Arizona Local District 17, which includes all or parts of Gilbert, Chandler, and Sun Lakes, is becoming increasingly purple over the last two years. Some pundits and commentators like the organization Flippable, seeing a potential blue wave coming in November, feel that Democratic House Nominee Jennifer Pawlik and Democratic Senate Nominee Steve Weichert have a good chance of defeating their Republican counterparts in the next election.
On Tuesday, October 9, both Ms. Pawlik and Mr. Weichert attended the Clean Elections Debate in the second floor Copper Room of the Chandler Public Library. Republican and current Arizona Speaker of the House JD Mesnard, the Republican nominee for the State Senate seat also attended. The two House Republican candidates competing against Ms. Pawlik did not appear at this event, continuing a pattern across the county of the Party of Lincoln nominees being too busy to engage and discuss their views with the people.
The debate was largely a very amicable and respectful affair between the candidates. All three pledged during one of the questions to pursue bipartisan relationships if elected this November. A funny moment of bipartisanship happened during the debate when both Senate candidates “ducked” a question on the value of sex education that Ms. Pawlik responded to. The gentlemen’s facial expressions were priceless.
There were a couple of minor “heated” moments that occurred. The first concerned the subject of whether Mr. Weichert favored the abolition of I.C.E. with regards to illegal immigration (he does not). The other “heated” moment was when Speaker Mesnards contended (which drew mocking sounds from the audience) that the Southern Poverty Law Center was a “radical progressive organization” for labeling some Evangelical Christian organizations (like one that the Speaker supports) “hate groups.”
The hour and 15-minute debate covered a wide range of issues, which will be largely described below. The moderator asked the candidates questions largely based on those submitted in cards by the audience. As a matter of full disclosure, this writer provided the first and fourth questions that were asked.
Major Issues discussed during the debate
The three most important issues according to voters in the district.
All three candidates relayed that education and health care were two of the most important issues voters asked about when meeting with them. All of them (although Mr. Weichert claimed that Mr, Mesnard was an election year conversion to this) cited the funding gaps that needed to be filled for the state’s schools. They also all agreed that health care premiums were rising with Ms. Pawlik expressing concern about what would happen to young adults once they reach 26 and Mr. Mesnard complaining that the Affordable Care Act was causing the higher rates. Ms. Pawlik commented that voters regularly discussed the rising cost of college. Mr. Weichert said that the water supply situation has come up in discussions with many of the voters he has encountered. Speaker Mesnard said Border Security and illegal immigration was a major concern of the voters he has encountered, accusing Mr. Weichert of wanting I.C.E. disbanded. Mr. Weichert denied this, saying he did not want it abolished and reaffirmed that he wanted a strong federally protected border. Mesnard also made a side comment that the Arizona Economy was “doing very well.”
School Vouchers and Proposition 305
Ms. Pawlik said she strongly opposed the expansion of vouchers, saying that the government “should not use public tax money to fund private and parochial schools.”
Mr. Weichert echoed Ms. Pawlik’s opposition, commenting that we “need to keep public school dollars in the public school system.”
Mr. Mesnard maintained that parents know what is best for their children but admitted to mixed feels about Proposition 305 because a “voter protected initiative” could restrict what state legislators could act on later if it is necessary.
Charter School Accountability
Ms. Pawlik said that charter schools need greater accountability (and more rules) but acknowledges we can learn from what the good charter schools are doing. She also feels that Highly Qualified Teacher standards need to be firmer.
Mr. Weichert asserted that he was not attacking charter schools and recognized that there were good ones. He said that there were not adequate protections in place to act when the “bad actors” commit acts like closing a school without sufficient notice and claimed that the Speaker “relaxed” the charter procurement standards.
Mr. Mesnard denied that he relaxed the charter procurement standards and thinks the attacks on charters are “mostly unfair,” especially since the top five performing high schools in Arizona are charter schools. Furthermore, he said that if the state mandated the micromanaging of charter school contractors, then it would be forced to micromanage every other contractor with an arrangement with the state.
With an economy doing well, why is school funding low and homelessness and child poverty high?
Ms. Pawlik remarked on the priorities the legislature had for providing corporate tax loopholes but keeping schools funded at 2008 levels and not doing anything about the quarter of children living in poverty.
Mr. Weichert blasted the reality that 25 percent of the children in Arizona (and Chandler) are living in poverty, openly wondering in a jab at the supply side economic theories the Republicans under Mr. Mesnard subscribe to, “Why is it not trickling down.” He also blamed the influence of special interests in dominating the agenda of the Republican-led legislature, not adequately funding schools for ten years while passing corporate tax cuts.
Mr. Mesnard said “we care” about the homeless but it is not handled at the state level, relaying that cities were responsible for that issue. He also commented that the recession hurt Arizona’s education budget worse than other states.
Free Community College
Ms. Pawlik was against the state zeroing out funding for community colleges in 2015. She likes the idea of free community college because it is a valuable resource for high school graduates and returning students (and an investment in the long-term economic/jobs development of the state) but wants to straighten out the state budget process first before committing to it.
Mr. Weichert largely echoed Ms. Pawlik on this issue but did state that means testing for students in financial need may need to be thought about.
Thinking that college students need “skin in the game,” Mr. Mesnard does not think community college should be free but is in favor of means testing so students in financial need could get needed assistance.
All the candidates appeared to agree that the working poor need adequate state-provided medical insurance for their children aided by federal dollars. Mr. Mesnard commented that some of the difficulty stems from what aid the federal government would provide.
Cooperation among Local, State, and Federal Law Enforcement Agencies
All the candidates appeared to agree that such cooperation was necessary but Mr. Mesnard complained that law enforcement should not be prohibited from working with I.C.E.
Mr. Weichert expressed support for the Outlaw Dirty Money Ballot Initiative that was taken off by the expanded Arizona Supreme Court. This measure would have given the people the right to know who is donating massive amounts of money to political campaigns.
Mr. Mesnard feels individuals should have their privacy protected.
Independent Redistricting Commission
Both Ms. Pawlik and Mr. Weichert support the current commission, calling it a “model” which prevents gerrymandering along party lines. They do want the Republicans to change it.
Mr. Mesnard simply commented that he did not think an even-numbered commission was a “good idea.”
Size of the Arizona Supreme Court
Mr. Weichert condemned the move to expand the size of the court because the justices said their workload was fine and they did not need the help. He also commented that it was the extra judges who provided the margin that kicked the Invest in Ed Ballot Initiative off the ballot.
Mr. Mesnard contended that the expansion was necessary to match the higher state population.
Increasing the Minimum Wage
Ms. Pawlik said we need a living wage so people can afford to live in the locality they work in.
Mr. Weichert said that “we are moving in the right direction” and the “sky did not fall” when the minimum wage rose last year.
Mr. Mesnard said that some entities, because of the increase, were forced to redirect resources from other, sometimes “critical” areas.
For a complete accounting of the debate, please view the Arizona Clean Elections link below. Please click on the other links for more information about the Democratic Nominees. Both Jennifer Pawlik and Steve Weichert demonstrated in their responses during the debate that, if elected, they would serve as progressively minded legislators that will look to improve the lives of the people in their district. Voters in LD 17 should strongly consider them when voting this November.