Quiet State Legislative Primary Sets Up General Election Smash Up

Chester Crandell and Tom Chabin

Chester Crandell and Tom Chabin

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Chester Crandell and Tom Chabin

The primaries for the one state senator and two state representatives who will represent Rim Country passed with hardly a ripple.

But watch out for the general election, when three Democrats and three Republicans will face off in a district so completely redrawn that no one has the clear advantage of incumbency.

Moreover, although Republicans have the edge in state legislative District 4, registration numbers give the three Democrats a fighting chance.

The state senate contest will match two legislative incumbents, thrown into transformed districts by the redistricting process.

In the Nov. 4 contest for the single state senate seat, state Rep. Tom Chabin (D-Flagstaff) will face off against Rep. Chester Crandell (R-Heber).

Crandell served a single term in the vast sprawl of a district that effectively started in Payson then ran up against the New Mexico border. Previously, he worked for a vocational education district that provides services to school districts.

Redistricting lopped off the great eastern ramble of his old district but just barely kept Heber in a new district that includes only the northern half of Gila County but runs on through the Verde Valley and on up to Flagstaff.

The redrawn lines put Democrat Tom Chabin in the district, setting up a general election matchup between two legislative incumbents, each looking to move up to the Senate. Chabin has also served as a Coconino County supervisor and a Tuba City school board member.

The two candidates have already emphasized sharply contrasting issues.

Crandell has proposed radically changing the system of school finance, to pay school districts based on outcomes – like the number of students who graduate – rather than on daily attendance, which he calls “seat time.”

Chabin has proposed phasing out most of the sales tax exemptions, which would effectively double state revenues. He would use about $2-3 billion of that money to boost average per-student spending in Arizona from 48th place to 25th place nationwide, a major infusion of money into K-12 schools. He also wants to dramatically reduce tuition at community colleges and universities.

Crandell has also pushed for a state constitutional amendment that would effectively revoke the state’s consent to the terms under which it entered the union a century ago. Crandell hopes the dramatic move would allow the state legislature to assume control of the federal lands in the state. In Gila County, privately owned land accounts for only about 3 percent of the total.

Chabin has dismissed that idea as a waste of time that would never survive a review by federal courts. Instead, he said the Legislature should focus on job growth, in part by salvaging the state’s educational system.

The general election contest for the two state house races present a similar contrast.

Rep. Brenda Barton, who represented Gila County in the old district, moved to Payson when the Independent Redistricting Commission redrew the lines. The Commission split off south county, largely to unite the San Carlos Apache Reservation with the Navajo and Hopi reservations to create a seat in which a Native American candidate had a chance to win. That left Northern Gila County in a district dominated by Flagstaff.

Only 12 percent of the 212,000 people in the district live in Gila County.

Barton has campaigned largely on state sovereignty issues, saying that the state should act decisively to take over control of federal lands. She said the Forest Service and other federal agencies have stifled economic growth in rural counties and turned the forests into a fire trap through a century of mismanagement. Instead, she wants to revive the timber and cattle industries to manage the forest.

Flagstaff Tea Party Chairman Bob Thorpe also disputes federal authority and has written a book on constitutional objections to federal power and ways in which the states can regain control over lands and regulations.

All three Republican candidates laud the efforts of the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature to cope with the fiscal crisis triggered by the recession, which reduced state revenues by about a third due to the state’s heavy reliance on money from the sales tax and revenue from the once-booming housing market.

The Legislature cut state spending deeply, taking some $2 billion from K-12 schools, curtailing medical coverage for low-income residents and sharply cutting universities – while increasing spending on prisons, especially privately contracted prisons. The Legislature also enacted a package of business tax cuts. The cuts closed a yawning deficit and restored a modest reserve fund. At the bottom of the recession, Arizona was one of the hardest hit states. But in the past year, it has once again ranked near the top for economic growth.

The two Democratic candidates have taken issue with the emphasis on deep cuts compounded by tax breaks.

Sedona teacher, activist, former businesswoman and child advocate Angela LeFevre said the state should restore education cuts, which discourage new businesses from entering the state. She also has criticized the Legislature’s recent efforts to enact some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the state and cut off funding to Planned Parenthood.

Coconino County Democratic Party Chairman Doug Ballard is also running for the house seat in District 6, leaning heavily on his long tenure as planning and development director for Chandler. While there, he negotiated with Motorola and Intel to build complexes in Chandler that yielded thousands of jobs.

He maintains that Arizona can only resume healthy growth if it provides a high quality education system, which matters more to major corporations seeking to relocate than business tax cuts. He also criticized the “hyper partisanship” in the Legislature centered on things like abortion, gun control, birth control and other issues that distract from the need for an intense focus on the economy.

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