The reason for the festivities? The Clean Elections forum for Corporation Commission primary candidates. All of the candidates, both Democratic and Republican, attended the forums, even if they aren't recipients of Clean Elections financing.
The lead sponsor of the forum was the Arizona Telecommunications and Information Council (ATIC). ATIC "is an economic development foundation of the Governor's Strategic Partnership for Economic Development (GSPED). ATIC functions as Arizona's recognized and authoritative organization guiding technology policy development, serving as a leading source of information and expertise on telecommunications and information technology matters." (from their website)
Anyway, because of the high total number of candidates (12), the forum was split into two sessions, with the Democrats - Kara Kelty, Sandra Kennedy, Sam George, and Paul Newman - meeting in the morning, and the many Republicans meeting in the afternoon. (Both sets of candidates fielded the same prepared questions.)
Since I didn't stay through the entirety of both sessions (though I tried! I was really tired from work and about halfway through the Rep session, I started dozing off. It was time to leave. :) ), I won't recap each and every response. The video replay of the forum will eventually be available on ATIC's website and an abbreviated version will air on Cox Cable.
The Democratic candidates were basically on the same page on most issues - in most areas that the ACC is involved in, the commission doesn't need *more* authority, but does need to utilize what authority is already has, and utilize it more fully. They were also all very concerned with the Commission's consumer protection functions.
Like some of the other attendees (Bob Freund of LD8, for one), I went into the forum not knowing who I was going to vote for; because all four candidates did a good job, I still don't know. Certainly, none talked themselves out of consideration.
However, I thought that two of the candidates did a better job of presentation at the forum - Kara Kelty showed a well-thought out grasp of the broad array of issues facing the ACC and Paul Newman exhibited an energy and passion that is sorely needed on the ACC.
Note: Let me be clear here - all of the candidates displayed a high level of intelligence and passion; it's just that Kelty and Newman stood out in those areas.
Now for a few constructive criticisms, so people don't think that the purpose of this post is simply to bash Republicans (though there is plenty of that coming up :)) ) -
Paul Newman - He tended to speak to the moderator, not the audience or the cameras (which were located behind the live audience). This will disconcert people who view the forum on TV or via webcast and could distract viewers from the content of his answers.
Kara Kelty - Early on, she cited the ACC race as the most important statewide race this year. Well, while *technically* that point is completely accurate, it should be noted that it's the *only* statewide race this year. And if I have to be that picky to find something to criticize, it means that she did a great job Tuesday.
Sandra Kennedy - She showed perhaps the greatest understanding of the political and organization process surrounding the ACC and getting things done there. However, on certain policy questions, she had to stop and think of a response. While her responses were intelligent and informed, the hesitation won't look good on TV.
Sam George - In a way, I blame him for making this a tough choice for me. I went in to the forum prepared to write off his candidacy - I've met each of the other candidates at various events, and they each have campaign websites up and running. I'd never met George before this, and he doesn't have a campaign website.
However, he showed up, he knew his stuff, and when I spoke to him briefly after the forum, he advised me that a campaign website is coming.
And lastly, one BIG criticism for the organizers of the forum - the questions were too long and involved. Frequently, the questions took longer to ask than the candidates had time alloted to answer them. In addition, the questions had so many parts to them that there was no way to remember (and answer!) them all. There were a few instances where a candidate didn't directly answer a question, but I won't criticize them for that - the structure of the questions wasn't fair to the candidates. I won't even criticize the Republicans in this regard. They may have had an advantage (they could have prepared by having an observer at the morning session or watching it via webcast), but the questions were just as unfair to them as to the Democratic candidates.
On the other hand, there were things to criticize the Reps over.
Oh yeah. :)
Let's start with the basics - with the possible exception of Marian McClure, none of this bunch understands that 'consumer protection' is a significant part of the ACC's functions.
Their response to any consumer-related concerns was to say that the "free market" and "competition" would address any inequities.
OK, maybe it's just a philosophical difference, but how can people who are pathologically opposed to business regulations stand for an office where their job would be to regulate business? They didn't advocate "responsible" regulation or something similar, they oppose almost any regulation at all.
In regard to efforts to help low-income and fixed-income customers such as the elderly who are facing the impact of skyrocketing energy prices on their household budgets, the candidates felt that current industry-based programs were sufficient. John Allen, former state senator from north Scottsdale, opined that "growing old doesn't qualify you for hardship."
Their views on global warming and other climate change phenomena ranged from McClure's "the jury is still out" thru Rick Fowlkes' global warming is "overstated" all the way to Joe Hobbs' opinion that concerns over global warming have an "almost religious perspective.
Bob Stump (and most of the other candidates) want more nuclear power plants.
Early on in their part of the forum, the Reps got a little testy toward each other. When they weren't reading from the "we're more conservative than thou" playbook, electoral newcomers Rick Fowlkes, Keith Swapp and Joe Hobbs made a point of taking swipes at their opponents (former or current legislators, one and all) for being career politicians. Bob Robson then "took exception" to their comments. (Yes, those were his actual words.)
Based on what I saw at the forum, the least bad of the Republican candidates ("good" would be going way too far :) ) were Marian McClure (for her efforts in the lege to control predatory payday lenders and Barry Wong, a former legislator. While he is just as conservative as any of the others, he did occasionally show an understanding of issues that went beyond the usual Republican knee-jerk talking points.
Anyway, the forum for the general election should be an interesting one (in a compare and contrast sort of way), with the candidate slate from each side approaching the positions they're seeking from very different perspectives.
In addition to the usual Democratic/Republican differences, there will be another one - geographic diversity.
2 of the 4 Democratic candidates are from outside of Maricopa County (Kelty and Newman); only 1 out of the 8 Rep candidates hail from someplace other than here (McClure). I'm not sure if that will make any difference in the general election, but Janet Napolitano showed in 2002 that a candidate doesn't need to win Maricopa County to win a general election in this state (though it doesn't hurt.)
Anyway, that forum is scheduled for September 15, also at Rio Salado Community College, 2323 W. 14th Street, Tempe, from 1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. with a candidate reception to follow.