State House: Voters Face Stark Choice

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Arizona House District 5 voters will face a stark choice in November, after contending slates locked up their parties’ nominations for the two open seats.

On the Republican side, Heber vocational teacher Chester Crandell and Safford accountant Brenda Barton edged out former legislative aid Keith Alexander.

On the Democratic side, counselor Prescott Winslow and retired train engineer Bill Shumway — both from Winslow — ran unopposed.

Only 26 percent of the voters bothered to cast a vote, although the large number of uncontested primary races may have depressed turnout.

In the lightly contested Republican race, Barton proved the top vote-getter. In the preliminary vote tally that excludes a large number of late mail-in and provisional ballots, Barton had 39 percent of the vote, Crandell had 33 percent and Alexander had 28 percent.

Barton did even better in Gila County, capitalizing on the months leading up to the election when she was a fixture at Republican gatherings in Payson and elsewhere in the county. She garnered 41 percent of the vote in Gila County, compared to 30 percent for Crandell and 29 percent for Alexander.

Payson is the largest town in a district that meanders from Winslow to Safford and from Pine to New Mexico. However, none of the winning candidates have strong ties to Rim Country.

Barton and Crandell ran as a slate aligned with Snowflake state Sen. Sylvia Allen, who won her heated primary battle with former Safford state Rep. Bill Konopnicki.

nicki. Winslow and Shumway hope they can win a seat in the Republican-leaning district by capitalizing on widespread anger at the state’s Republican-majority Legislature’s handling of the budget and the economy and by tapping into the network of rural Democrats that have long sustained retiring Rep. Jack Brown of St. Johns.

However, despite the massive state budget deficits, deep cuts in education spending and the near immobilization of the Legislature for eight months due to a standoff between Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and the Republican legislative leadership, incumbents swept to easy wins in most districts — with the exception Allen’s hard-fought race. More popular anger and debate have focused on immigration than on the state budget in recent weeks, a trend that favored Republicans and almost single-handedly revived Gov. Jan Brewer’s prospects.

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Prescott Winslow

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Bill Shumway

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Brenda Barton

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Chester Crandell

Where they stand

The race will offer District 5 voters sharp contrasts in tackling the state’s chronic problems.

For instance, Crandell and Barton have both called for a radical change in education funding. They want to pay school districts based on results — for instance paying districts only for those students who pass grade level standardized tests or for students who graduate with a degree.

They maintain such a system would force districts to boost student achievement or face a devastating loss of funds — especially if coupled with open enrollment that allowed parents to move their kids to schools with higher test scores.

Shumway and Prescott, by contrast, have focused more on the deep cuts in per-student funding in the past two years on top of figures showing Arizona already spends far less per student than most other states. They have sharply criticized Barton’s and Crandell’s proposal, saying that such a system would result in most of the money going to already well off districts with college-bound students, at the expense of rural schools and inner city schools — with lower test scores and graduation rates.

In urban areas, the strongest schools in the wealthy neighborhoods would quickly fill up. In rural areas, students typically don’t have any choice about which school they attend — especially at the high school and middle school level.

The opposing slates have also taken sharply different positions on overall state budget questions.

Crandell and Barton have generally avoided criticizing the Legislature’s handling of the budget, putting most of the blame for the state’s massive deficits on the rapid rise in state spending during the boom several years ago when Democrat Janet Napolitano was governor.

They have called mostly for spending cuts to bring the budget into balance and then the development of an ironclad rainy day fund to prevent the state from overspending during the next boom.

Both have stressed the need for tax cuts to bolster private businesses as a way to get out of the economic slowdown, rather than government programs.

Shumway and Prescott have both sharply criticized the Legislature and the past two administrations for rapidly increasing state spending during the boom, especially when it comes to adding ongoing programs. However, they said the budget crash was exaggerated by the state’s over-reliance on sales taxes and construction.

The reliance on sales taxes resulted in a dramatic drop in state revenues when the economy slowed, resulting in substantial state layoffs and furloughs at just the moment government might have stimulated the economy.

They have both called for a bi-partisan effort to overhaul the state tax code, to make state revenues less subject to boom-bust cycles.

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