Al Melvin and Pete Hershberger drew clear distinctions with one another Wednesday, when the two Republican Senate District 26 candidates fielded questions at a Citizens Clean Elections Commission debate.

“There is a vast difference between the two of us,” said Hershberger, a four-term state representative. “I think the voters will make an appropriate decision in September.”

“My opponent is the most liberal Republican in the entire Legislature,” said Melvin. “He’s the Democrats’ favorite.”

“I’m proud to represent this district, I’m a good fit for this district,” said Hershberger. “I’ve had the most votes in each election, four times. My opponent lost his only election, and he had a 10,000-voter advantage. Republicans ran away from him. He is not a good fit.”

“I am running to give this district solid mainstream Republican representation,” said Melvin, who lost to Sen. Charlene Pesquiera in District 26 two years ago. Melvin said he adheres to strict Republican principles, “unlike the liberal representation we’ve had from my opponent.

“In his eight years, we’ve had bloated budgets and not enough tax cuts,” Melvin said. Hershberger was one of four Republicans who “bolted” from the House majority, “creating a Democratic majority from a Republican majority,” and giving Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano what she wanted in terms of a spending plan, Melvin argued.

“This is not a bipartisan budget,” Melvin said. “Eight Republicans left the party and joined the other side and the governor. It’s a crying shame.”

“He says I left the party?” Hershberger countered. “That’s partisanship. He would like there to be total partisanship in Arizona. I believe statesmanship is more important. I believe the citizens of southern Arizona want statesmanship, not partisanship.

“The budget was very contentious this year,” Hershberger said. “It’s the most important thing we do in the Legislature. It was bipartisan,” with spending cuts and “necessary borrowing for public school construction. It is a budget that will still maintain a vision for the future of Arizona.

“If we had not passed that budget, we would have shut down state government, which would have been horrible,” Hershberger said. He expects to be called back to Phoenix for further budget deliberations. “We don’t have many options left,” said Hershberger, who expects across-the board cuts in agency funding.

“We need across-the-board tax cuts, we need across-the-board budget cuts,” said Melvin. He would not cut spending for education, the Department of Public Safety and prisons.

Melvin believes a particular statewide property tax for education should be ended permanently. A three-year moratorium on the levy is in place, with one more year to go. Hershberger has voted not to make the tax cut permanent.

“When you see it go up, thank him for part of that,” Melvin said. “I will cut taxes, I promise you I will.”

Constituents “understand my vote on not making the property tax cut permanent,” Hershberger said. “We have a $2 billion deficit. Why would we give a tax cut with borrowed money? Citizens understand fiscal responsibility. Making that tax cut permanent is not fiscally responsible.”

“The biggest thing we can do for people is a lower tax environment,” Melvin said. “When we lower taxes, we get more economic activity and more tax revenue. Better companies, better jobs, and more money in our citizens’ pocketbooks.”

Melvin is a “clean elections” candidate. Hershberger is a “traditionally funded” candidate.

“My opponent is heavily funded by Phoenix- and Maricopa County-based lobbyists and political action committees,” Melvin said. “My seed money comes from southern Arizona and District 26.”

“I have a record of standing up for southern Arizona, standing up to the leadership,” Hershberger said. “The pressure you get to follow the pattern in a partisan way is enormous.”

Such an issue might be tort reform, the attempt to change court-awarded limits and liabilities for health care providers in cases of patient harm or injury.

“Tort reform is very high on the list, but it’s a very difficult thing,” Melvin said. “The trial lawyers are a very powerful group,” he continued, suggesting they have influenced Hershberger. “The best thing we can do for health care is to have tort reform.”

“It’s news to me the trial lawyers are supporting me, because they never have,” Hershberger said. “I have voted for tort reform.”

Candidates share views, but offer different solutions

Pete Hershberger and Al Melvin, the two Republican candidates in Senate District 26, shared views on various issues Wednesday.

On a constitutional amendment defining marriage:

“I oppose that amendment,” Hershberger said. “I don’t support initiatives to the ballot to create wedge issues on social policies.”

“Marriage is between one man and one woman,” Hershberger said. “It’s in statute, and it’s been upheld.”

“I wholly support the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman,” Melvin said. “It has to be in the Constitution to protect it from activist judges.”

On a vote to tax sales for support of spring training baseball and other recreation in Pima County:

“I personally am opposed to raising taxes for that purpose,” Melvin said. “I agree as a proposal, let the people vote on it. Let the people decide.”

“I voted for it and supported it,” Hershberger said. “It died in the Senate on the last day because gay marriage became so contentious. I support keeping spring training in Arizona and letting the voters decide.”

On a bill mandating drivers on cell phones to use hands-free models:

“Distracted driving is already against the law,” Hershberger said. “We can’t put in statute every single distraction that’s out there.”

“Yes, I do support hands-free cell phones, absolutely,” Melvin said.

On money for children’s health insurance:

“We need to do all we can to help the least advantaged in our state,” Melvin said. “We have a porous border, and an illegal immigration problem that is heavily taxing the state. One in seven is an illegal in school. If we can get control, we can do more to help others have a better, successful life.”

“I voted to make the KidsCare health insurance program permanent in the budget,” Hershberger said. “Efforts to decrease the number of children covered, by changing the federal poverty level, I reject that. We lifted the prohibition on advertising this program.

“If we continue to give access to reasonable preventive care for low-income children, we’re going to protect our hospitals,” Hershberger said.

On state funding for pre-schools:

“That really has become a political football in many ways,” Melvin said. “The jury is still out on the effectiveness of preschool. Many believe children are better off at home.” He supports “tax breaks for parents, and parental choice. We need to give parents school choice in monetary terms.”

“Early childhood education and development is one of the most important things we can do to prepare children for school,” Hershberger said. “We must focus on children in poverty.”

On the employer sanctions law:

Melvin called the sanctions law “an excellent part” of securing the Arizona border with Mexico. “It’s working, illegals are leaving the state,” and the enforcement of existing laws should help Arizona curb what it spends providing services to illegals, he believes.

“If we can get control of the illegal immigration situation, we can start to save some of the $2 billion it’s costing Arizona” each year in education, incarceration and health care for people in the state illegally, Melvin continued.

“I voted for it, and it is working,” said Hershberger. A clean-up bill to clarify employer sanctions, “so businesses knew what the rules were,” was appropriate, he said. The state’s law is the “toughest in the country,” but only a part of the approach, he believes. Enhanced border security, verifiable identification and “some form of guest worker or temporary worker program” are needed, Hershberger believes.

“We will continue to work on this issue.”

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