The five Republicans running in District 11’s House and Senate races naturally had a lot to agree on when meeting for a debate at Pima Community College last week.
As the Aug. 26 primary election approaches, job creation, border security, and education were noted as mutual concerns in need of attention.
But, as primary elections go, there was also the necessary discord that comes regardless of party alignment when there are more bodies than open seats.
The five candidates – Scott Bartle, Steve Smith, Mark Finchem, Jo Grant, and Vince Leach – will compete for three open spots between the House and Senate.
Bartle, a newcomer who describes himself as an entrepreneur, is hoping to claim the lone Senate seat currently occupied by Sen. Al Melvin, who opted to relinquish the spot for a run at governor – a race he since dropped out of after failing to receive enough contributions to qualify under the Clean Elections Commission.
Bartle will have to navigate his way past Smith, who in addition to directing his own talent agency, currently works as a legislator in the House of Representatives.
In the House race, Finchem, Grant and Leach will compete for two open seats. One of those currently belongs to Smith, while the other belongs to Adam Kwasman, who is running for Congress.
Finchem, who spent 21 years as a police officer in Michigan and currently works as an associate broker, will look to claim one of those seats alongside Vince Leach, a retired business executive who has worked for Republican campaigns in years past.
Jo Grant, who before retiring worked for 30 years as a staff person from the Arizona State Legislature, will look to break up the union of Leach and Finchem, who have teamed up with Smith as running mates.
It was in that regard that differences were seen in the candidates – Smith, Leach and Finchem tending to align on all issues, while Grant and Bartle differed on certain topics, namely Common Core Standards.
Common Core Standards
Like his running mates, Smith adamantly opposes Common Core. Smith has voted against the measure in the past, and said he will continue to vote against it in the future.
Calling it the “same road to mediocrity” as past education reform attempts, Smith said he doesn’t believe in a one-size-fits-all education system.
“Common Core is to education as Obamacare is to healthcare,” said Smith.
Bartle took a middle ground on the issue, saying too much money has been invested in Common Core not to see it through, adding that he “supports raising the proverbial bar” in the nation’s education platform.
Grant was the most outspoken in favor of the standards, arguing they establish concrete goals for students graduating high school without interfering with teaching methods.
“The state has give us the what… the teachers are the how,” she said.
Comparatively, Leach was just as far in the opposite direction. He said if elected he would aim to repeal Common Core and instead examine what area school districts like Vail have done to achieve success.
While agreeing that border security needs to be improved, Bartle and Smith continued attempts to gain leverage on the other. Naming border security as a top priority in his campaign, Smith called for increased fencing and law enforcement as well as quicker prosecution and deportation.
Bartle, who argued Smith has done little during his time in the Legislature to see such projects come to fruition, said cutting incentives such as benefits and drivers licenses to illegal immigrants is also key.
Smith, like Leach and Finchem, denied that, and promoted the fact he has been endorsed by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Finchem said the federal government has done little to resolve the problem and warned of another 9/11-style attack if nothing improves.
There was a general consensus that job creation is a top priority, but differing ideas on how best to achieve it. Leach said the most obvious option is to rid the state of the bureaucracy that has prevented companies from making an economic footprint in the region.
“We have the jobs that are shovel-ready,” he said, citing Rosemont Copper Mine as one example, adding, “We need to get the roadblocks out of the way.”
Grant said a strong educational foundation in K-12 and at the university level is critical in attracting employers, while Finchem added that improved roads, border security, and water security are also factors to consider when making Arizona a marketable workplace.
Smith said he has a proven track record when it comes to improving Arizona’s economy, having passed legislation that helped move Arizona from 48th in job creation to fourth.
In the Senate, the winner from the primary election will advance to face Democrat Jo Holt in the general election. Holt is running unopposed in the primary.
In the House, the top two Republican vote-getters will advance to the general election. There, they will face off against Democrat Holly Lyon, who is running unopposed in the primary.
The top two votes in the general election will claim the two open seats.
For a full video of the debate, visit www.azcleanelections.gov.