Ignore The Candidates And They’Ll Ignore Rim Country’S Needs

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Consider the disturbing implications of the short, out-of-town list of people who want to represent us in the Arizona House of Representatives.

We have two open seats.

On the Democratic side, two nice fellows from Winslow are running as a team.

On the Republican side, we’ve got one fellow from Heber and two candidates from Safford.

When it comes to the Senate seat, we at least have one candidate from Rim Country — Payson educator Elaine Bohlmeyer, running unopposed for the Democratic nomination. On the Republican side, Safford Rep. Bill Konopnicki got term-limited out of his House seat so he’s running against incumbent Sen. Sylvia Allen, from Snowflake.

Set aside for a moment the merits of any of these candidates.

Just consider their paltry numbers — and the shocking lack of representation from Rim Country and Payson, the largest town in the sprawling rural district.

What gives?

Don’t say it’s because the race doesn’t matter. Arizona at the moment faces a terrible economic crisis. Faced with plunging state revenues, the Legislature spent eight months all but paralyzed — as the problem got worse. Stupefied lawmakers finally passed the buck to voters, who approved a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase. Meanwhile, the Legislature imposed wrenching, improvised, chaotic cuts — which among other things cut already low per-student spending by about $800 a head. All of that and we’re still facing a massive projected deficit in this year’s budget.

The state faces urgent questions about how to reorder state spending, rationalize the tax system, reform schools and restore jobs and the economy.

Meanwhile, Rim Country faces equally urgent questions — including funding and autonomy for Gila Community College, convincing Arizona State University to build a campus here, fixing our schools and preventing a wildfire from roaring out of the forest to consume all we’ve worked to build.

Every single resident of Rim Country has a direct and vital stake in who represents us in the Arizona Legislature.

Now, it’s too late to find more candidates who understand Rim Country’s problems firsthand. For better or worse, we’ll be represented mostly by people who live far from here — even if Bohlmeyer wins her race.

But it’s not too late for Rim Country residents to get involved in those campaigns — both as volunteers and by contributing money.

Most of the candidates right now are operating on a financial shoestring. The sole exception is Rep. Konopnicki, who has raised almost as much money as all the other candidates combined — 96 percent of it from out-of-district donors.

In fact, that exception proves the rule: A handful of big economic interests dominate state politics by financing most of the campaigns.

Alas, that’s our fault. We deserve the government we get, mostly because we shrug and turn away — thinking it’s enough to simply vote. Even at that, the majority of voters either never register or don’t bother to show up at the polls — much less contribute their time and money to campaigns.

Next week, voters will weed out one Senate candidate and one House candidate on the Republican side.

Then the six contenders for the three seats will launch their general election campaigns.

We hope they’ll do so with your help — as a volunteer or a donor.

We know that time and money is precious, but figure it this way: If you don’t get involved now, then you won’t have earned the right to complain for the next two years about all the foolish things the Legislature will almost certainly do.

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