Legislative Candidates Square Off

Forest thinning, increased access for industry is popular election theme

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All five Rim Country state legislative candidates, at a forum Wednesday, said they favored forest thinning and increased access for industry, though none outlined a plan to make it happen.

Forest health dominated the conversation at the Citizens Clean Election Commission sponsored forum in Payson. Roughly 25 people attended.

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Sylvia Allen

"We'll do the best we know how because we're so personally involved in it," said Rep. Jack Brown, a Democrat. He said his family owns 160 acres in the middle of the forest.

Brown vowed to continue "not battles, but discussion with the Forest Service" and advocated finding more money to manage the forests.

The huge fuel loads likewise worried Republican Rep. Bill Konopnicki. The "Forest Service has to change the way they view these forests," he said, advocating increased access for private industry. "We don't want someone in New York making decisions for Gila County," Konopnicki said.

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Barbara Brewer

Republican Barbara Brewer, who is running for an open state representative seat, said she would continue working with the Forest Service as she did during her tenure as mayor of Payson.

Congress ultimately has the most power in pressuring the Forest Service to open its land to industry, Brewer said. She also stressed publicizing evacuation plans that already exist in case of catastrophic fire.

Voters will select two of the three candidates running for state representative. Only one Democrat is running.

Republican State Senator Sylvia Tenney Allen said the timber industry's tragic decline has killed many communities' economies.

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Jack Brown

Allen said her theme throughout the evening was "America must get back to work."

Democrat Bill Jeffers, who is challenging Allen, advocated increased grazing, recreation, hunting and timber industry access on federal land. He said the multi-use was the best way to mitigate fire risk. "You're going to have fires, but they're not going to be the devastating fires," he said.

The race for state senator pits Republican and Snowflake resident Allen, who took the seat after Jake Flake died, against Democrat and Holbrook resident Jeffers. One spot is open.

Two spots are open for state representative, with incumbents Brown, a Democrat from Saint Johns, and Konopnicki, a Republican from Safford, challenged by Brewer, a Republican from Payson.

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Bill Jeffers

Besides the two questions concerning forest health, candidates generally agreed Gila County Community College should receive equal funding, that they would support citizens' will when it comes to building a highway bypassing Payson. They agreed more drilling and nuclear power were essential for energy independence.

Candidates seemingly agreed on most issues. At times, when the last candidate spoke on a question, he would begin his answer by saying he agreed with everything the others had said.

Attendee Rev. Dee Hershberger said that while she couldn't discern any differences among candidates, she appreciated their civility -- a lesson for Washington D.C.

However, Hershberger had harsh words about the event's meager attendance.

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Bill Konopnicki

"I think this is an excellent thing, but it was poorly advertised," she said. "I'm very concerned because we need an educated electorate."

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