The three out-of-town Republicans vying for the right to represent Rim Country in the state Legislature, made a rare appearance in Payson last week and all vowed to work hard to secure Gila Community College’s independence.
Former legislative aide Keith Alexander, accountant Brenda Barton and vocational education teacher Chester Crandell all railed against state spending levels, illegal immigration and the performance of the state’s schools in a two-hour joint appearance before the Citizens Awareness Committee.
The two candidates who get the most votes in the primary will then face two Winslow Democrats — counselor Prescott Winslow and retiree railway engineer Bill Shumway. The Democrats have so far emphasized education reform and overhauling the state tax code to make it more fair and less subject to big swings when the economy falters.
Republicans Crandell and Barton are running on a slate — making Alexander the odd man out. All three candidates have local roots stretching back for generations, but all three come from the southeastern area of a district that stretches from Winslow to Safford and from Payson to Alpine.
For his part, Alexander has emphasized his background as legislative staff, both at the state and congressional level. Crandell and Barton insist that they’re not politicians and don’t know all the details of state government and the budget, but vowed to bring a common-sense attitude to the job.
“I’m not a professional, like some candidates are,” said Barton in one of the few feather-light jibes of the afternoon. “My family helped settle this beautiful state. There is an illness in our government at all levels. When government gets so big that it reaches into every corner of our lives, then there’s something terribly wrong.”
Crandell said he’d been born and raised in Navajo County and spent 30 years in education. He is running to prevent government from ruining the state. “Government, because of its size and the special interests groups, has made it hard to live in the great state of Arizona.”
Alexander said “I’m a very conservative candidate: pro life, pro gun. I want to find a way to fix government and make it smaller. With this Obama recession, there’s only one way to get out of it and that’s through private enterprise.”
Former Payson Mayor Bob Edwards served as moderator for the event. The long session ranged over a complex array of issues.
Alexander observed that Rim Country schools do a little better than the state average, partly because local schools don’t have a lot of children of illegal immigrants bringing test scores down. He said “the money really isn’t getting to where it should go” partly because schools spend half their money on administrators.
Crandell said schools should bolster career and technical education to ensure that students not heading for college still have job skills. He said the state should remove many of the mandates and find a way to pay schools for results — like when a student moves from one grade to the next after having mastered the skills set for that grade level. He said the schools need a drastic overhaul. “We want to fix things, which means getting out of the same old box we’ve been in.”
Barton agreed. “We need to stop social promotion,” and hold back students who haven’t mastered skills set for a given grade level. She also supports the notion of only paying schools for results, rather than “seat time.”
Gila Community College
All three candidates said they would strongly support legislation that would lay out a fair, clear way for Gila Community College to attain independence. Currently, GCC contracts with Eastern Arizona College for its credential and administration — paying 25 percent of its budget as a fee and giving up any detailed control over its budget or programs. All three candidates have far more political connections to Safford than to Payson, but all vowed to work for GCC’s independence.
Barton said “I will be proud to co-sponsor the legislation. I also believe in the art of the possible. I can’t really expand on something I haven’t researched.”
Crandell said the legislation that made it virtually impossible for a rural county to now form a community college district that would share in supplemental state funding for rural areas “very short sighted. Any county that wants a community college district, should have the steps laid out — so funding needs to be looked at.”
Alexander agreed. “I’m firmly in favor and the sooner the better.” Under later questioning, he said GCC should also look into whether it could solve the problem by merging with an established community college district in a neighboring county.
“So can we hold you accountable?” for pushing through independence for GCC, asked Edwards.
“We’re only two votes in the Legislature,” cautioned Barton.
“We need a system that will work for any community,” added Crandell.
Immigration and SB 1070
All three candidates strongly supported the controversial state law that required police officers at the local level to check immigration status any time they make a stop for some other reason. Under questioning, all three admitted that they hadn’t read the law “word for word,” but understood the key provisions.
Alexander insisted the measure will not lead to racial profiling, because police officers throughout the state are too well trained to focus on people simply because they’re Hispanic.
Barton pointed out that the 1910 legislation that led to statehood included a passage saying that the schools should teach everything in English and that no one could hold public office unless they could speak English fluently. “We have a breech of contract. Yes, I believe English should be favored in our schools.”
Crandell said he supported SB 1070, but that it wouldn’t stop the flow of illegal immigrants. “It has raised awareness,” he added.
All three candidates called for a reduction in state spending and advocated state budget reforms, but none provided specifics about how they would cut billions from state spending without raising taxes. In the past year, for instance, the state has cut per-student funding by nearly $800, although even before the cuts the state provides less education funding than almost any other state.
Crandell said the state should stick to a two-year budget process. The state already officially adopts two-year budget plans, the Legislature routinely ignores the deadlines for adopting the budget. Confronted with a projected budget deficit last year, the Legislature did nothing for eight months and then passed the buck to taxpayers to approve a temporary 1 cent sales tax increase. Crandell said he would support an “independent study of where the money really is going.”
Alexander said he would avoid budget gimmicks, like postponing payments from one fiscal year to the next to balance the budget on paper. “We need a budget where the numbers really add up.” He supported Gov. Jan Brewer’s attempt to eliminate the Arizona Department of Commerce.
All three candidates advocated sharp cuts in the coverage offered to children and low-income families and people in nursing homes by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), although many of the reductions in eligibility they advocated would be barred by the recently adopted federal health care reforms.
Barton said “we cannot continue” to provide health care for so many people through the state. In Gila County, AHCCCS provides health coverage to about one in five residents. She called for a move to repeal a voter-approved measure that expanded the coverage with money from a settlement with tobacco companies. She said the program should charge premiums and co-payments and stop enrolling more people. She lamented a federal law that prevents hospital emergency rooms from turning people away, especially if they’re here illegally.
Crandell said “I look at AHCCCS like a lot of entitlement programs, which come with a lot of abuse.” He said small-business owners have been setting up their companies to avoid reporting the income so they could qualify for AHCCCS. He said “we’re taking care of more people now than we can afford.”
Alexander said the state would save about $250 million if it imposed a modest co-payment whenever people on AHCCCS go to the doctor or to the emergency room. The fee would deter patients from going to the emergency room at all. He also criticized the federal government for overturning a state rule that would have required people on AHCCCS to reapply every month.