Voters in Southside Legislative District 29 will have choose between seven candidates for two House seats in the Sept. 2 Democratic primary. Incumbent Rep. Linda Lopez is seeking the Senate seat that Democrat Victor Soltero is giving up, while incumbent Tom Prezelski is seeking re-election.
Six of the seven candidates met last week in a Clean Elections debate. (Gil Guerra was a no-show.) Watch it yourself courtesy of Clean Elections or check Sonoran Alliance for a different analysis. (We wish Clean Elections would put these things on YouTube so we could just embed them right here on ScrambleWatch. There’s a chance John Kromko could go viral!)
Here are highlights:
7:05 p.m.: Moderator Christopher Conover of KUAT-TV gets the show on the road by telling us about Clean Elections and how anyone who gathers 220 $5 contributions can get a fat check from the government to run for office. He also tells us that sign-language translators are in the audience. They’ll get a workout tonight.
7:09 p.m.: The candidates begin introducing themselves. First up: Eric Carbajal Bustamante, who, at 24, is not yet old enough to serve in the Legislature. Bustamante is making his first run for office. He grew up in Southern Arizona and teaches phys ed at a charter school.
7:10 p.m.: Ephraim Cruz is a former Border Patrol agent who got crosswise with the agency and ended up beating federal charges of bringing a Mexican national across the border. He talks about the need to bring more dollars for health care, education and public transit from the Legislature. He talks about his door-to-door campaigning, his integrity and his support for human rights. He says he blew the whistle on the mistreatment of illegal immigrants in Border Patrol custody and got drummed out of the agency.
7:13 p.m.: Conover explains to the crowd that the empty seat next to Cruz belongs to Gil Guerra, who called in sick to the debate. That might damage Guerra’s campaign if (a) anyone in the audience wasn’t already aligned with a candidate and (b) Guerra actually had much of a campaign.
7:14 p.m.: Matt Heinz tells the crowd that he’s an internal-medicine doc at TMC and he wants to bring his health care expertise to the Legislature. “The system is out of control and in a downward spiral,” Heinz says.
7:15 p.m.: Daniel Patterson talks about “new progressive leadership” and promises to “protect and serve your interests at the Capitol, not the special interests.” He talks about being president of his neighborhood association, his experience as an ecologist and his work with government planning agencies. He wants a sustainable economy and boasts about his various union endorsements.
7:18 p.m.: Patricia Puig says she’s lived in Legislative District for more than a quarter-century. She says she cares about the issues of health care, education, transportation and animal cruelty.
7:20 p.m.: Incumbent Rep. Tom Prezelski says the Legislature deserves all the criticism that the other candidates are leveling. “Of course, I’m in the minority,” he says before launching a story about a friend who got hired at a local cable TV company who was told that Prezelski is their arch-nemesis because he fought against legislation that would have made it easier for them to do away with public-access TV. The story quickly turns so wonky that only a staffer at the Joint Legislative Budget Committee could follow it.
Prezelski tells the crowd that most of the power of being a member of minority “comes from asking the right questions and saying the right things at the right time—sometimes saying very obnoxious things at the right times—and I’ve done that.”
Prezelski mentions his family’s roots in Tucson, his lifelong history as a Democrat and his previous job working as a planner for the Pascua Yaqui tribe and throws in a shout-out the Lalo Guerrero.
7:25: The candidates are asked about the AIMS test. Bustamante rambles: “We need to prepare our kids for the classroom with subjects in the classroom that are relevant for them going out in the future.”
Cruz wants to “set a bar” for students but adds that AIMS “needs to be refined.” He complains about the low level of education funding.
Heinz says standardized testing has a place, but the high-stakes AIMS exam can be a “distraction” from teaching kids how to balance a checkbook or fix a tire.
Patterson reminds the audience he’s been endorsed by the Arizona Education Association and says he does not support the AIMS test or state-level micromanagement of school districts. “The AIMS test is complete failure,” he says.
Puig says “teachers are unhappy with it” and it’s not an “accurate reflection” of what kids are learning.
Prezelski says it’s important to have standards. Then he explains that kids should be able to augment their AIMS score with special projects, especially if they’re the kind of students who struggle with standardized testing.
7:31 p.m.: The candidates are asked how they set themselves apart from one another in such a crowded race. Bonus question: Do any of the candidate live east of Craycroft Road?
Cruz says he nearly lives east of Craycroft Road and he sets himself apart with “his years of public service” and law-enforcement experience. “As your state representative, if a bill does not serve you, I will vote no on it.”
Heinz lives west of Craycroft Road. He says that he stands out as the only doctor running for the Legislature. “With that comes not just a knowledge of health care but a knowledge of problem solving—a way to approach very complex, very interwoven problems. You can’t treat the heart and ignore the brain and the lungs.”
Patterson lives west of Craycroft Road. He boasts about his record of experience and complains that some of his opponents are new to the district and political involvement. He says he has solar panels on his roof and drives a car powered by bio-diesel.
Puig lives west of Craycroft Road. She says she’s the only woman in the race. “It’s always harder for females,” Puig says. “For a male, it’s always easier.”
Prezelski lives west of Craycroft Road, but is dating a woman who, “until very recently, lived on the east side of Craycroft.” He says he stands out because he’s taller than the other candidates. He adds that he has actually gotten bills passed, which is a big accomplishment in the GOP-controlled Legislature. “I know the players, because I’m one of them.”
Bustamante lives east of Craycroft Road. He talks about the need to fund non-profits. “We need to do better,” he says. “What sets me apart? I’m pretty much a part of this district and I do have concerns like everybody else up here. I’m not in this to set apart from anything. I’m in this race to make a change.”
7:43 p.m.: Next question: Do the candidates support the T.I.M.E. initiative on the November ballot, which would hike the sales tax by a penny per dollar to pay for more highways, high-speed rail service between Tucson and Phoenix, and local projects, including streets and transit. Bonus question: Do they support increasing the gas tax, which could pay for more roads?
Heinz supports the T.I.M.E. initiative, even though he bemoans the regressive sales tax burden it creates. He opposes an increase in the gas tax with current fuel prices.
Patterson would “love to be able to support the T.I.M.E. initiative,” but says it’s unfair because it doesn’t include impact fees for developers. Patterson panders with a favorite math trick of T.I.M.E. initiative supporters, calling the tax a “close-to-18 percent increase” in the sales tax. He says it spends too much money on roads and not enough on mass transit.
Patterson wants to “take a look” at increasing gas taxes because it’s a “more fair” way of paying for roads, but doesn’t want to hike gas taxes in a “willy-nilly” fashion.
Puig opposes the T.I.M.E. initiative and an increase in gas taxes. She spouts a bunch of inaccurate statements to support her position.
Prezelski has sponsored legislation to index the state gas tax to inflation, but the proposal went nowhere. He points the basic problem with the gas tax that now funds transportation projects: Since people are buying fewer gallons of gas, the state is taking in less money at the same time that inflation is driving up construction costs. In the not-so-distant future, he warns, the money available for transportation “is going to run out.”
Prezelski touts the benefits of the T.I.M.E. initiative on Pima County: Pima County gets about $6 billion in the plan, with $3.4 billion for alternate modes, including transit, rail, bike and pedestrian improvements. “If you are opposed to the T.I.M.E. initiative, you have to explain where that $3.4 billion is going to come from,” Prezelski says. “If you really believe in alternative modes, if you believe in transit and rail, you have to support this initiative.”
Bustamante encourages everyone in the room “to really do their research” on this one. He evidently needs to do a little himself: “I think it’s good and it could be bad,” he says. Then he questions whether there’s a need for travel between Tucson and Phoenix. “Are there jobs up there?” he wonders
Bustamante is starting to sound like that poor high-school girl who got humiliated across the country when a video of her stumbling through a geography question with hit YouTube.
Bustamante asks if Legislative District 29 residents will be qualified for the jobs in Phoenix. “First of all,” he says, “we need to get them qualified if they’re going to be going up there to work. And, um, can you read the question a second time?”
Hearing the rest of the question, Bustamante announces he’s against increasing gas taxes. “We need to figure out a way to put a pedestal there, help put a back-up, something to help our district, not just something—I want to fight for this district because I know the concerns of people.”
Bustamante talks a little bit about walking door to door and then gets back to flip-flopping on the issue at hand: “If we pass this, it’s really, I can’t say I’m for it, I can’t say I’m against it because if we handle it the right way, we can definitely—we’re going, you know, into the future. And right now, we’re at a slowdown in economic growth and jobs. I definitely think that if we’re going to tax somebody, it’s these big corporations that are coming from out of state and making all the profits and taking all our tax dollars. Our tax dollars should go to schools and education.”
I wonder if the sign language interpreter has a cramp after all that.
Cruz says he supports the T.I.M.E. initiative. He says it’s beneficial to transportation and the environment. He talks about increasing spending for public transit, even though that’s funded through local and federal funds. He has no comment on the gas tax.
7:54 p.m.: Next question: Do lawmakers deserve a pay raise from $24,000 to $30,000?
Patterson stands up for lawmakers. He says he had to ask himself if he could even afford to run for office. Too many of the current members are wealthy. “We can not have a state legislature run by elites,” Patterson says. “I think that’s largely what we have now who are completely out of touch with the economic reality people are facing.” Russell Pearce might beg to differ about that whole “elite” thing, Daniel.
Puig says it’s not a lot of money, so she supports it.
Prezelski supports the pay increase “for obvious reasons.” He says that House Speaker Jim Weiers, who opposes the pay increase, “hasn’t had to pay for dinner in a very long time…. Those of us who have to pay for dinner, we’re all in favor of a pay increase.”
Bustamante says lawmakers make plenty of money. “Would I ask taxpayers out there to increase my salary if I’m only working part-time?” he says. “No, I wouldn’t.”
Cruz says he opposes the increase. Cruz, who recently lost his job, complains that lawmakers don’t work hard enough. Cruz does some really bad math and concludes that a $6,000 a year pay increase comes out to $2,000 a month. Um, not quite.
Heinz suggests that salaries be set to index lawmakers’ salaries to the average wage in the state.
8:01 p.m.: The candidates are asked how they would “fix the budget.” I’ll spare you the responses and just let you know that none of them effectively tackled state’s financial problems in under three minutes, unless you count Bustamante’s suggestion that the state “tax these million-dollar corporations that we have…. Let’s make them pay.”
8:24 p.m.: Closing statements! Prezelski says he’s done a good job at the Legislature by killing risky Republican schemes. He says he’s worked well with other lawmakers.
Puig points out that she’s the oldest person among the candidates and her surname is Spanish, although many voters don’t recognize it. “Being the only woman, I know what women go through. In hard times, it hits the male hard, it hits us harder.”
Patterson talks about experience, endorsements and economics. He promises to do what’s right.
Heinz says he wants to bring his skills as a healer to the Capitol. “Right now, our legislature needs a lot of healing, and so does our state.”
Cruz says he’ll increase funding for education and public transportation, prevent southside residents from being hassled by The Man and protect the environment. He complains that voters on the east side of the district have been neglected.
Bustamante boasts that he already knows the people in the district and is just re-introducing himself as a candidate. He says he doesn’t need any stinkin’ endorsements because the people know he who is.
“We need somebody to represent this district who’s from southeast Tucson who knows the issues,” Bustamante says, effectively disqualifying himself.
8:35 p.m.: Conover thanks the candidates and the audience. “Have a good evening,” he says, “and drive home safely.”