Unless you're involved with the Forest Service, government or school systems, many residents have to find work in the Valley. So we're becoming somewhat of a bedroom community.
"Property values are inflating, and that's made it difficult for some people to get by. We're going to have to change our economy, and that's very interesting to work on.
"The bottom line," Christensen said, "is that leadership stability is a valuable commodity at a time when the winds of change are swirling through the Rim country."
Superior Court Judge, Div. 1, Edward L. Dawson (Dem.)
Dawson has served as a superior court judge for 21 years. He served as county attorney for seven years before he was elected judge.
"In this job," Dawson said, "experience is better than most anything else. Watching the law develop and evolve over the years has been invaluable."
Among Dawson's top priorities are two model programs he has developed a drug court that combines probation and treatment under one umbrella, and a teen court where teens sit in judgment of one another. The teen court concept has been adopted statewide.
Dawson, who has lived in Gila County most of his life, is especially interested in trial work.
"I have had hundreds of jury trials, including many medical malpractice, product liability and serious felony cases," he said.
County attorney, Jerry B. DeRose (Dem.)
DeRose, who has served as county attorney for seven years, boasts 28 years of experience handling thousands of criminal cases including homicides, kidnappings, child molestations and serious drug offenses.
During his tenure as county attorney, the Globe native developed deferred prosecution and cost of prosecution programs that generate about $20,000 a month in income for Gila County while still requiring accountability from responsible parties.
If elected to another term, DeRose's first priority will be to build on his prior accomplishments, "to make the office more efficient and responsive to the wishes of the community," and "to increase prosecution of deadbeat parents."
County attorney, James Hazel, Jr. (Rep.)
Currently a contract defense attorney for Gila County, Hazel also serves as a Phoenix City judge. He is the only attorney in Gila County certified as a criminal law specialist, a distinction held by less than 1 percent of Arizona attorneys.
If elected, Hazel promises to expand drug treatment programs for first time offenders, to work with local school boards to develop a plan to improve safety in schools, to dedicate resources to train local police agencies to assist in prosecuting serious offenses, and to "prosecute individuals based on crimes committed rather than who they are or who they know.
"As a resident of Pine, I will bring the perspective of a northern Gila County resident to county government," Hazel said, "and I will work to end the corruption so widespread in our county government."
County school superintendent, Armida G. Bittner (Dem.)
Completing her 12th year as Gila County School Superintendent, Bittner points to the programs and activities initiated during her tenure. They include county-wide school staff in-service, the Tobacco Free Environments Education Program, Community and Parents Information Programs, and Substitute Teacher Training Classes.
Looking ahead to a new term, Bittner's goals include providing educational services, support and encouragement to a diverse, multi-cultural student population, and providing alternative educational opportunities for students outside the traditional school setting.
"I enjoy my job and the contact it allows with school staff and students alike," Bittner said.
County treasurer, Priscilla M.L. Knuckey-Ralls
Completing her fifth term as Gila County treasurer, Knuckey-Ralls said her first priority has always been the people.
"My office provides all the political subdivisions with accurate and timely reports, and we invest monies for the county and other political subdivisions in a prudent manner," she said. "My goal is to continue to search for new ways to be more efficient without asking for additional staff or money," she said.
Besides fiscal responsibility, Knuckey-Ralls said she thinks trustworthiness is a vital attribute for anyone in her position.
"Every four years the voters have expressed their confidence in me. I will never betray that trust."
County recorder, Linda Haught Ortega (Dem.)
A Gila County native, Ortega believes she has been training most of her life for the position of county recorder.
The recorder's office is responsible for voter registration and maintaining voter records for all municipalities and special districts. The office maintains a wealth of information of interest to title companies, real estate offices, historians, genealogists and other researchers. Ortega has a strong background in real estate law, and has been a licensed realtor since 1971.
"Since taking office in 1992, I have fully automated the recorder's office," Ortega said. "I have also been very active in legislation regarding the recording industry and election laws, and I work with other recorders around the nation to establish standards and best practices for the recording industry."
One of her goals is to establish a satellite recorder's office in Payson.
Gila County assessor, Dale Hom (Dem.)
Hom is completing his third term as Gila County assessor. Prior to running for his current position, he worked in the assessor's office as a draftsman.
"My office is dedicated to providing fair and equitable values for Gila County residents, business and property owners," Hom said. "My first priority if re-elected will be to re-commit myself to that goal, and in so doing I will continually seek to uphold the laws of the State of Arizona pertaining to the duties assigned to the assessor in a fair, impartial and courteous manner."
Hom said that he will strive to serve the residents of Gila County with honor and integrity.
Gila County sheriff, John Armer (Dem.)
A third generation Gila County native, Armer served 21 years with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. He retired in 1989 with the rank of major in charge of court services where he supervised 60 employees and was responsible for an annual budget of more than $3 million.
He has served as Chief of Police for the City of Globe since 1995.
If elected, Armer promises to institute programs that unite people in all areas of Gila County, to foster a better working relationship with prosecutors, community, and staff, and to "fight to ensure that victims are not victimized twice once by the criminal and then again by the system.
"My pledge is to be responsive to all citizens, to mold the sheriff's office into an organization we can all be proud of, and to make Gila County a safer place to live," he said.
Gila County sheriff, Dennis "Dino" McCarthy (Dem.)
"The mismanagement of the sheriff's office has been well documented by the press," McCarthy said. "As an attorney in private practice, I understand how to run a business, and I intend to apply modern principles of business management to make the department more efficient."
McCarthy said he also recognizes the need to restore public and staff confidence in the sheriff's department.
"By raising the morale of deputies and providing them with strong, competent leadership, the performance of the deputies, detention officers, and support staff will vastly improve," he said. "The effect for Gila County residents will be a professional, efficient, and effective law enforcement agency."
Besides maintaining a private law practice in Payson and Globe, McCarthy served seven years as deputy county attorney and three years as a reserve police officer.
Gila County sheriff, Art Stone (Rep.)
"Stone will ride Gila County wide," his campaign brochure proclaims, and the flamboyant candidate said he backs that pledge with more than 20 years of law enforcement and private security experience.
A former chief of police at Wichita State University, Kansas State University, and for the town of Derby, Kan., Stone promises to return integrity to the sheriff's office.
"If elected," he said, "I will provide the citizens of Gila County with a reasonable and logical budget that maximizes every dollar. I will also seek to build cooperation with small communities through the integration of common services. I will also be available to the people of Gila County by maintaining an open door policy. And finally, I will upgrade the professionalism of the sheriff's office by encouraging education and in-service training."
The Northern Gila County Republican Women's Club is holding a candidates luncheon at noon Saturday, Aug. 19 at Mario's Restaurant. Eighteen candidates from legislative Dist. 4, Gila County candidates and two Arizona Corporation Commission candidates have been invited. Tickets are $15 each and may be purchased from Mario's, or call Barbara Brewer at 474-3876.