Two open state House seats for the sprawling district that includes Rim Country have attracted a surprisingly subdued field of candidates in both parties, with no Payson-area candidates in the mix.
The seats opened up when term-limited incumbent Republican Bill Konopnicki, of Safford, decided to run for the state senate and longtime Democratic incumbent Jack Brown, of St. Johns, decided to retire.
But instead of the crowded field an open seat in a district that could go to either party often attracts, the race lured just two Democrats and three Republicans, resulting in a low-key primary.
On the Democratic side, former employment counselor Prescott Winslow and former railway worker Bill Shumway, who also lives in Winslow, are both assured the nomination.
On the Republican side, voters will weed out one of the three candidates.
Fifth-generation Arizona native Brenda Barton of Safford, who has long worked as a Republican activist, accountant and real estate agent, has made repeated trips to Payson for local activities.
The two other Republican candidates have been less visible locally, including Safford businessman and aide to Congressman Rick Renzi, Keith Alexander, 42, and as a former lobbyist and teacher Chester Crandell, 63, of Heber.
The district tilts Republican and even during the big Democratic win nationally two years ago, Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen picked up 54 percent of the vote.
Two years ago, the Democrats didn’t even field two candidates against the two, then-entrenched incumbents.
The quiet nature of the House race has been reflected in the tepid pace of fund-raising so far.
On the Democratic side, Winslow has raised $2,130, with about $1,400 still in the bank as of June 30. Shumway has raised $4,500 with $3,000 in the bank.
On the Republican side, Crandell has raised $16,000, with about $15,000 still on hand at the end of June. Keith had raised just $1,000, but had spent only $118. Barton had raised $1,600 and spent nearly all of it.
On this page, you’ll find short summaries of the biographies and key positions of the three Republican candidates. A future article will detail the positions of the two Democratic candidates.
All three Republican candidates advocated resistance to federal programs, increased logging, grazing and mining, and deep cuts in state spending.
Keith Alexander: Neither party has ‘anything to be proud of’
A sixth-generation Arizonan, Alexander is sales manager at the Hancock Home Center in Safford. Previously, he worked as a legislative aide for Republican Congressman Rick Renzi, who is now facing trial for allegedly trying to influence a federal land swap to enrich a business partner. The son of a state lawmaker, Alexander touts his political and legislative experience.
He offered the most detail in his analysis of the budget, frequently citing the recommendations of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee for proposed reforms.
For instance, he suggested that the state could save $250 million simply by imposing modest co-pays for doctor and emergency room visits on the state’s program to provide health care for poor children and medically indigent people in nursing homes, known as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. The co-payments would raise about $25 million, but also deter people from visiting emergency rooms for minor problems.
“I don’t think either party has anything to be proud of” concerning the budget, said Alexander. The Republicans deadlocked and refused to make hard choices and the Democrats held back from negotiations that might have resulted in a reasonable compromise.
He has stressed the need to reform the state budget, in part by refusing federal funds that come with strings attached. Currently, the federal government provides the bulk of the funding for programs like welfare and AHCCCS. Alexander vowed to repeal unfunded state mandates and return billions in federal funds that come with too many strings attached, to return control to the local level. He called for elimination of the state property tax. However, he also criticized the Legislature for stalling action for nearly a year then dumping the problem on the voters, but also supported the property tax increase as the best of the bad choices available.
But he also called for an examination of the state’s tax structure, to smooth out the boom-bust cycles of a system that relies too heavily on the sales tax and on taxes generated by growth.
A big supporter of education, Alexander said he would also “fight tooth and nail” to both expand programs at Gila Community College and build an ASU campus in Payson “not only because it would be good for my district, but because it would be good for the state.” He said he would probably support independence for GCC, but that it might also make sense to merge the provisional GCC with an accredited college in a neighboring county.
He vowed to fight “Obama’s socialized medicine” and to push for medical malpractice tort reform.
Chester Crandell: ‘He put us here to use the timber . . .’
The fiercely conservative Crandell, 63, has so far stressed state’s rights issues, staunch resistance to federal programs and control, and a suggestion that the state move education to “a free enterprise model,” which he explains as shifting public schools to more of a block grant, charter school approach — giving the school boards money with as few strings as possible. He opposes federal health care reforms, wants to set up a system that will divert medical malpractice lawsuits to grand juries and wants to balance the budget, slash taxes, expand logging and ban abortion and any restrictions on gun ownership.
He said the state needs to change the budgeting process to avoid the kind of delay and deadlock that this year immobilized the Legislature. “I don’t know that I can disagree with anything” the Legislature did. “It’s easy to sit on the outside and say, ‘I’d have done this and I’d have done that.’ I’m not totally familiar with all the taxing entities that are doing the taxing. I know we need to cut some more. If we continue to raise taxes, we’re not going to continue to raise our productivity. I think we need to look at the whole picture.”
He has lived most of his life in Heber, earned a degree in agricultural education from Northern Arizona University and learned a lot about the legislative process from serving as a designated public lobbyist for the local school district, pushing for funding for vocational programs. He has taught vocational agriculture in public schools and currently serves as assistant superintendent for Joint Technological Education in the Heber/Overgaard School District. He and his wife operate a small cattle ranch on the Rim.
He maintains that God put natural resources on the Earth for the use of human beings. “He put us here to use timber, farming, mining, grazing, water and the recreational use of the land.”
He said federal agencies like the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management should act like guests in the state and not restrict use of public lands. Instead, those federal agencies should play a role of “assistance in developing and increasing production of our natural resources.”
He noted that “Arizona in its constitution did not give up property to the federal government. It lets them come in and manage it. We need to figure out how to get that management back.” He suggested the need for a constitutional convention, to return control of federal lands to the states.
Brenda Barton: ‘We have lost the Republic’
Barton became a conservative activist initially during her 20 years of work with People for the West, a group that has touted state control of western lands and has furiously opposed federal regulations on federal land.
Her Web site says her family is descended from the pioneer family that established Lee’s Ferry, whose Mormon patriarch was eventually executed for allegedly taking part in a massacre of non-Mormon settlers in Utah.
She said the state spends too much money and must balance its budget and lower taxes, but didn’t provide details about what programs the state should cut. “I’m not an incumbent. As far as the ins and outs of all the legislation that has been built over time — it is unknown to me. But I am saying we need to look at the expenditures and address the ones we can correct — and spend less in some areas.
“I’m not telling you what I’d want to cut, but we can’t stay here. It’s not a place that we can stay. If we don’t make the hard choices, the bankruptcy courts will make them for us.”
She said the country’s real problems started when people learned that they could vote for programs that provided them with benefits. “As soon as people realized that they can vote themselves benefits, we have lost the Republic.” She said all of the money spent on government programs and employees is wasted, unlike money spent by private businesses — which is continually spent and respent. “You need to invest money, get a rate of return — it needs to be invested properly. Government needs to get out of the way and really let the private industry move about.
“We need to have jobs in this state and jobs come from private industry.”
She cited Calvin Coolidge as her favorite president, noting that he made government get out of the way during the roaring 20s. “Everyone had money. Everyone had a job. Unemployment dropped.
She says she is “pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-family and pro-taxpayer.” She wants to repeal any state regulations that hamper growth, make full use of natural resources, balance the state budget, require government to live within its means without new taxes and secure the border.
On the topic of education reform, she suggested paying schools based on students who graduate and pass standardized tests, so schools wouldn’t get paid for enrollment unless students finished. She said she would couple that system with open enrollment, so parents could shift their children to the highest performing schools.