Dems Seeking To Represent Rim Face Uphill Battle

District 5’s two open House seats draw candidates promising budget reform, support for education

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The two Winslow Democrats seeking to represent Rim Country in the state House are seeking a major overhaul of state budgeting procedures to avoid the kind of devastating boom-bust cycle that has convulsed the state Legislature.

Moreover, they both have vowed to seek pragmatic, centerist solutions and fight the extreme partisanship that has settled over the capitol.

“We’ve entered a kind of gridlock, and we keep doing the same thing over and over and over again,” said Bill Shumway, a just-retired railroad engineer and union official whose father served two terms in the Legislature.

“I can promise I’ll be part of a process of coming up with bipartisan solutions we can all embrace for the top-priority problems,” said Prescott Winslow, a professional and guidance councilor who has worked extensively with Winslow schools.

Last week, the Roundup profiled the three Republicans vying for two open seats in the sprawling district that extends from Winslow to Safford, including most of Gila, Greenlee and Graham counties. Payson is the biggest town in the district, but none of the House candidates have a strong Payson connection.

The three Republicans — Brenda Barton, Chester Crandell and Keith Alexander — have all called for deep reductions in state spending, reductions in taxes and sometimes drastic school reforms, like only paying school districts for students who graduate or pass competency tests and repealing most state mandates to give school boards a free hand in setting up programs and budgets.

The District 5 seats opened up when incumbent Republican Bill Konoponicki of Safford was term-limited, 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, almost completely lacking in Rim Country events involving more than one candidate at time.

Democrats in the past have concentrated on getting Brown elected in a district that tilts Republican. This time, Winslow and Shumway decided to run together.

Generally, the Democrats have both called for increased support for education and an overhaul of the state budget and taxes.

Bill Shumway

Son of former state Rep. Boyd Shumway, Bill Shumway says education and budget reform remain his top priorities.

He wants to balance the budget without further harming the state’s schools or economy.

He said the state has relied too heavily on building new homes to raise tax revenue and that once the state weathers the current crisis, the Legislature must reform the tax structure to smooth out the boom-bust cycles.

On education, he said the state must find new ways to coordinate the efforts of the community colleges and the four-year universities, including finding ways for students in the rural district to get a four-year degree locally. He said he would strongly support both independence for Gila Community College and building an ASU campus in Payson.

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Bill Shumway

He said education reform remains his top priority. Money’s part of the problem — since Arizona spends less per student than almost any other state. But money’s not the main issue, he said.

“My answer is not to throw money at it, but we have to change what we’re doing. We haven’t motivated students to see that education is the ticket to their economic success.”

He noted that spending on prisons is increasing rapidly — and that 71 percent of prison inmates in this state don’t have a high school degree. “We haven’t made that correlation.”

On the state budget, he called for an overhaul of the system to make the state less reliant on sale taxes and other boom-bust tax sources.

“We treated growth like an industry — but it’s not an industry — it’s a windfall. We haven’t cast our nets out far enough to prepare for the inevitable down cycle. We need to take that windfall and invest in things we need, but keep a portion for a rainy day. Instead, now we’re cutting the parks system and medical care and AHCCCS — cutting things that end up costing us money.”

He cited the threatened closure of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, since the state cut the parks budget even though studies show tourists who visit the parks inject millions into local economies.

“I’m not saying there aren’t times to cut taxes to stimulate the economy — I’m saying if that’s the only tool in your toolbox, then you’re in trouble,” said Shumway.

He said a strong educational system holds the key to the state’s economic future. Investing in education produces big future financial returns for the state, but increasing incomes and therefore taxes paid.

On immigration, he said he opposed SB 1070 but that “I do think it probably was effective in getting the government working towards a solution.”

However, he said the solution lies in combining border enforcement with a guest worker program — and depends mostly on federal, not state, actions.

“Instead, we’re chasing bus boys and dishwashers through the desert when we have other problems. Statistics show just the opposite of this dog and pony show — in terms of crime and everything else. It’s a shell game — a way to shift focus away from the problems that we really have in this state.”

Shumway spent 41 years working for the railroad, starting as a brakeman, working his way up to engineer and then a safety officer.

More recently, he has represented railway unions on state legislative boards. He also served as chairman of the Navajo County Democrats, during which time he doubled the number of precinct committeemen.

Prescott Winslow

The Winslow employment counselor served as head of the Gila River Indian Community’s social services department in the 1970s, before moving to Seattle to spend 30 years as a counselor.

He has lived all over the country, including New York and Massachusetts, mostly doing counseling and social work. He returned to Arizona and settled in Winslow in 2005, where he founded the nonprofit Center for Career and College Advising and was named as outstanding volunteer two years running by the Winslow School District.

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Prescott Winslow

Winslow said that “extreme partisanship has poisoned and paralyzed” the Legislature, made possible by lopsided redistricting that decides most races in the primaries, where the activists in each party wield the most influence. Prescott called District 5 one of the few competitive districts in the state.

“If I’m elected, I’ll be one vote in a minority party in one branch of government — so the only campaign promise I can make is that I’ll work hard. But my skills are in the area of persuasion, negotiation and compromise — so I hope I’ll be part of a process of coming up with bipartisan solutions we can all agree on.”

He has called for increased investment in education at all levels, increased worker training and re-training and a more diversified economy and tax base. He has called on the Legislature to adopt a “sustainable” revenue source for state parks, to ensure they remain open. He has also both condemned the failure of the federal government to prevent illegal immigration and called for a guest worker program, calling SB 1070 a “tragic distraction” from solving the problem.

He endorsed the tax reform recommendations of a 2009 Arizona Town Hall, which included broadening the sales tax base while lowering the rate, reinstating a state property tax, imposing more user fees, reducing tax credits, bringing in more federal funding, requiring the state to maintain a 20 percent rainy day fund, increasing taxes on gasoline, eliminating a requirement of a two-thirds legislative vote to increase any tax, removing legislative term limits and inserting a balanced budget amendment with teeth into the state constitution.

He said he would push for a bipartisan commission to propose an overhaul of the state tax system that makes the revenue’s “predictable, sustainable and equitable.”

He said the Legislature and governor took advantage of windfall revenues during the boom years, without setting aside money for the predictable crash.

“It’s not about spending too much money in an absolute sense, it was that our spending was unsustainable because our revenues were unsustainable. If you inherit $50,000 from your Uncle Fred, you don’t buy a bigger house and have a mortgage that’s more than you can afford all the way into the future — you build up your emergency fund and invest in things that won’t be part of your operational budget forever.”

Instead the Legislature and the governor cut deals that created a budget disaster. For instance, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano wanted all-day kindergarten and worked out a deal with the Republican legislative leadership to essentially swap their support for all-day kindergarten for her support of a tax cut.

“That would have been a good idea if the boom had gone on forever.”

Instead, the Legislature had to repeal funding for all-day kindergarten when the recession hit.

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