Most Democrats and Republicans running in local races agree on one issue — Gila Community College should gain independence. Local party officials are even working together, aiding the fight.
“This is certainly one issue that Democrats and Republicans can agree on,” said Gila County Democratic Chair Chris Tilley.
“It’s not really a party issue,” said Lew Levenson, parliamentarian with the county’s Republican party. “It wasn’t because Republicans are doing it. It’s because people are doing it.”
Levenson informally surveyed most Republican candidates about their views on the college. And, Tilley asked all the local candidates of her party, offering background if they lacked familiarity.
“Some of them already were aware,” said Tilley. “If they weren’t, I started in with the whole (explanation), and two hours later,” we finished talking, she said, partly in jest. “It is such a complicated issue.”
This election season’s ballot so far includes two Democratic House candidates — Winslow residents Bill Shumway and Prescott Winslow — and three Republican candidates — Safford residents Keith Alexander and Brenda Barton, along with Heber resident Chester Crandell.
Two House seats are open. Rep. Bill Konopnicki is term-limited out and running for Senate. Rep. Jack Brown is retiring.
Democrat Shumway wrote in an e-mail that GCC, “is like the young adult that is ready to leave home and strike out on their own.”
Winslow also wrote that he supported the college’s move toward independence, and added that an independent GCC could more easily negotiate with Arizona State University as it explores building a Payson campus.
On the Republican side, Alexander, who once attended the college and has family working there, also said he supported the effort.
Barton wrote that she supported the task force’s efforts and that she looked “forward to co-sponsoring legislation,” now under development by legislative staffers.
Crandell didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.
In the Senate, two Republicans — incumbent Sylvia Allen and challenger Konopnicki — are vying to compete against one Democrat — Payson’s Elaine Bohlmeyer — in the November election.
Allen supports the college. She started a task force and is heading the charge to craft legislation ready to introduce in January.
Konopnicki has flip-flopped on this issue, at one point calling the existing college a “miracle.” However, he now says he supports a careful effort that wouldn’t risk destroying the existing institution.
Levenson said he didn’t even ask Konopnicki’s opinion.
“I think he’s been part of the problem,” he said.
Bohlmeyer said she supports the effort to gain accreditation.
Tilley said some candidates were already aware of GCC’s fight for independence. GCC formed after the state set tax base and population thresholds for counties wanting to operate community colleges.
Because Gila County fell beneath these thresholds, the state permitted GCC to form, but required it to contract with a fully-accredited institution.
GCC contracts with Eastern Arizona College, but many GCC advocates consider the contract onerous. It requires GCC to pay 25 percent overhead on all expenses, and mostly turns decision-making authority to EAC. GCC is also prohibited from employing its own deans and teachers.
“I think we’re being taken advantage of, honestly,” said Tilley.
“Unless one has very strong ties to EAC, it actually makes sense for Gila County to have their own college. I think that’s what’s been holding up the works — that some people have very strong ties to EAC.”
GCC Forums for the Future
Gila Community College will host two evenings of candidate forums. Come hear local candidates for the U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, state senator, and state representative.
The meetings will take place on the Payson campus via interactive television with candidates speaking in Globe.
The forums will be interactive with questions taken from the audiences in Globe, Payson and San Carlos.
On Friday, July 23, a U.S. Senate Candidate Forum will begin at 4 p.m., with a mixer beginning at 5:30 p.m. At 7 p.m., candidates for the U.S. Congress will speak.
On Saturday, July 24, a State Senator District 5 Candidate Forum will begin at 4 p.m. A State Representative District 5 Candidate Forum will begin at 5:15 p.m., and a mixer will begin at 6:15 p.m.
Gila Community College is pleased to bring this service to the residents of Gila County and everyone is encouraged to attend and participate. If you have any questions, please contact Trena Grantham or Shawn Boxell at the GCC Gila Pueblo Campus at (928) 425-8481.