If he’s elected to the Arizona Senate, Republican Al Melvin “will represent everyone, every man, woman and child” in District 26, “regardless of political affiliation.”

“I don’t make that pledge lightly, and I will stand behind it every day I serve as your state senator,” the SaddleBrooke resident said in closing remarks at an Arizona Clean Elections debate last week at Flowing Wells High School.

His opponent, Dove Mountain Democrat Cheryl Cage, took a different approach to her closing remarks.

“I’m going to challenge you to think in broader terms” about “the type of atmosphere you would like us to have here in Arizona” she told a largely Democratic crowd.

“There are too many ideologues in the state Legislature,” Cage said, and they raise “wedge issues” that divert attention from “things that matter,” such as education, water and the economy.

Cage would use the platform of the Legislature to stimulate debate that is “hopeful, and not derisive.” She wants Arizona to elect someone who “brings out the best in other people, someone who elicits honest debate.

“I will always be a strong, independent voice for you,” Cage said.

For an hour Tuesday, the candidates answered questions on many subjects, with education a focal point.

At several junctures, Melvin said he is “totally committed to funding K-12 education in Arizona.” He is further committed to “parental school choice and competition” through the use of vouchers.

“Vouchers don’t give our public schools relief,” Cage said. “They take money directly out of the public schools, and make it much more difficult and more stressful” for educators and students, Cage believes. “I will guarantee you I will not vote for any kind of budget cuts in the K-12 programs.”

“The education of our children is a more serious subject for us than the war on terror,” Melvin said. “Our future is in jeopardy if we don’t educate our children. True parental school choice and competition would be the surest way to win the war on poverty, especially in failing school districts.”

“There are so many things I want to say here,” Cage replied.

Arizona now leads the country in school choice. “It’s really not doing much for us,” she observed.

During Sen. John McCain’s 20 years in Washington, Arizona has reached “the bottom of the list” on any survey about education,” Cage said. “I’m not sure I’d look to him for inspiration.”

When the subject of budgeting was raised, Cage said she wants Arizona to “rethink and retool” its economic base, relieving a dependence upon sales tax and housing construction starts for its revenue.

The state could go “a long way toward solving our budget problems” if it allowed state universities to accept stock in private companies. The next Microsoft or Gatorade could provide Arizona “a wonderful new revenue stream.”

“The last budget is an abomination, in my view, for many reasons,” Melvin said. He criticized its use of speeders “as a revenue source,” and “gambling to fund higher education.” And he dislikes a “$250 million property tax increase. We’ve got to get it fixed.”

Melvin would put on a hiring freeze in all areas of government except education, state police, prisons and child protective services, and “make budget cuts to bring the deficit down.”

Cage would support a search for cuts and waste, as well as new revenue streams. “I would do across-the-board cuts, and let each department head decide where those cuts would come from.”

Arizona is “in desperate need for some fresh ideas and some new leadership in the Legislature,” Cage said. “All we’ve been getting is … discussion of wedge issues. That’s not getting us anywhere. It’s time for an honest debate about the budget, and rethinking our economic base.”

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