The complications and undercurrents of the Republican primary in the state District 7 House race came into view last weekend at a Tea Party-sponsored forum that drew all three Republican candidates for the two House seats.
The lineup includes incumbent state Rep. David Cook, incumbent Rep. John Fillmore and Show Low preacher David Marshall.
Redistricting thrust Fillmore and Cook into the redrawn District 7, which now encompasses most of what used to be District 6.
The two District 6 incumbents — Brenda Barton (R-Payson) and Walt Blackman (R-Show Low) — aren’t seeking re-election. Barton is reportedly dealing with health problems. Blackman is seeking the Republican nomination in Congressional District 2, now represented by Democratic Congressman Tom O’Halleran.
The district’s now so lopsidedly Republican, no Democrats bothered to file for the seat. That means the Aug. 2 Republican primary will decide who will represent the sprawling district — which includes all of Rim Country and the White Mountains.
Now, here’s where it gets complicated.
Fillmore and Marshall are supporting one another, hoping to win both the seats.
That leaves Rep. David Cook — a Globe rancher — on his own, contending with the criticism of his fellow Republican colleague, Fillmore.
So here’s a rundown on the three candidates for the District 7 House seat.
Cook owns a cattle ranch with a federal grazing lease in Globe, the only rancher in the legislature. Each of the 39 candidates at the meet-and-greet session spoke for three minutes, but Cook spoke before this reporter arrived at the session. Therefore, this summary is based on previous appearances and Cook’s campaign website.
He has pushed in recent weeks for an investigation of the federal response to recent wildfires, which have set state records and consumed homes and businesses. The Bush Fire burned across his ranch. He maintains the federal government hasn’t done enough to either prevent wildfires or protect homes and communities.
His website indicates he opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants, favors finishing the border wall, supports all the policies of former President Trump, favors both improving school funding formulas for rural school districts and dual-enrollment programs at community colleges and universities, opposes any restriction on the right to own guns, opposes many federal regulations and favors greater state control over federal lands in the state.
Cook has during his term spurred some controversy about his behavior. One Senate ethics report suggested he may have had a conflict of interest in trying to help a lobbyist with whom he had a relationship and concluded he had “demonstrated a pattern of disruptive behavior related to alcohol.” In another incident, he allegedly made a veiled threat when a police officer stopped him for a traffic violation and potential drunk driving. Cook’s lawyer dismissed the ethics committee report as an unobjective political hit piece, according to a story in The Arizona Republic. The House has not acted on the report.
The retired police officer is now a minister in Snowflake. He was born in Virginia, but raised in California. He served in the Air Force and after leaving the service became a police officer in Santa Ana, Calif., working in narcotics and gang units, while rising to the rank of corporal and serving as a field training officer. He moved to Snowflake with his family in 1999 and for a time operated a safe house for battered women, running a Christ-centered ministry for seven years. In 2005, he was ordained as a pastor of Calvary Chapel in Snowflake, where he still serves.
He has taken controversial positions in previous appearances in Payson, for instance suggesting that parents pull their kids out of public schools where they’re being brainwashed. He’s also an outspoken advocate for the idea that the election was marred by widespread fraud, although no evidence has emerged to support that contention.
His website says he opposes any restrictions on firearms, advocates school choice including private school vouchers, supports religious freedom, election integrity, border security, police officers and a tough ban on abortions.
At the forum he said he would introduce a bill to ban any abortion after a heartbeat begins in the fetus — which is typically in about the sixth week of pregnancy. The state legislature in the last session passed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks, in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade.
He said the state already spends enough on education — which accounts for more than half of state spending. The problem is that we spend too much money on administrators and facilities and not enough money on teachers.
He concluded, “I am a defender of the Second Amendment, which isn’t about hunting. It’s so the people can defend themselves against the tyranny of government.”
The Apache Junction businessman remains one of the most conservative members of the legislature. He gained attention in the current session with a bill pushing for a drastic overhaul of voting. The bill would virtually eliminate mail-in and early voting, as well as voting machines. He would prefer to allow only in-person, election day voting with paper ballots, counted by hand — with results required on election day. He maintains the last election was “stolen,” even though a $4 million audit sponsored by the state senate found no evidence of actual fraud.
“It’s been stolen,” he said. “Stolen from our kids. The problem is the people don’t trust that we had a fair election and I believe it. If you don’t believe it, you can kiss my grits.”
Brash, plainspoken, with frequent glints of humor, Fillmore is a small-business owner without a college degree who says he represents the concerns of working people.
He said when he filed a bill that said there are only two sexes — and therefore no state law can make accommodations for gay or transgender people — he received death threats.
“I’m a worker. I’m not educated. I might be a village idiot — but by God, I’m your village idiot. I am the most conservative person in the race. I will not let you down. I might embarrass you. But I will not let you down.”