All six candidates for three seats representing Northern Gila County in the state Legislature have agreed to appear in Payson for a debate at 4 p.m. Saturday at Tiny’s Restaurant.
The two contenders for the single state Senate seat and the four candidates for the two state House seats have all made appearances in Payson in the course of the wide-open campaign season — but never on the same stage.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans extended the last-minute invitation and enlisted KMOG Radio Station and the Payson Roundup as co-sponsors of the town hall-style debate, with candidates answering questions submitted by the audience.
The Senate candidates include two state House members seeking to move to the upper chamber —Tom Chabin, a Flagstaff Democrat and Chester Crandell, a Heber Republican. They have taken sharply different positions on a range of issues. Chabin has stressed his plan to close state tax loopholes to raise several billion dollars to boost state spending on K-12 education from 50th to 25th among the states. Crandell has stressed enactment of Proposition 121, which would attempt to assert state control of federal lands. He authored the bill that put the measure on the ballot.
The campaign for the two House seats has revealed similarly stark differences on a range of policy issues.
In that contest, Rep. Brenda Barton and retired businessman Bob Thorpe face former executive Angela LeFevre of Sedona and former Chandler planning director Doug Ballard, who now lives in Flagstaff.
Barton lived in Safford and represented Rim Country for the past two years in the Legislature. When redistricting changed boundaries, she established a Payson address to run in the redrawn Legislative District 6. She has strongly supported Proposition 121 and opposed Proposition 204, which would make permanent a one-cent sales tax to benefit K-12 schools, universities and highway construction.
Republican Flagstaff businessman, author and Tea Party head Bob Thorpe has stressed tax cuts, spending cuts and asserting control of federal lands. Thorpe worked for 30 years in business at Price Waterhouse, Walt Disney and as a software entrepreneur, aerospace engineer, state certified volunteer firefighter-EMT, educator, constitutional author, and co-founder of the national Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force.
Democrat Ballard has stressed increased funding for schools as the key step in luring more businesses to Arizona and preparing Arizona students for jobs of the future. He said creating jobs remains his top priority and points to his long experience in city government. During his tenure in Chandler before retiring, he negotiated deals with Intel and Hewlett Packard that brought thousands of jobs to Arizona.
Democrat LeFevre was born in England, immigrated to the United States where she raised her children and worked as an executive for Qwest. She has since worked mostly as a child advocate in the court system and elsewhere. She has also campaigned on a platform that focuses on improving schools as the best way to revive the economy.
Evans said he realized that although Payson was the second largest town in the redrawn district, the candidates had not appeared jointly in the town. Legislative District 6 splits off Republican-rich northern Gila County from Democratic-dominated southern Gila County. District 6 meanders from Heber, through Payson, down into the Verde Valley, up through Flagstaff and on west to the Grand Canyon.
About 40 percent of the voters in the district live in the Flagstaff area, with the rest scattered throughout the great sprawl of territory, most of it belonging to the U.S. Forest Service. Flagstaff has a population of about 65,000, Payson about 16,000 and Sedona about 10,000.
Republicans comprise about 38 percent of the voters, the Democrats 29 percent and Independents about 33 percent. Republicans therefore have the edge, but the heavy concentration of the district’s population in Flagstaff also offers an advantage to Chabin and Ballard on the Democratic side and Thorpe on the Republican side.
During a debate earlier in Flagstaff, they each made opening statements to stress their priorities.
Chabin, a former member of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors and the Tuba City School Board, decried the more than $2 billion in education spending cuts the Legislature imposed to balance the budget, leaving Arizona 50th nationwide in per-student spending.
He said, “When I arrived at the Legislature five years ago it was truly a different place. If you can believe it, my vote was needed to pass a budget and I was part of an alliance with moderate Republicans including the president of the Arizona Senate that passed a bipartisan budget. Things have changed. The moderates of the Republican Party are gone. We are not open at the Legislature for bipartisanship. You’ve read the headlines. The issue before us is the Legislature itself and whether or not through you and your vote the Legislature will quit making headlines that embarrass us and we reach for moderation.”
Crandell directed a regional vocational school district before his election to the Legislature two years ago. He said, “I’m a lifelong resident of Arizona — I live in basically the same town I was raised in. I have nine children and 27 grandchildren and that’s the reason I ran for the Arizona Legislature. Look at our education system, look at our spending. We were in deficit, borrowing money, selling the capital to make ends meet. I decided it was time to go down and try to make a difference. Two years later we’ve balanced the budget, put money in K-12 education, lessened the regulatory burden facing business that’s keeping us from progress and keeping jobs from the state of Arizona.”
In the state House race, Ballard has argued that major corporations looking to relocate care about the quality of the local schools.
Ballard said, “I’m retired after a 31-year career in economic development and planning. I served on a team that attracted an Intel fabrication plant. I know that it takes a good environment to have a healthy economy. If you think of any vibrant economy anywhere else in the world, what you’ll find is a strong educational system. Unfortunately, that’s not what we have in Arizona. Funding for education has been spiraling downward. We spend more than almost any other state on prisons and less on schools.”
Rep. Barton, who started her political career working for groups in the “Sagebrush Rebellion” resisting federal authority, said “My family founded Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River in the 1870s — and later migrated south. They settled in the Gila Valley — where I was born. I’m a citizen legislator. It was citizen legislators that founded America. When I took office, Arizona faced a $3.2 billion deficit and a structurally unsound budget. Today we have a $450 million rainy day fund and a towering $427 million surplus. Today our state economy has risen to among the top 10 in the nation. That’s a monumental achievement.”
LeFevre, an economist and former teacher who retired from a long career as a corporate executive to focus on child advocacy including programs that worked with juvenile offenders, said, “This great state of ours is headed in the wrong direction. We need to work together to get back on track. I will focus on jobs and education. It’s not about taking over federal lands, but working with the federal government to create more jobs. Education goes hand in hand with jobs. We need an educated workforce. We need to train our teachers, not get rid of them. We’ve lost 7,000 teacher jobs. We need to invest in our schools.”
Thorpe, who worked as a computer and software consultant before retiring to Flagstaff where he has worked as a volunteer firefighter and a constitutional crusader, said that “giving back to the community is really, really important. I’ve had five years of educational experience. I’m so fortunate to be married to a wonderful wife who has put up with me all these years. I have two kids, two black Labs (rescued), two desert tortoises. We’ve done a lot in the last couple of years to get Arizona back on track.”