GOP Gubernatorial Hopefuls Face Off On Education, Immigration, And Working With Washington

July 22, 2014

(Photo by Tricia Moore - KJZZ)
KJZZ hosted five of the six Republican candidates for governor at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe, Ariz.
(Photo by Tricia Moore - KJZZ)
From left, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, State Treasurer Doug Ducey, former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones, former California Congressman Frank Riggs, and former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith.

Five of the six Republicans in the race for governor gathered for a forum hosted by KJZZ on Tuesday night at the Arizona Historical Society. The candidates discussed the state's relationship with the feds, how to fund education, and how to secure the border. And they each did their best to be seen as a standout in a crowded field.

The five candidates have varied backgrounds, but they all made it clear they're business people with experience in the private sector.

Discussing how to protect Arizona's economy from another downturn, former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones said that company thrived in an environment where it felt like the government was trying to make it fail.

"Get out of the way of the small businesses so that more of those GoDaddy stories can go from small businesses to big businesses," Jones said. "If you had asked me when GoDaddy was small, 'What is the single thing the government can do to make your life better?' I would have said, 'Just leave us alone.'"

Jones also discussed her experience as an attorney and CPA, and stressed her commitment to water conservation in the Southwest.

Former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith highlighted his time leading Arizona's third-largest city during the recent downturn. He agreed about the importance of creating a pro-business environment, but said it's important not to do it through incentives.

"I would never, ever give a company a blank check," Smith said. "For example, what [Mesa] did with First Solar, we did invest $10 million in infrastructure. And then when First Solar could not follow up and start their manufacturing, that $10 million stayed with the community. It was in streets, it was in sewer lines, it was in electrical lines."

Smith also said that even though he doesn't agree with the Obama administration, Arizona's governor is forced to work with the federal government.

Smith and some of the other candidates discussed the importance of building relationships with the feds. But State Treasurer Doug Ducey has been less conciliatory.

He was asked about comments he's made on the campaign trail that when President Barack Obama leaves office, the long national nightmare will be over. Ducey responded that Arizona has faced nothing but obstruction from the current administration.

"I think what's happened here recently with the thousands of illegal immigrants that have been transported from Texas into Arizona at the height of the summer heat smack to me of political payback, or at least complete incompetence," Ducey said.

In addition to his experience as a ColdStone executive, Ducey also talked up prominent conservatives he's reached out to for advice, like Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Also appealing to the right flank of the party was former California Congressman Frank Riggs. A military vet and former policeman, Riggs said he disagrees with Gov. Jan Brewer's decision to restructure Child Protective Services as a cabinet-level agency. He thinks that responsibility and the funding that goes with it should be transferred to the local government level.

"That's the best way, I think, to ensure coordination and good communication between families in distress, social services including foster care, schools, which have an important responsibility and educational responsibility as well, and law enforcement," Riggs said.

The candidates also spent a good deal of time discussing education, including a recent court ruling that could eventually force the state to make billions in back payments to public schools. Asked where the state could find that money, including more than $300 million right away, Secretary of State Ken Bennett said, "I think it's very important that we restructure our tax system in Arizona so that the revenue coming into the general fund flows with the economy instead of spiking high in the good times and dropping way down in the bad times."

Bennett said moving from a system reliant on income and sales tax to a broad-based consumption tax will keep rates lower and revenue more steady. Bennett cited his experience as Senate President as a key selling point for voters, noting that he's helped build coalitions and balance the state budget in years past.

The other candidate in the Republican gubernatorial primary is former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who was invited to the forum but did not attend. Early voting starts on July 31. Election day is Aug. 26.

NOTE: The full audio of the forum will be available on Wednesday morning. Highlights will be replayed on-air during KJZZ's Here and Now on Wednesday at 11 a.m.