Tea-Publicans in “blue” Pima County have a simple strategy for picking off House seats in Democratic voter registration districts: single-shot voting. If all Tea-Publicans vote for only their candidate out of GOP tribalism, and Democratic voters fail to do the same with their candidates — as they frequently do — it is statistically possible for a Tea-Publican to steal a seat.
This is what happened in 2014 when John Christopher “Chris” Ackerley, in his second run for office, managed to defeat Demion Clinco, who had been appointed to the House seat earlier in the year to fill a vacancy. There were a number of reasons for Clinco’s loss, but better name ID and favorable reporting in the Green Valley News and Sahuarita Sun certainly were factors.
Ackerley is a math and physics teacher who runs on education issues. He is frequently cast by the media as a “moderate” because he is sane and occasionally departs from his party’s ideological leadership, e.g., referring to Governor Ducey’s and the GOP leadership’s budget for K-12 education funding and Prop. 123 as the “robbing Peter to pay Paul plan”; he was a sponsor of the bill to restore JTED funding slashed by the previous Tea-Publican legislature; he voted to restore KidsCare funding over the GOP leadership’s objection; and he voted against SB 1516, the GOP’s “dark money on steroids” bill, which was enacted into law.
Ackerley sponsored HB 2056, a bill to allow parents to opt their children out of the statewide assessments such as AzMERIT, the state’s rigorous Common Core-based standardized test, and Move On When Reading, the state’s K-3 reading program. The problem is, Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued an AG Opinion in October 2015 that parents of public-school students cannot opt out of statewide assessments. tests
But for the occasional headline grabbing departure from his GOP leadership, Ackerley otherwise votes with his GOP leadership. Leadership tolerates him occasionally going off the reservation in recognition of the fact that Ackerley has to do this to be electable in a Democratic district.
Ackerley voted with the Center for Arizona Policy on 8 out of 11 legislative priorities. Despite his interest in education issues, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) give him a score of only 20% on their priority issues. Incumbent Democratic Rep. Rosanna Gabaldón scored 100% (as did Democratic Senator Andrea Dalessandro). The Children’s Action Alliance gives Ackerley a score of 83% on its priority issues, but incumbents Rep. Gabaldón and Sen. Dalessandro both received a perfect score of 100%. The Sierra Club Report Card assigned Ackerley a grade of “F” on environmental issues. Incumbents Rep. Gabaldón and Sen. Dalessandro both received a grade of “A.” This is a big deal in a district where the controversial Rosemont Mine is opposed by many residents.
Rep.Gabaldón is seeking her third term in the Arizona House. She is a former Council Member for the Town of Sahuarita, and serves on many boards. Rep. Gabaldón has been an advocate for women and reproductive health, earning the endorsements of Arizona List, the Arizona Women’s Political Caucus, and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.
Newcomer Daniel Hernandez Jr.— who is credited with helping save the life of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during the Jan. 8 shootings – serves on the Sunnyside Unified School District board.
Dan Shearer, editor of the Green Valley News, and a long-time Ackerley supporter, reported in June that Hernandez had not graduated from the University of Arizona as he has publicly stated — it turns out he was one math credit short. This was “disqualifying” for him. From the Editor: Why Daniel Hernandez doesn’t deserve your vote. Voters in the Democratic primary disagreed, and this is a Democratic voter registration district.
Reps. Ackerley and Gabaldón are both running as clean election candidates. Herandez is running as a traditional candidate. He has raised over $76,000, which includes large donations from Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwill and venture capitalist Arthur Rock.
According to the Arizona Daily Star candidate summary:
The three candidates agree the biggest issues facing the district are the lack of public education funding and resources, in addition to a crumbling infrastructure and stifled economic development throughout the area.
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Reps. Ackerley and Gabaldón both voted for Prop. 123 in the Legislature, and Hernandez supported the initiative at the ballot box.
“I had some issues with it, primarily the rate at which we were going to withdraw from the state’s trust fund was too high. I thought it should be more in line with about 5 percent,” said Ackerley, who is a math teacher at Amphitheater High School.
As a school board member, Hernandez said he felt he had no choice but to support the measure so the Sunnyside district could recoup some of its financial losses.
“We had $17.5 million in cuts over the last few years,” Hernandez said. “It was a bad deal — but when we had to look at the options, we as a district had nothing we could do but support it. We had staff that hadn’t had raises in over seven years, we had programs that were on the verge of being cut. So I supported it, but I said, ‘This is not a good deal, this is not something that is the be-all, end-all, it’s just a first step.’”
Gabaldón similarly voted for the funding, as she too thought it would be something of the beginning of a recovery for education in the state, but she says she has been disappointed by the lack of follow up in the legislature.
Candidates on both side of the aisle believe their district is in need of infrastructure improvements.
“We have to look at our aging infrastructure — our packed roads, our utilities, our bridges,” Gabaldón said.
Ackerley said the roadways in the district, which are often congested, are in need of repair and expansion in order to better facilitate trade in the state and across the border.
“Time is money when you’re talking about the movement of goods and services,” Ackerley said. “We’re in a very competitive environment, and when someone who is either exporting or importing is looking at the port in Nogales or the port in Douglas, as compared to ports in Texas, they’re going to take that into consideration.”
Hernandez said the lack of resources and funding dedicated to infrastructure in the district has had an impact on the region’s economic growth.
“Nogales is often rated as the poorest city in the state of Arizona, and I really think there is no reason for that given how much trade is going through the city of Nogales, how much international money is being brought into the United States,” he said.
The Citizens Clean Elections Debate for LD 2 is scheduled for Tuesday, September 27, at 6:00 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, Tucson Airport,6575 S. Country Club Road, Tucson, Arizona 85756.
NEXT: LD 14 races.