Voters Finally Can Grill Candidates

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Rim Country voters on Saturday will get a rare opportunity to hold candidates accountable — thanks to a town hall format debate involving all six of the candidates for state Legislative District 6.

We hope that voters will jam Tiny’s Restaurant at 4 p.m. Saturday to hear candidates for one state Senate seat and two House seats field questions from the audience.

The Republican slate includes Heber Rep. Chester Crandell (for Senate) and Rep. Brenda Barton and Bob Thorpe, both running for the House..

The Democratic slate includes Flagstaff Rep. Tom Chabin (running for Senate) and Doug Ballard and Angela LeFevre, running for the House.

We hope voters will take advantage of this opportunity to force all of the candidates to grapple with the issues that most directly concern Rim Country.

Unfortunately, most of the campaign debate so far has focused on general, statewide issues and the candidates have displayed little detailed knowledge of the most pressing problems facing Rim Country — like the vital effort to strike a deal with Arizona State University to build a campus here.

Although Brenda Barton and Chester Crandell have represented Rim Country in the state House for the past two years, people pushing for a deal with ASU got almost no help from them. Both did vote in favor of a change in state law that would have allowed ASU to join in forming the Rim Country Educational Alliance SLE. That would have saved the backers of the campus plan millions and made it possible to strike a deal more than a year ago. But the lawmakers played no active role in lining up support — nor in lobbying Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. She astonished the backers of this visionary public-private partnership by vetoing the legislation — dealing the effort a nearly fatal blow. Clearly, our representatives failed to represent Rim Country at that crucial moment.

Rep. Tom Chabin, then representing Flagstaff in a different district, didn’t get heavily involved in the ASU effort either, but backers of the college plan say that he has in recent months gotten much more involved.

Bob Thorpe, Angela LeFevre and Doug Ballard have not held office and therefore had no way to help the project. However, none of them have talked with any insight about the project in their separate appearances so far. Mind you, the Payson plan offers a way to build an urgently needed state college system. The indifference to the proposal in the Legislature seems tragically short-sighted.

None of the candidates have so far demonstrated the kind of incisive grasp of local needs we should expect from someone representing us in the state Legislature. The issues remain complex and vital, including the delays in getting the Forest Service to sell land for the college, the effort to build the Blue Ridge pipeline, the urgent need for local economic development, the importance of keeping the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park open, the effort to protect access to Fossil Creek, the rising class sizes and teacher layoffs in the Payson Unified School District, the rise in homeless students, the struggle to win fair treatment for Gila Community College, and the heavy dependence of Gila County residents on the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

So far, the candidates seem fixated on ideological struggle and windy generalizations. But on Saturday, they’ll face the voters of this district.

We hope you’ll all show up, armed with critical questions and skeptical minds.

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