State senate candidates Elaine Bohlmeyer and incumbent Sen. Sylvia Allen faced off during Tuesday’s Clean Elections debate, expressing opposing views on everything from reinvigorating the economy to the state’s role in the immigration and health care debates.
Allen, a Republican, and Bohlmeyer, a Democrat, each stayed true to their party’s line, with Allen opposed to the government doing much at all and Bohlmeyer advocating continued government investment as the economy returns from the recession.
Allen, however, twice referenced communist Germany and China as having possible solutions to some of Arizona’s most daunting problems.
On the question of whether Arizona should accept the recently passed federal health care plan, Bohlmeyer wondered why Arizona should spend money it doesn’t have on lawsuits while Allen cited government regulation as the reason why the existing health care system doesn’t work.
The Clean Elections debate, held at a packed conference room at the Best Western Payson Inn, featured all Legislative District 5’s house and senate candidates. See the related story for the house representative debate.
The moderator asked candidates questions ranging from how they would promote job growth to ways of cutting the price of education. Each person had one minute to respond.
Bohlmeyer said her number one priority was to improve education, while Allen said hers was cutting the deficit.
“If we don’t do this, we are not going to be able to move forward into the future,” said Allen. In 2000, the state had a nearly $600 million rainy day fund. “That was destroyed as the state went on a spending spree,” said Allen.
Meanwhile, Bohlmeyer said, “we must have an educated workforce for the jobs we want to bring to Arizona.” She added, “Education impacts every aspect of our lives.”
When asked about reducing the cost of higher education, Bohlmeyer said the state needed to increase revenue. For example, she said the state should go after $400 million in back taxes that people owe. She also advocated closing tax loopholes typically used by the wealthy.
Allen suggested allowing community colleges to offer select four-year degrees. She also proposed changes in high school to allow sophomores to decide if they want to pursue either vocational education or college. Allen said the move would reduce the dropout rate.
To increase jobs, Allen said the nation should increase manufacturing. “America is in a lot of trouble,” she said. “The government grew this decade faster than the private sector.” Allen said jobs could grow by decreasing government regulation.
She gave the example of China, which she said has a $2 trillion surplus, compared to America, which has a debt of $13.5 trillion, and attributed the difference to less government regulation in China.
Bohlmeyer said that laying off government workers like teachers and park service workers contributed to the worsening economy, and pointed to education as a long-term solution for increasing local job opportunities.
Bohlmeyer also said green jobs are important for Arizona’s future. “We want to be able to produce energy so we don’t have to be dependent on countries that don’t like us very well.”
Allen said green jobs bring little to the economy, although she acknowledged that China has profited from manufacturing solar panels. After factoring in government subsidies, green industries produce little revenue, said Allen.
Bohlmeyer countered, “We’ve been giving an unbalanced advantage to oil companies.” The federal government provides billions of dollars worth of subsidies to oil companies.
“I think it’s time to focus on the things that are going to be an advantage to us in the future,” said Bohlmeyer.
When asked about immigration reform, Allen praised the Berlin Wall — although she quickly said, “I hated it,” — for its success at keeping people where the government wanted them.
Bohlmeyer said the best way to secure the border, “is to have a realistic program for people that want to come here and determine why they want to come here before they get here.” She added, “Even the communists that Sylvia mentioned were not able to keep people in 100 percent. They shot people. I wouldn’t want to resort to that.”
On the issue of help for veterans, Allen provided no solution. “I get really kind of angry at the federal government dropping our commitment to our veterans,” she said.
Bohlmeyer proposed applying for a federal grant to provide returning soldiers with a reverse boot camp, reintroducing them to civilian society, teaching job skills and offering counseling.
Referencing Allen, Bohlmeyer said, “Her party has been in control of the legislature for more than 40 years and we cannot keep electing the same people and expect different results.”
Allen spoke about former Gov. Janet Napolitano’s budget that vastly increased spending during a recession. “If you think the answer to this crisis is to continue socialist, progressive programs, it’s not. If we don’t go back to those free-market principals,” said Allen, “we’re going to have a huge depression.”