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Casa Grande couple featured in 'The Voice' winner's song, music video
 10.01.20

CASA GRANDE

A Casa Grande woman says she feels humbled and honored to be the subject of a newly released song and music video.

Throughout their 70-year marriage, Nadine Hackler, 94, and her husband, Melvin “Hack” (who died in 2017), loved to dance. Often, in the mornings, they’d spin across the kitchen floor while Nadine sang her favorite hymns. Sometimes, they’d be spotted dancing in the aisles of the grocery store.

Their love for each other and their love of dancing together inspired singer, songwriter and Season 17 “The Voice” winner Jake Hoot to write the song “Nadine,” which is set to be released Friday.

A music video of the song has already been released and features a young couple dancing. Pictures of the Hacklers are interspersed throughout the video and Nadine appears at the end, giving a few words of wisdom about life and love.

“The song says it all,” Hackler said. “(Jake) listened to my story and got it right. I feel very humbled by it. Jake said it in the song just the way it was.”

Hoot, who lives in Nashville, is engaged to former Casa Grande resident Brittney Hoyt, 32, daughter of Vicki and Dr. Timothy Hoyt.

The story of Hoot and Hoyt’s engagement was the subject of a recent “People” magazine article. They first met seven years ago as wedding singers and then again doing church mission work in Nicaragua.

Hoot met Hackler on his first visit to Casa Grande when he met Hoyt’s parents. The Hoyts and Hacklers are longtime friends.

During that visit, Hackler told Hoot about her 70-year marriage to Hack and the last dance the couple shared.

“They danced together all the time,” said Hackler’s daughter, Kelly Dugan. “It was how they showed their love for each other. He was sick and bedridden before he died, but one morning, even though he was weak, he got out of bed and danced with my mom one last time.”

With the song “Nadine,” Hoot aimed to capture the moment of that final dance.

“I like to write about real life experiences,” Hoot said. “When I visited with Nadine and the Dugan family, I brought my guitar. We sang and talked in their living room and I felt so blessed to know them.”

After the initial meeting, while sightseeing in Arizona, Hoot said he decided to write a song about the couple’s last dance.

“I’m an Eagles fan and soon after I met with Nadine, we visited Winslow, Arizona. I was standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, when I had the idea to write a song about Nadine and Hack,” Hoot said.

When he returned home to Nashville, he began writing the song as a gift to Hackler and the Dugan family.

“Brittney and Jake would call from time to time to ask questions, but we didn’t know Jake was writing a song,” Dugan said. “We just thought they were interested in the story and wanted to know more.”

On a return trip to Casa Grande, he met again with Hackler and Dugan family members and performed the song for them.

A family member recorded the meeting and posted it on Facebook.

“When I wrote the song, it was really just for Nadine, but a family member had recorded me singing it to Nadine and that video went viral. After that, I decided to record the song,” Hoot said.

The video for Hoot’s song “Nadine” was released this week. The MP3 music download of the song is available Friday on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify and other music sellers.

Hoot said he wanted to inspire music lovers with a true and timeless love story.

“So many people have reached out to me, saying they were touched by the song,” Hoot said.

Hackler said she thinks her late husband would enjoy the song and video.

The couple married in 1946, about two years after Nadine graduated from high school. They had been friends since middle school but when Nadine was in high school, she moved to Arkansas with her family for a few years.

Soon after moving back to Casa Grande, she was walking home from church one Sunday morning when she spotted Hack buying gas at a station that once stood near Florence and Main streets.

“I went up and gave him a hug,” she said.

Soon after, the couple was dating. A few months later, they made the decision to marry.

“He said to me, ‘Hon, do you think you would tire of me?” Hackler said.

Once they decided to marry, they didn’t want to wait.

“It was a Friday night,” Dugan said. “They went to the preacher’s house but he was at a football game. They had to wait for him to come home. But they were married that night.”

Dugan said the song “Nadine” captures many of the aspects of the couple’s long marriage.

“From the proposal to the one-room shack and the dancing every morning, Jake truly told the story of their love in the song,” Dugan said.

Hackler said her marriage had plenty of “mountain tops and valleys.”

“It was a good marriage,” she said. “Later in life, we’d be sitting in our chairs and we’d look at each other from time to time and say ‘it’s been a good trip, hasn’t it, Hon?’”

When she sees Hoot and Hoyt together, she said the couple reminds her of herself and her husband in their younger days.

“I told them that I can see the same kind of love between them that we had,” she said.


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Education, pandemic addressed by candidates at PinalCentral forum
 09.30.20

CASA GRANDE — Candidates for the Arizona Legislature and Arizona’s 1st Congressional District got a chance to voice their views on the pandemic, funding for education and taxes during an hour-long Facebook Live event Tuesday night.

The event was hosted by Kramer Media, which owns PinalCentral.

Tiffany Shedd of Eloy, the Republican candidate running against Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, participated, but O’Halleran did not.

Shedd said she was in favor of another federal stimulus package to help people through the pandemic.

“The people of Arizona are still hurting,” she said. Shedd pointed out that it had been at least five months since the last federal stimulus package was passed to help states, businesses and residents weather the pandemic.

“It’s time for the people in D.C. to stop playing politics and serve the American people,” Shedd said.

She also felt that the federal government had done the right thing by allowing states and local governments to respond to the pandemic in their own way. Now, it’s time for states and the federal government to concentrate on getting the economy safely open while protecting the most vulnerable populations, she said.

Shedd said her main priorities, if elected, would be on growing the economy and jobs, securing the border to make sure that businesses on both sides of it could prosper and improving infrastructure, such as broadband internet access and roads, for rural areas of the district.

As a small business owner, Shedd said, she understood the need to reduce the tax burden and regulations on small businesses to allow them to recover from the pandemic.

Shedd said she also felt that defunding police is not the right way to address violence and protests in urban areas. Police departments should have funding to make sure officers receive the training they need to respond to incidents of violence and looting.

The two Republican candidates for the District 8 seats in the Arizona House agreed with Shedd on how the state government had handled its response to the pandemic.

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, who is running for another term in the House, said he thought Gov. Doug Ducey had done a “wonderful job” leading the state through the emergency.

Cook pointed out that, unlike some other states, Arizona is not facing bankruptcy or begging for a federal bailout. Cook did not say which states he was referring to. Much of the country has received federal funding through the $2.2 billion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which was passed by Congress in March, including Arizona.

Sen. Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande, who is running for a term in the Arizona House, agreed that Ducey had handled the situation well. The Arizona Legislature will have to be adaptable in order to meet the needs of residents as the situation around the pandemic continues to change, he said.

Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who is running for the District 8 seat in the Arizona Senate, pointed out that the pandemic is something that no state had planned for but the Arizona Legislature and governor have done well.

However, there was some room for improvement in the state’s unemployment and making testing for the COVID-19 virus more available to the public, he said.

Sharon Girard, the lone Democrat running for a District 8 House seat, disagreed.

Ducey reopened the state’s economy too early and too fast, she said. While there are some states that are doing worse than Arizona, there are also plenty of states that are doing much better than Arizona.

“We have to have a happy medium,” Girard said, referring to the need to reopen the state’s economy and protecting the health of state residents. “There were too many deaths and too many (new) cases (when the state economy started to reopen). That’s something that could have been prevented.”

All of the candidates agreed that there was probably no need for new taxes or to raise tax rates in the next legislative session.

Pratt said he would be surprised if the state would need to raise or implement new taxes.

Shope said he would have to look at the current budget situation in the state but pointed out that tax revenues had not fallen as much as had been expected during the pandemic.

Girard said that while she did not believe the state needed to raise the tax rates, it did need to close some tax loopholes to make sure that wealthy corporations and people pay their fair share.

She pledged to use the state’s tax dollars wisely to support funding for education, health care and infrastructure in the state.

Funding education is one of her highest priorities, Girard said. The state is not currently fully funding education, she said, referring to the level of funding education used to receive in the state before the 2008 economic recession.

Cook also did not support raising taxes or any new taxes, including Proposition 208, which is on November’s ballot.

It would add an additional 3.5% taxes on personal income over $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for couples filing income taxes jointly. The money raised by the tax would go to funding salaries for educational staff and teachers and support a mentoring program and academy to produce more teachers for Arizona schools.

Cook said the state already adequately funds education, even with the economy shut down because of COVID-19.

“We are meeting the promises we made to the state without raising taxes (and) on a balanced budget,” he said.

No additional taxes to fund education are necessary, Cook said. The state has enough money to fund education.

Girard also wanted to see additional state funding for providing health care and insurance to Arizonans who do not have health insurance, especially children.

Shope said the Legislature had done a good job of serving Arizonans but there are still a few more things he’d like to see through and he expected additional challenges due to COVID-19, such as affordable housing and health care.

However, the situation isn’t as bleak as some would make it out to be, he said.

“People are coming here (to Pinal County) because they feel like it’s a place to turn their life into something great,” he said. Shope said he wanted to make sure those people who are moving to Arizona have every opportunity they want and need to improve their lives.

The Democratic candidate for Senate in District 8, Barbara McGuire of Kearny, did not attend.

One candidate for Arizona’s 11th legislative district also attended the forum.

JoAnna Mendoza of Red Rock, a Democrat who is running for District 11’s Senate seat, said her main priorities are funding education, health care access, water infrastructure and responding to climate change. However, the greatest priority, if she were elected to office, would be responding to the pandemic.

She was the only LD11 candidate to attend the forum.

Mendoza said she felt Ducey had handled the crisis in the best way that he could, but there is always room for improvement.

She did not favor raising taxes, especially on working families and especially during the pandemic. However, the state’s tax code could use an update to make sure that everyone is paying their fair share.

The state also needs to continue to support local schools and school boards and the discussion on how to best open schools safely as the pandemic continues.

If elected, Mendoza said she wanted to make sure that local communities and families have everything they need to continue to thrive and be successful.


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Pinal County may pay unfunded pensions with bonds
 09.30.20

FLORENCE — Pinal County is almost $75 million short in covering its public safety pensions, which the Board of Supervisors will consider financing with a bond issue.

This would save the county approximately $40 million “in present-value dollars,” financial adviser Mark Reader told the board. It would also result in debt service payments of about $5.8 million a year through 2038, instead of rising payments that would eventually top out at $16 million in 2038 before falling, he said.

Assistant County Manager Leo Lew told the board that handling this unfunded liability now will avoid difficult decisions “for those who come after us” in Pinal County government.

The board held a public hearing on the debt Wednesday and tentatively planned to meet on Oct. 16 to consider a bond resolution. This would be more than 15 days after Wednesday’s public hearing, as required by law.

Reader said there is some incentive to sell the bonds before the Nov. 3 general election, which could affect interest rates. He told the board that rates are currently favorable, and the county is likely to get a rate around 3%, as opposed to the 7.3% annual rate the county now pays.

He said another option is a tax increase, which none of the supervisors wanted to discuss.

Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, said this financing should also give employees added confidence that their pensions are funded, and maybe they will stay longer with Pinal County. “You have a pension in the future, so hang in there and stay with us,” House said.

Reader said many cities, towns and counties have unfunded pension liabilities. The total for all Arizona counties is $1.2 billion. He said his company, Stifel Financial, is also working on a $600 million transaction for the city of Tucson. “So you’re not alone,” he told the board.

Most of Pinal County’s unfunded liability is for Sheriff’s Office pensions, which are just over 50% funded, with the county more than $59 million short. Detention officers are 68.6% funded, with the county being more than $14 million short. Dispatchers’ pensions are 57.4% funded with the county being almost $1.4 million short.

The county is essentially borrowing from the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System to support its pension plans, and this cost continues to grow as plan assumptions evolve, Reader told the board Wednesday. If the county does nothing, it will continue to be exposed to the risk of increased future costs and liabilities due to changes in assumptions or investment return volatility, he said.

In other business Wednesday:

  • Pinal County Manager Louis Andersen will receive a 2.5% salary increase and 5% benefit increase effective Sept. 20, the Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday.

The board met in closed-door session for Andersen’s annual performance evaluation and approved the increases, as provided for in Andersens’ employment contract, with no further comment.

  • Roberto Reveles of Gold Canyon told the board it needs to affirm for the public the safety and integrity of local elections. “Pinal County residents need assurance that our county is prepared and committed to a safe and honest election.” He asked the board to immediately schedule a public work session with the county recorder and other election officials “to clear up any confusion or concerns before the early ballots are mailed out in the next few days.”

Board Chairman Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, responded by asking Andersen to put election officials on the board’s agenda prior to the Nov. 3 general election.

  • The board held another public hearing on the county’s U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding, including Community Development Block Grant and HOME investment partnership funding.

Vice Chairman Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, asked if the local Community Action Human Resources Agency is a potential Community Housing Development Organization, or CDHO, for this funding. County Grants Administrator Heather Patel said it could be. Rios said CAHRA is well-known and respected, and a county partnership with CAHRA could rehab a lot of housing.

House spoke up for homeless assistance. He said it continues to be a significant problem in his district, “so I’m trying to do everything I can to make sure we’re addressing that issue substantially, with money if we need to. I’m glad you’re working with the other groups to make sure that can happen.”