Arizona must reverse deep budget cuts to protect the state’s schools and its vital tourist economy, insisted candidates seeking to represent Rim Country in the state Legislature Wednesday night in Payson.
Rep. Tom Chabin (D-Flagstaff), running for the District 6 state senate slot against Rep. Chester Crandell (R-Heber), said Arizona needs pragmatic lawmakers who will solve problems and support the state’s schools — including the effort to build a university campus in Payson.
“We have to stop this ideological nonsense and return the Legislature to common sense,” said Chabin. “We must bring sanity back to the Legislature. Our opponents are trapped in ideology and detached from practicality.”
“Tourism — that’s what the jobs are all about in Rim Country,” said Angela LeFevre, a Sedona child advocate and former businesswoman running for one of two state house seats in District 6, which includes Heber, Payson, the Verde Valley and Flagstaff. The other Democratic candidate, former Chandler economic development director Doug Ballard, did not appear at the event at the Democratic Party headquarters in Payson.
LeFevre criticized Republican opponents state Rep. Brenda Barton and Flagstaff Tea Party Chairman Bob Thorpe for focusing on an effort to seize control of 25 million acres of federal land in Arizona while also supporting a budget that has taken $70 million from state parks. She said Proposition 120 is probably unconstitutional and a distraction from the real issues.
The newly redrawn boundaries for legislative District 6 have created a sprawling district where Republicans account for 38 percent, Democrats for 29 percent and Independents the balance. Northern Gila County accounts for about 12 percent of the district’s population, while Flagstaff provides 40 percent, the Verde Valley 30 percent and the Heber/White Mountains area about 15 percent.
Chabin cited the Legislature’s $2 billion in cuts in a school system already severely under-funded as evidence of the Legislature’s mismanagement. Instead of protecting schools, the Legislature raided funds on which schools, cities and counties relied, he said. Instead of helping Payson bolster its economy by cutting a deal with Arizona State University to build a campus here, lawmakers’ cut ASU’s funding and Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed ASU and Payson to form a partnership to dramatically reduced the cost of the campus.
“You want to build a university campus here,” said the former Coconino County supervisor and Tuba City School District board member, “by God, we’ll build it.”
He said the project should remain the daily focus of any lawmaker representing the district.
But instead of helping cities, towns, school districts and counties survive the downturn, the Legislature has taken their money, cut state services and imposed ideologically driven measures, said Chabin.
For instance, he said the Legislature actually passed a law that prevented towns from banning hunting inside the city limits. Another measure would have prevented colleges and universities from banning guns on campus, unless they provided expensive lockers and security systems for gun owners who came to campus armed.
“The Legislature and the governor believe that (Payson Mayor) Kenny Evans and the town of Payson didn’t have the good sense to know when to allow hunting in the town limits. So they took away the authority of cities to prohibit hunting. That is how far they’ve gone.”
LeFevre said that if voters reject extremist Republicans, the Legislature can focus on workable solutions to the state’s budget and economic woes.
“We are the party of moderation in this election and we’re up against some very extreme positions,” she said.
As evidence of their opponents’ supposed extremism, they both cited the strong focus Barton, Thorpe and Crandell have put on Proposition 120, a ballot measure that would amend the Arizona Constitution to essentially revoke the terms under which the state entered the union a century ago. The Republican slate says the federal government has crippled the economies of western states by retaining ownership of the bulk of the land in western states. In Gila County, for instance, the federal government owns more than 95 percent of the land. Payson’s effort to buy some 300 acres Congress earmarked for sale 12 years ago has been stalled by the glacial Forest Service process for selling land, including the demand for a $375,000 environmental study before it will even consider approval of the sale.
Thorpe, Crandell and Barton have all said in appearances in Payson that if the state seized control of federal lands the Legislature would do a better job of managing the forest and would move to sell off vast tracts of federal land, which would then stimulate economic growth. They maintain that the stark differences in public land ownership between eastern and western states represents unconstitutionally, unfair treatment.
But Chabin said even if the attempt to take over 25 million acres of federal land made it through the federal courts, the state could never effectively manage or sell off so much land.
For example, he said that the federal government every summer spends millions putting out wildfires in Arizona forests. Moreover, natural resources like the Grand Canyon sustain the crucial tourist industry in rural Arizona.
LeFevre said, “It’s true, the Forest Service has neglected the forests for years and years, but they do now have a clear schedule to thin the forest through the Four Forests Restoration Initiative.” But if the Legislature ever did win control of federal lands, “they’ll take care of it as well as they’ve protected the state parks,” she said.