The importance of Arizona’s current and future leaders in shaping the state’s national identity was emphasized by nine candidates running for governor at Friday’s gubernatorial forum at the Phoenix Convention Center, organized by the Center for the Future of Arizona’s The Arizona We Want Institute.
The forum, which was also sponsored by the Arizona Republic, 12 News and azcentral.com, gave each candidate 15 minutes to answer questions on topics ranging from taxes and Common Core education standards to Arizona’s national image and the contested Medicaid expansion current Gov. Jan Brewer enacted in conjunction with the Affordable Care Act. The candidates included Republicans Ken Bennett, Al Melvin, Scott Smith, Frank Riggs, Christine Jones, and Doug Ducey; Democrat Fred DuVal; Libertarian Barry Hess; and independent John Mealer.
Although all the candidates discussed how topics such as health care and border security impact Arizona’s national image, many didn’t provide concrete plans for how to address this issue, choosing instead to highlight contentious items from the past such as recent Senate Bill 1062. That bill would have allowed businesses to refuse service based on religious principles, which many believed could be used to discriminate against the LGBT community.
State Sen. Melvin said the negative publicity stemming from Senate bills 1062 and 1070 has not hurt the state’s image. He cited statistics placing Arizona at the top in the nation for business start-ups and private-sector job creation, saying “we are viewed as a pro-business state.”
Former Arizona Board of Regents Chairman DuVal disagreed, saying Arizona’s reputation issues are impeding the recruitment of young talent. He said the state could do much more to attract young people.
“Diversity in a global economy is an extraordinary strength. The fact that 20 percent of our population speaks Spanish is a leverageable asset,” DuVal said. “Diversity is something for us to celebrate and when we send out messages that we do not welcome diversity, be it sexual orientation or racial diversity, we are sending the message out to young people that they won’t feel welcome here. … We gotta send a welcome mat, not a stop sign.”
Melvin and Smith, the mayor of Mesa, agreed that Arizona needs stronger control over its border, saying there was a strong need to fix what Smith called “the broken immigration system.”
“We are a border state. The border is not secure … frankly I believe it leaks like a sieve,” Melvin said. “Being a border state, it’s estimated that the illegal aliens coming in could be costing our state about $2 billion a year.”
Melvin opposes the Medicaid expansion, which he calls “the biggest single threat to our economic future,” and is actually part of a current lawsuit against the expansion. His proposed solution for the “indigent health care system” is to simply tell the people currently on Medicaid that their coverage is gone, because he said it’s easier to do so now than when the number of people receiving coverage has doubled or tripled.
However, Smith supports the expansion and is the only Republican candidate to do so, although he does oppose the Affordable Care Act.
“I think every Arizonan, whether they live in the metro areas or whether they live in a rural area, deserves to have quality health care,” Smith said.
Each of the candidates also discussed their plans for the state’s Common Core educational standards. Some wanted to end Arizona’s participation in the program immediately, some planned to phase the standards out as a better plan was implemented and some were in favor of the standards as they currently existed.
Regardless of their position, all of the candidates agreed that the state could do a better job in educating children and ensuring they are well prepared for their futures. Bennett, the Arizona secretary of state, opposed the Common Core standards but was in favor of other, expanded standards.
“Students, whether they’re poor or whatever color or whatever their zip code is or whatever it is, they can all perform at the same level as any other student,” Bennett said. “I want to be first in the country in education in four years, first in the world in eight. We can do these things.”
Arizona’s gubernatorial primary election will be on Aug. 26 and the general election will be on Nov. 4.
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