By Jeff Dempsey DAILY NEWS-SUN
Sun City West was the hub of GOP politics Saturday when 28 candidates attended a forum sponsored by the Arrowhead Republican Women.
The event at the Briarwood Country Club covered regional legislative races in Districts 21 and 22 on up to statewide races, including the contest for governor that attracted six candidates.
The first to make his case was Secretary of State Ken Bennett.
“Experience matters,” he said. “That’s what I want to leave you with today. Now is not the time when we want to hire someone without experience to be the CEO of the state of Arizona.”
State Treasurer Doug Ducey recited some of his endorsements, including one from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. He noted how many Arizona residents are transplants from other states and said there is a reason people come here.
“Let’s make sure the bad ideas in those other states that are crushing them and pushing people out do not happen here in Arizona,” he said.
Christine Jones said she decided to run because she was tired of politics as usual in Arizona.
“When you love something, you want it to thrive, to prosper,” she said. “I’m running because I believe we can make Arizona the brightest star in the union.”
District 26 Sen. Al Melvin said he wants to shield Arizona from what he views as bad national policies coming out of Washington, D.C.
“I’m a member of the tea party,” he said. “The tea party saved our country in 2010 and will save us again this year. We can take our country back, and it will start this year.”
Frank Riggs spoke about his background as an Army veteran, former police officer, small businessman and congressman. He said he is running to stop the “Obamanization” of Arizona.
“This nation is at a crossroads,” he said. “I have a good record, one I’m proud of. In a crowded field, I am the tested and trusted candidate, and I encourage you to look at my record.”
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said voters need only look at what he has done in his city to know why he should be governor.
“I know how to take a company, an organization that is struggling and make it successful,” he said. “I came to Mesa with the city facing a $62 million shortfall. We used what I learned in business and applied that to government and incredible things started happening. We balanced our budget during the worst recession ever, six years in a row. I did it at the city level, and I can do it at the state level.”
Rep. Trent Franks is facing a primary challenge from Clair Van Steenwyk, who said he is running because he believes the House of Representatives needs fresh blood.
“I know some people have a hard time with someone running against an incumbent,” he said. “But look at some of the laws our congressmen have passed for us in the last decade or better. If you think we are better off now than we were four, six, eight years ago, then by all means, continue to vote for the same people. I submit that we are not.”
Franks said he agrees with the idea that changes need to be made in Washington, but he believes he is the man to make those changes.
“In the last five years we have seen this republic with Barack Obama at the helm,” he said. “If we get a candidate like him in 2016 then everything we love is at risk. If we as a party, as a people, make the same mistake that we did in the last two elections, we will look back and realize this was the generation that lost the greatest country in the world.”
Sandra Dowling, who is challenging Clint Hickman for the District 4 Maricopa County Board of Supervisors seat, said she has experience Hickman lacks.
“I believe we need to reduce the size of county government,” she said. “And we need an open government where everyone gets a chance to sit down and talk about the issues. Closed meetings? You don’t have those in a transparent government.”
Clint Hickman pointed out his mother and father, who were both in attendance, and said he stepped away from the family business because he wanted to make a difference. He said taxes are an important part of government, but they are too easily misused or abused.
“Taxes are important to me,” he said. “It’s how we fund our government. But, man, it is hard to watch that money go to governments that do not use it wisely. Jan Brewer has endorsed me. Max Wilson has endorsed me. I’m proud to be your supervisor, and I plan to continue throwing myself at the issues.”
Debbie Lesko currently serves as a representative in District 21 and is now running for the state Senate. She spoke about her strong ties to the West Valley and the support she has received over the years.
“Democrats beat me up, liberals beat me up, but I have persevered with your help,” she said. “I have been named legislator of the year, hero of the taxpayer, guardian of small business. People who know me know how committed I am and that is why I have received all these honors.”
Rep. Rick Gray is running for re-election in District 21 and will have two opponents in the primary. He said he is running for a third term because he believes he can continue to do good work in the position, even if it means giving up one of his go-to lines.
“I used to say I’m a businessman, not a politician,” he said. “Now that I’m running for a third term, I don’t think I can say that anymore.”
He pointed to his experience as a single father of four in discussing why he is the man for the job.
“You learn that people will complain and there will always be someone nagging at you,” he said. “But your job is to look for what is right and do what is best for the people you serve.”
Former Youngtown Mayor Bryan Hackbarth said he is running not against Gray but to occupy Lesko’s vacated seat, which he said is a tremendous responsibility. He said if elected he will work to do more to attract businesses to Arizona.
“The corporate tax rate is too high,” he said. “We need to lower that and relax restrictions in order to get businesses to come here. I’m also against Common Core in education. I’m for local control. Immigration, too, is an issue. We currently have undocumented immigrants coming into Phoenix by busloads as we speak but our governor is not doing anything about it.”
Peoria City Councilman Tony Rivero said he has learned a great deal in city government and now hopes to bring what he has learned to the state Capitol.
“I don’t take the City Council position for granted,” he said. “There is a lot of power and responsibility there. I represent 26,000 people in my district. A lot of actions are taken that impact citizens.”
Rivero positioned himself as a fighter, saying he has stood by his principles even in the face of same-party opposition.
“Being a conservative is not an easy thing to do,” he said. “I take stands that get me attacked by my own mayor, who is also Republican, or by fellow council members who are also Republican.”
The current representatives of District 22, Sen. Judy Burges and representatives Phil Lovas and David Livingston, said they are each facing opponents in the general election and can use all the support they can get. Burges said they can each boast of a strong record.
“Phil and David and I have been named guardians of small business,” she said. “And that is quite an honor.”
Livingston said he is proud to represent a district that has Sun City West as part of its constituency.
“I think the reason you see all these candidates here today,” he said, “is because they know they cannot win a state race without winning Sun City West. The people here always show up and they hold us accountable.”
Lovas, who was the last of the candidates to speak, made a good-natured joke about the forum.
“I think all the candidates behind me are very excited to hear me speak,” he said. “Not because they are excited to hear me but because they know I am the last one.”
Lovas spoke about his journey to conservatism that saw him enter college a liberal and leave a registered Republican, and he said everything he has done in office has been with District 22 in mind.
“What is best for LD-22,” he said. “Sometimes that has meant voting with the Republican establishment and sometimes it has meant voting against it.”
The candidates involved in other races who were also present included: Justin Pierce and Wil Cardon, candidates for secretary of state; Randy Pullen, Jeff DeWit and Hugh Hallman for treasurer; Tom Horne and Mark Brnovich for state attorney general; Diane Douglas for superintendent of public instruction; Doug Little, Lucy Mason and Vernon Parker for corporation commission; and Michael Jeanes for clerk of the Superior Court.