Rim Country voters provided the clump of ballots that secured a narrow but decisive victory for three Republicans seeking seats in the Legislature representing District 6.
Heber Rep. Chester Crandell amassed 54 percent of the vote in District 6 to fend off a strong challenge from Rep. Tom Chabin in a race Democrats had hoped would tie up the one lopsidedly Republican state Senate. That possibility prompted a rush of outside money into the race on both sides.
In the Senate race, outside interests spent $200,000 supporting Chabin and another $112,000 opposing him. Democrats also spent $73,000 opposing Crandell, compared to the $33,000 spent on his behalf by outside, independent groups. Despite the big Democratic spending advantage, Crandell wound up with a 9-point margin — the size of the Republican registration advantage.
On the House side, independent groups supporting Democrats spent about $112,000 trying to defeat Brenda Barton and Bob Thorpe, according to reports filed with the Arizona Secretary of State.
Rep. Barton followed the returns in the Republican headquarters in Payson, where she moved to run in the redrawn district. She decided to move out of her old district and rented a house in Payson. As a result, Payson will have a hometown representative in the state Legislature for the first time in memory.
Although 600,000 early and provisional ballots remain uncounted statewide including 3,400 in Gila County, Republicans appear to have retained control of both the House and the Senate, despite diminished margins.
Preliminary figures show Republicans lost four Senate seats, shrinking their majority to 17-13. That’s short of the supermajority that gave the Republican lawmakers enough votes to overcome a veto and ignore Democrats.
The fallout from the shift hit home in the Senate on Tuesday, when Sen. Andy Bigg, a staunch Phoenix conservative, unseated Prescott Senate President Steve Pierce. The surprise vote shifted the Senate leadership to the right, despite the seemingly moderating results of the election statewide.
In the state House races, the final tally remains unknown statewide with several races likely to be settled by early voting and provisional ballots. Rep. Andy Tobin on Wednesday won re-election as House Speaker.
Southern Gila County wound up mostly in state Legislative District 8, which proved one of the most chaotic races in the state. Preliminary figures show Democrat Barbara McGuire with a narrow 49 to 46 percent win over Republican Joe Ortiz. However, Republicans Frank Pratt and Thomas Shope had the edge over Democrats Ernest Bustamante and Emily Verdugo.
In Legislative District 6 representing Rim Country, strong support in Northern Gila County proved crucial to the Republican slate.
Crandell got 70 percent of the vote the northern half of Gila County compared to 54 percent district-wide. That enabled him to offset Chabin’s much stronger showing in his hometown of Flagstaff, which Chabin had represented in the Legislature for five years.
Barton and Thorpe received 34 to 35 percent of the Northern Gila County vote for the two House seats, compared to about 15 percent each for Ballard and LeFevre. In fact, the Republican slate won every single precinct in Northern Gila County.
District 6 runs from Heber in the White Mountains, through Northern Gila County, over to Sedona and the Verde Valley and on up to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.
District wide, the vote proved much closer than in Gila County. Crandell had 54 percent to Chabin’s 46 percent. Barton and Thorpe received between 27 and 28 percent each, while Angela LeFevre and Doug Ballard had 22-23 percent each.
The district has a nearly 10 percent Republican registration advantage, but about 30 percent of the voters are registered Independents. The results suggest that the Republicans and Democrats both united between their slates and the Independents broke evenly between the two.
The contending slates of candidates took sharply contrasting positions when it came to state spending, public education and state sovereignty.
For instance, Crandell authored Proposition 120, which asked voters to revoke the terms of statehood in hopes the state Legislature could seize control of federal lands in the state. Thorpe and Barton strongly supported the proposition, insisting the state could support schools and balance its budget if it could gain control of federal land and either sell it off or revive the timber and cattle industry. Chabin, LeFevre and Ballard strongly opposed it as an “ideological goose chase.”
In that case, voters agreed with the defeated Democrats — rejecting the ballot measure by a two-to-one margin.
On the other hand, voters decisively agreed with the Republican slate’s fierce opposition to Proposition 204, which would have permanently extended a one-cent sales tax with most of the money earmarked for education. The three Democrats had all reluctantly supported Prop. 204, saying it offered the only immediate way to boost state spending on education. A whopping 71 percent of Gila County voters opposed Prop. 204 compared to 65 percent statewide.
Judging from the Gila County tallies on the propositions, the voters seemed to pay more attention to party labels than to positions on issues.
The Democratic slate mostly stressed education, insisting the state can’t recover unless the public schools improve. To do that, they urged boosting state spending on education from 50th nationwide to somewhere near the middle of the pack.
Chabin offered a plan to close loopholes and exemptions in the tax code to raise several billion in revenue to boost state spending on education from 50th to 25th nationally. He has served five years in the Legislature representing Flagstaff and served on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors and Tuba City School Board.
Ballard and LeFevre echoed his proposal and insisted that the state government should do more to stimulate growth by improving public services and infrastructure.
The Republican slate ran mostly on a platform of low taxes and minimal government, with strong praise for the program-cutting and budget-balancing act of the past three years, which included the deepest education cuts in the nation. In the past year, Arizona went from one of the most hard-hit states to one of the fastest-growing.
Thorpe, Crandell and Barton said they’d all supported making the hard decisions necessary to get the state back on a sound fiscal footing.
Crandell also made the effort to regain control of federal lands a cornerstone of his campaign.
Thorpe, a Flagstaff businessman, consultant and Tea Party activist, had become politically active as a constitutional activist, arguing in favor of things like the nullification of federal regulations and state’s rights. He strongly supported state control of federal lands, and nullification of federal regulations.
Barton has represented Rim Country in the Legislature for the past two years. She previously worked for the Town of Safford and became politically active as part of the Sagebrush Rebellion, a western movement that resisted federal resource policies.
She campaigned largely on the success of the state Legislature in balancing the budget through program cuts and said that the fiscal discipline and a roughly $500 million package of tax cuts for businesses accounts for the state’s accelerating recovery. Arizona had among the biggest declines in state spending as the recession hit, but in the past year has ranked among the top five for growth, she said.