Candidates for District 11’s Arizona House of Representatives and Senate gathered last night at Pima Community College’s Northwest Campus for a question and answer session, sponsored by the Arizona Clean Elections Commission.
In attendance were Republican Senator Steve Smith and Democratic hopeful Dave Joseph, each running for the House, along with Senate candidates to include political newcomer Jo Holt (D) and Legislative District 26 Senator, Al Melvin, who is now running in LD11 after redistricting occurred.
Republican Senate candidate Adam Kwasman was unable to attend the event.
The forum began with a “Lightning” round consisting of lighthearted questions generally unrelated to politics, and while party lines were crossed when it came to a preference between the Droid or iPhone, there was enough tension between the candidates – and the audience – to see a clear, divisible line as the real issues got underway.
Though moderator C.J. Karamargin initially asked the audience to restrain from outbursts, that would prove a tough thing to do for many as controversial topics were addressed.
It only took an opening statement for Holt and Melvin to find disagreement. Melvin spoke about the importance of budget control in regards to putting people back to work, and promoted the fact that as a senator, he has cut state spending in the last four years about $3 billion.
“As a result, we went from the bottom 10 to the top 10 states as a great state to do business in, a great state for business startups, and for job creation,” he said. “We’re tracking properly now.”
Melvin argued that despite claims of education funding cuts, he has helped maintain a spending threshold of above $9,000 per student in Arizona.
Holt was quick to dismiss Melvin’s figures as guiding factors.
“My opponent is going to give you a lot of numbers,” she said. “He is going to give you percentages, rankings, and things like that. He is going to try to convince you everything is fine in Arizona, and that education in Arizona is in very good shape.”
Holt said the true test of progress comes by interacting with citizens.
“Tell me what your experience is, especially those of you with children,” she said. “How do you feel about education in Arizona? Do you think it’s okay? I am very concerned about the state of traditional public education here in Arizona.”
Each candidate claimed the economy would be a top priority if elected to office. The was laughter amongst the crowd when Smith declared that “numbers don’t lie,” when it comes to what Republicans have done for the state of Arizona in terms of job creation. Amidst the interruption, Smith said, “Maybe you’ll also be laughing when President Obama releases his numbers.”
On the topic of Rosemont Copper Mine as a source of job creation, Smith and Joseph were not quite as distant in their stances, as Joseph said he would “definitely support it” if questions were answered relating to water supply and financial security.
Smith, as with Melvin, said he fully supports Rosemont Copper.
“It’s the whole NIMBY argument – Not in my Backyard,” said Smith. “You hear from people that mining is great, but they don’t want to do it here. Well, that’s where the copper is at. We need to use this to put as many Arizonans to work as possible.”
Smith went on to say that the Environmental Protection Agency is a major hindrance when it comes to becoming self-sufficient with resources in the state.
Holt stood apart from the others by more firmly opposing Rosemont, as she said she doesn’t see where the source of water would come from.
Holt also stood on her own when it came to salaries for state legislatures, arguing for an increase from the $24,000 base salary in order to provoke competition and the best candidates for the job, while the others argued it was at the hands of the voters.
The candidates split down party lines in regards to the border, with Smith and Melvin calling for a border fence, and Joseph disagreed, and Holt called the issue a federal problem.
Smith said because the federal government has done nothing to fix illegal immigration, it becomes the responsibility of the state to do so.
“I took an oath when I took office, that as a legislature I would defend my state, so what am I supposed to do when the federal government does nothing?” he asked. “What am I supposed to tell these rancher that come up to me saying they need help right now?”
Party lines continued to be divided on other issues such the one-cent sales tax, independent redistricting, health care, and the role of the government in education.
Only one candidate will advance for Senate, while two candidates will move on from the House of Representatives in the Nov. 6 General Election.