Harry Truman knew whenever someone told him about the virtues of bipartisanship, it meant they were going to vote against him. I recalled that when State Rep. Pete Hershberger invoked bipartisanship to defend his vote for the state budget after being accused by Al Melvin, his opponent in the 2008 GOP primary for the District 26 State Senate seat, of having voted for what was in essence the Democrat budget.

They both met, along with the three GOP D26 House candidates, at the Nanini Library last Wednesday as part of the mandated debates called for by the state “clean” election law.

The House passed the budget 31-29, with all 27 Democrats and four Republicans voting “aye.” It passed the Senate unanimously supported by Democrats with most Republicans also opposed, and was supported by Democrat Gov. Janet Napolitano. Regardless of its virtues or lack of them, Melvin was correct in branding it a Democrat product.

Hershberger went beyond mere support by stating he considered passing that budget a success. While one could sympathize with passing it in desperation when faced with a shutdown of state government, it’s hard to cheer about increasing lottery advertising, speeding tickets designed for revenue not safety, the outright robbery of statutorily and constitutionally mandated funding sources, and a host of other Mickey Mouse accounting devices. When asked what should be off limits in any future budgets, Melvin named prisons, DPS, and mandated education programs. Hershberger recommended across-the-board cuts.

They differ on almost everything else. Melvin favors public school vouchers, Hershberger opposes them. Melvin wants taxes lowered, believing that builds more economic growth. Hershberger opposes permanent tax cuts. Hershberger would expand the government’s role in pre-schooling, Melvin wouldn’t. Melvin supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, Hershberger thinks the existing statute is enough. Hershberger supports the creation of a Pima County Sports Authority and a baseball sales tax, Melvin would let the folks vote on it but is personally opposed. Melvin supports allowing those with a concealed carry permit to bring their weapons into public accommodations serving liquor, Hershberger doesn’t.

You don’t need the political sophistication of George Will to note that this is a classic liberal-conservative clash. It’s a repeat of the primary for the same seat two years ago, when Melvin upset State Sen. Toni Hellon on some of the same issues. Some — Hellon had a solid record with the National Rifle Association, Hershberger is rated an NRA “F” even with his support of the “Castle Doctrine” broadening the right of self-defense.

Hershberger did land to the right on one issue. Melvin favors laws restricting cell phone usage while driving, Hershberger notes we already have a law against distractions and there’s no need to expand it by naming all of them.

On the question about how to handle Maricopa County’s power in the legislature, Hershberger defended his independence from Phoenix area leadership. Melvin then slammed him for raising most of his campaign money there, noting that as a “clean election” candidate he raised all his qualifying funds from within the district. Hershberger could have slammed Melvin back for relying on public money to fund his campaign, hardly a conservative position.

Two items hinted at but not fully discussed were electability in November and the sense of entitlement often found in local GOP circles. Hershberger noted that Melvin lost the last general to Charlene Pesquiera (who was so ineffective she isn’t even seeking re-election.) Hershberger claims he’s a “better fit” in a district that sent both of his parents to the state House over the last 30 years. Melvin replied that America has no “aristocracies.”

What we do have is families that serve in public office for many years and who when challenged particularly by newcomers get a little testy — maybe enough to withhold support if you beat them in a primary election.

The winner will face Democrat Cheryl Cage in November in a race that could determine the makeup of the next legislature.

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