Mesa Recall Election: Economy, Education on Candidate's Minds

October 21, 2011

When Citizens for a Better Arizona took out papers to recall state senate president Russell Pearce, among the reasons they cited was a lack of focus on education and the economy.  But, as KJZZ’s Mark Brodie reports, both candidates in next month’s recall election say those are important issues for the state.

Arizona has lost approximately 300-thousand jobs since the recession began…and Russell Pearce says the package of phased in tax cuts and other provisions approved earlier this year should add at least some of them back.

"You want to create an environment conducive to productivity, growing, and you can’t get the economy going until you grow jobs…and how you grow jobs and create that environment is lower taxes, lower regulation…and in AZ, we’re doing that."

Pearce says the balanced budget lawmakers passed earlier this year should show that the state has its fiscal house in order.  But Charter School Executive Jerry Lewis says there’s another issue the state has to address.

"It’s tough for businesses to want to move here, to want to grow their businesses, with the current image that we have."

Lewis says Arizona’s immigration laws make the state look like something it’s not.  He says that’s the biggest challenge facing Arizona’s economy right now.  But, he also says firms want to see the state invest in education.

"Right now, those businesses looking at AZ have got to be thinking twice…we’ve got everything else working great here, but our K-12 education results aren’t what they can be…and we definitely can change that."

One way that could happen is by requiring school districts to spend more of their money in the classroom.  Pearce wants to set the minimum at 60 percent.

We will move more money to the classroom, so it’s going to teachers and students, where I think parents think that money’s going in the first place."

Money is also an issue in higher education.  Both candidates say the state’s public universities are too expensive...and Lewis says if that continues, employers won’t be able to fill jobs here.

"We need to make sure that we’re giving our students a chance to receive the education they need to provide an educated workforce for our state that will improve the commitment of businesses to come here that will drive the economic engine."

Lewis says college educations that leave students tens of thousands of dollars in debt don’t sound affordable to him.  Pearce, meanwhile, thinks the state should set up a voucher system for universities…similar to ones used for K-12 education in some cities across the country.

"I would go to a higher voucher, so that it’d create competition, I think it would lower prices, and they want to go to a private university or a public university, that’s your choice, there’s a lot of things we can do."

Both Pearce and Lewis say the economy and education will be major issues when the legislature comes back into session in January.  And both candidates say they know how to improve those areas.  Early voting has already started…election day is November 8th.

Russell Pearce (L), Jerry Lewis (R)

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