Political forum

Legislative District 8 candidates Frank Pratt, from left, David Cook and T.J. Shope participate in a political forum on Tuesday in Casa Grande.

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.


Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa is a reporter covering the city of Casa Grande and the surrounding area, as well as Central Arizona College. She can be reached at sadams@pinalcentral.com.

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