Friday, July 11, 2008

Stranger in a strange land

Not the classic Heinlein novel, just me attending a Republican candidate forum in LD18. :)

The four Republican candidates for the two LD18 House seats (Kanani Henderson, Ron Middlebrook, Cecil Ash, and Steve Court) and the two Rep candidates for the LD18 Senate seat (Kevin Gibbons and Russell Pearce) attended the Clean Elections primary forum in the EVIT auditorium on Thursday night.

The 100 or so audience members, while more ethnically and politically diverse than I had originally anticipated, definitely trended toward the "pale nativist" demographic (more on that in a moment).

I won't try to do a complete recap of the forum - the event video will be posted on the Clean Elections website within a few days for those who are interested in the full forum.

However, some of the "highpoints" included -

...Prior to the event, I passed by a beat-up van with the Arizona licence plate "CUTGOVT."

Wonder if the owner of that vehicle or the government employees who processed and issued that plate appreciated the irony there.

...Also prior to the event, a woman handed me a printed copy of this New Times' article that warned of a planned nativist rally at the forum.

Not sure if there was a "rally" per se, but they were definitely out in force.

As were the police.

,,,During a forum question regarding illegal immigration, one audience member shouted out that illegal immigrants should be sent to the gas chamber.

I wish I was kidding about that.

Anyway, the forum's sponsor was the Children's Action Alliance, and its CEO, Dana Naimark, kicked off the forum while Alberto Olivas of the Maricopa Community Colleges Center for Public Policy moderated the forum.

First up were the candidates for representative; while there were differences between them, those differences were less substantive than nuanced. Not a moderate among them.

Ron Middlebrook is a Republican PC from the same precinct as Russell Pearce (Mesa 16) and he is an ideologue straight out of the Pearce mold. When asked what he hoped to accomplish in the lege, he started sounding off on liberal activist federal judges. He wants to amend the U.S. Constitution to exempt states from compliance with federal court rulings.

Guess he doesn't realize that he's running for the *Arizona* House of Representatives.

Like Pearce, he supports balancing the state's budget by overturning voter-approved measures that mandate spending on specific issues (like children's health care!)

When asked what he thought the state could do to combat the high drop out rate in Arizona's schools, he blamed illegal immigrants for the high rate.

A quick read of his website makes me wonder if he might be one of those illegal immigrant high school dropouts that he bemoaned - on it, he writes of his support of "boarder" security (not a typo there - he does it twice) and that he believes that (emphasis mine) "Nothing would do more to improve the quality of education in our stare than vouchers."

To sum up - he's Russell Pearce without the term limits.

Cecil Ash is also a PC (Mesa 94). His answers to the questions were a bit more thoughtful than Middlebrook's, but he often fell back on Republican cliches ("private industry is better than the government", "seal the border", etc.)

His best response was to a question about how to reduce the high turnover of state employees - he questioned the underlying premise of the question, wondering that perhaps the real problem wasn't employee turnover, it was employees staying in their positions (and on the public payroll!) for too long.

BTW - In this context "best" is short for "best shows his cluelessness on this particular issue." "Best" has fewer syllables, which is why I chose to use it. :)

Retired businessman Steve Court stuck to the party line - he wants to rein in the state's budget, fix the state's failing public school system with "magnet" schools and vouchers, and ease government regulation of businesses.

The fourth House candidate, Kanani Henderson, is the director of a school tuition organization (STO) (an STO is an organization designed to funnel taxpayer money to private schools under the guise of 'school choice.') She was also, perhaps, the most polished of the four candidates. While her answers were pure party rhetoric, they had depth and relevance (the significance of that was made obvious during the Senate portion of the forum - more on that later :) ).

With her answers, she tended to hit the neocon high points (Reagan, pro-life, and, of course, school choice). However, her best answer was also to the state employee turnover question mentioned above (same meaning of "best" as above, too) -

She suggested that the best way to reduce the turnover of state employees was to "find people who are passionate about handing out drivers licenses and delivering mail".

She may have been sarcastic with her "passionate" comment (I'm not sure) but she needs her campaign manager or somebody she trusts to sit her down and gently break the news to her - post office employees are *not* state employees. If she wins election to the lege and tries to mess with them, all she'll get for her trouble is a visit from some postal inspectors and maybe the FBI.

Regarding ballot propositions, all four expressed strong support for the lege-pushed ban on same sex marriage, expressed support for the payday loan industry-supported proposition to permanently legalize that business (they expressed distaste for the business, but their "free market" ideals overrode any desire to regulate predatory lenders), and opposed the measure on imposing a transportation-dedicated sales tax (TIME initiative.) They also generally opposed a hypothetical move to earmark state money to help the growth of Phoenix/Mesa Gateway Airport, however, they left enough wiggle room in their positions to allow for a change depending on specific circumstances.

In summary, Ron Middlebrook was easily the most extreme of the four, but other three were no slouches in the "more conservative than thee" department - they all make Barry Goldwater look like a RINO. Additionally, none of them talked about representing the district, only about their conservative principles.

In other words, they're all obedient little ideologues.

The Senate part of the forum was at once shorter and more colorful. Both candidates, Kevin Gibbons and Russell Pearce, frequently gave answers that were both apocryphal and irrelevent.

They also didn't appreciate the irony in some of their answers. For instance, when asked what they thought were some of the good things that the lege had done recently, and what were some of the mistakes, both said that the lege hasn't done much right recently.

And both conveniently neglected to note that their party has controlled the lege since God covered Arizona in dust and cactus needles.

Other highlights included Russell Pearce saying that "the bloated welfare state" was responsible for there being children in America without health insurance/care and that the "free market" could address the problem; a few moments later, Kevin Gibbons admitted that for a brief period when he and his wife were just starting a family and he was still a student at ASU, they were on AHCCCS.

Perhaps the biggest area of disagreement between the two was Pearce's whole-hearted support of the employer sanctions anti-immigrant law that he wrote (not exactly a surprise, that) and Gibbons' call to "revisit" the law (a position that elicited gasps from multiple audience members).

Toward the end, some of the discussion got a little more directly personal.

For instance, Gibbons said that one of the things that he wanted to do was change the "tone" at the lege, and that Pearce was part of the reason that the lege was so dysfunctional.

This also elicited gasps from some audience members, but I'm not sure why. Both Pearce and Gibbons are running for the same office and they obviously don't like each other very much. Anybody who was shocked that one directly criticized the other needs to get out more.

Summary of the candidates' presentations:

Pearce may not have answered all of the questions directly, but he stay on message the whole time - blame immigrants for everything and scare people with public safety concerns. His ability to stay focused made it obvious that he's been through this before.

Gibbons, on the other hand, made it painfully clear that he is a political neophyte. Many of his answers were either irrelevent to the question he had been asked, or were "lawyer" answers - lots of words, little meaning.

He did, however, have the best line of the night - he observed that for all of Pearce's small government rhetoric, he has spent the vast majority of his adult life feeding at the public trough through one government job or another. Gibbons said that he was working to give Pearce a couple of years off to experience the private sector.

OK, so it was funnier in person there than in writing here. :))

Other notes -

The CCEC forum for the general election has been scheduled for September 17 and will include both of the Democratic candidates for LD18, Tammie Pursley (House) and Judah Nativio (Senate).

Both Democratic candidates, as well as a number of their supporters, were in attendance at the forum.

I spoke briefly with them, and both Pursley and Nativio are nearly done collecting their 5s for Clean Elections funding; both advised that anyone interested in helping them reach their goal should visit their websites (linked above) for the forms and contribution information.

In addition, while website for Pursley is currently a Facebook page, her campaign site,, is scheduled to go live within a few days. Check back there for updates.

Anyway, this post has taken wayyyyy longer than I planned, and I need to get some sleep.


1 comment:

Richard said...

I am coming late to reading this, but I really want to express my appreciation to you for covering this. This was a thoughtful, informative report -- and well worth paying for in a newspaper or other media. It is a shame that voters have to rely on bloggers -- though I suspect you are smarter, better informed and more comprehensive than any "professional" might be.

Since the New York Times today has a front page story on economically-distressed families taking in boarders to make ends meet, perhaps that candidate actually meant "boarder security."

As someone runnning in a Republican primary and currently registered (obviously) as a Republican, I find it kind of pathetic how utterly out-of-touch Arizona Republicans seem to be.

The one thing I would be interested in knowing is the age of people there. My gut feeling is that the Republican party in the state is, like their presidential candidate, on the mature side (as I am). When I read the posts and comments on their blogs, they display attitudes toward groups and issues that seem out of the 1950s.

I work with people in their late teens and in their twenties, and even the conservative students I know feel comfortable, more or less, with the diversity around them and with looking at new possible solutions.

Whether McCain manages to win or the Republicans manage to hold on to the legislature, the demographic tide is going against them fast. The party will have to get past the kind of spouting of 1978-1994 rhetoric you reported at the LD18 meeting.