Statewide candidates descended on Payson on Saturday, popping up like a bunch of bright orange poppies on a perfect spring day.
The annual Gila County Republican Party luncheon gathering in a big ramada in Rumsey Park drew candidates for most of the statewide offices — including two of the top candidates in the crowded Republican primary field for the open governor’s seat.
Candidates for governor who spoke included State Treasurer Doug Ducey and former Congressman Frank Riggs, who offered up staunchly conservative prescriptions for the genially partisan crowd of perhaps 75.
Other candidates in attendance included State Sen. Chester Crandell, State Rep. Bob Thorpe, Superintendent of Education candidate Diane Douglas, Justice of the Peace Judge Dorothy Little, State Treasurer candidate Randy Pullen, Secretary of State candidate Michele Reagan, Payson Council candidate Lew Levinson and Payson School Board candidate Darlene Younker.
Much of the attention focused on the governor’s race. On the Democratic side, former Board of Regents chair Fred Duvall is running virtually unopposed in the Democratic primary on a growth and education platform. The crowded Republican field includes Ducey, Riggs, Go Daddy executive Christine Jones, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and Secretary of State Ken Bennett.
As it happens, both Jones and Smith made appearances in Payson last week. The Roundup will report on what they said in Friday’s paper.
None of the Republican contenders has yet amassed much public support. Statewide office holders like Bennett and Ducey have a stronger network of donors and more name recognition, but polls show the public still just barely knows any of the candidates. That could account for the increasingly frenzied campaigning that has brought four candidates for governor through Payson in the past week.
So here’s a quick look at what the candidates had to say on Saturday.
Frank Riggs: governor
The former California congressman told his listeners that on his first day in office by executive order he’ll repeal the federal standards for K-12 education known loosely as Common Core. Riggs’ broadside represented only one of the many attacks by candidates on the federal educational standards.
Educators developed the standards that the federal Department of Education has tied to increasingly important federal funding for local schools. The standards stress critical thinking skills rather than rote learning, but come along with a comprehensive testing system that would increasingly link funding to student performance on standardized test scores.
“I would repeal Common Core on day one,” said Riggs, calling the federal control of the standards and the testing they require “subversive.”
A congressman in the 1990s who voted to impeach then-president Bill Clinton, Riggs has spent much of the past 10 years living in Scottsdale and advocating for charter schools as an alternative to traditional public education.
He said he’s the only candidate on the Republican side who has served in Congress, which he said will give him the knowledge and skills to regain control of land in the state and resist federal mandates and regulations.
Doug Ducey: governor
The son of a police officer and founder of Cold Stone Creamery, Ducey wants to parlay a term as state treasurer into a chance to run the state.
He said he will draw on his record in running a profitable business to make Arizona more successful. His family sold the chain of ice cream stories in 2007, which now has 1,440 outlets in 25 countries. “We did it without the government and without any tax incentives for chocolate waffle cones,” said Ducey.
Now, he says, “I want to shrink the government and grow the economy.”
He cited as an example of his leadership his efforts to defeat a proposed one-cent increase in the sales tax for education in a state that now ranks 50th in per-student spending. The Legislature cut education spending more deeply than in any other state during the recession.
He didn’t offer any specific ideas on education save one: He wants all high school graduates to be able to pass the citizenship test administered to people who want to become citizens. Some 92 percent of the people who take the citizenship pass it, but samples show that only about 3 percent of high school students can pass, he said.
Chester Crandell: state senator
Crandell said he has fought hard in the past two years to limit the size of government — and to return to cities and counties money the state took away during the recession to balance the state’s budget. For instance, this year the state gave back $30 million of the $119 million in gas tax money it took away from the counties and towns.
Most of his bills this year died or drew a veto from Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. One of those bills would have tried to effectively take control of federal lands. Another would have prevented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from continuing its efforts to re-establish the Mexican gray wolf in Arizona.
Crandell said he will continue to fight to reduce the size of government, shut down unnecessary state agencies and balance the budget.
He also said he’ll push for a radical change in way the state funds K-12 schools. He said schools shouldn’t get paid for student attendance, but for the results they achieve — as measured by things like test scores and graduation rates. “We’re paying for seat time. As long as those kids are in their seats, the schools get paid. I’m working to where we can get a system that pays on outcomes.”
Diane Douglas: superintendent of education
The former school board member is challenging incumbent Republican John Huppenthal in the primary. On the Democratic side, Arizona State University education professor and former legislative analyst David Garcia is running without strong opposition.
Douglas said she’s running to make sure Arizona pulls out of the Common Core standards, which she says the incumbent has supported. She said that President Barack Obama promised to change the country — and that means “indoctrinating and brainwashing our children” by imposing the Common Core standards. She said it represents another example of the kind of “social engineering” that has already subverted the nation’s core values. “Common Core was written in Washington. It’s bad for our children. Let’s get this menace out of our state.”
Bob Thorpe: state representative
The former Flagstaff Tea Party president and author on the Constitution said he has focused chiefly on trying to find a way for the state to gain control over federal lands. He said in Gila County “only 4 percent of the land is privately owned, and that’s a crime.”
He said that the “enabling act” that created the state required the federal government to ultimately dispose of the land it held to the benefit of the state and education. However, the federal government has reneged on that promise and not only retained ownership of most of the state, but refused to put it to beneficial use for things like logging, mining and cattle grazing.
He sponsored a bill that would have challenged federal action to add land to state parks and monuments under the terms of the federal Antiquities Act. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate. “Three RINO (Republicans in Name Only) in the Senate killed it.”
Randy Pullen: state treasurer
The longtime Republican Party activist and accountant wants to take on the state treasurer’s office, which would make him responsible for managing some $12.5 billion in state assets. Pullen served as chairman of the Arizona Republican Party from 2007 to 2011 and treasurer of the Republican National Committee from 2009 to 2011. He dipped in and out of several major controversies in those posts. He worked to organize Republican opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, which was then supported by both of Arizona’s U.S. senators, but which remains unpopular with Republican primary voters. He noted that no Democrats have filed to run for state treasurer, which means the Republican primary will likely decide who gets elected.
Michele Reagan: secretary of state
Reagan has served in the state Legislature for the past 12 years, after her family sold its sign business. She said she’s running to end the practice of “ballot bundling.” This involves efforts by mostly Hispanic groups to increase voter turnout by collecting people’s mail-in ballots and delivering them to the polls. The mail-in ballots are sealed and signed. Groups working to increase minority turnout, who mostly vote Democratic, say the practice can increase turnout for under-represented groups. But others fear the practice could lead to ballot stuffing or other abuses, although they’ve generally not found any instances of voter fraud with the delivered ballots.
A virtual ban on the practice was included in a last-minute bundle of election reform bills that passed without a single Democratic vote. Several groups spearheaded by Hispanic advocacy groups obtained enough signatures to put a referendum on the election law changes on the ballot. At that point, the Legislature repealed the laws to avert a vote.
However, Reagan said the practice is “absurd.”
“It’s unheard of in any other state. I want to shut that practice down.”