PHOENIX -- Gov. Jan Brewer said Tuesday she's a leader who has begun to get Arizona back on track after economic disaster, but her Republican rivals criticized her as a tax-raising career politician in the first televised debate of the GOP primary.
Careful not to take blame for Arizona's budget woes, Brewer said repeatedly that she inherited the problem when she assumed office. She portrayed her 11/2-year tenure as a series of tough but responsible decisions to avoid draconian cuts to state services.
"I have begun the comeback of the great state of Arizona,'' Brewer said.
But her rivals had their own narratives.
State Treasurer Dean Martin slammed Brewer for supporting a budget that relied on borrowing and a temporary tax increase. He advocated more spending cuts and criticized a Brewer-supported budget that sold the state Capitol and other buildings for quick cash.
``We can get out of this crisis very simply,'' Martin said. ``Don't spend more than you make. The state needs to live within its means. Stop selling our Capitol. Stop selling our assets.''
Brewer fought back, saying Martin voted for budgets that relied on borrowing and raided money from the Rainy Day Fund.
"You're not part of the solution, Dean. You're part of the problem,'' she said.
Yavapai County businessman Buz Mill touted his experience as an entrepreneur who has created jobs, calling Brewer and Martin ``career politicians'' who would rather bicker than solve problems.
``This is almost 40 years of political experience that we're watching back and forth,'' Mills said following an exchange between Brewer and Martin. ``I bring leadership to the government. This is where we have a clear choice in this election.''
Mills is a political newcomer who has already spent more than $2 million on his campaign, most of it from his own fortune.
Matthew Jette, also a political newcomer, staked out a moderate position, supporting Brewer's tax hike, opposing a tough new crackdown on illegal immigration and decrying cuts to education and health care.
``You're not going to bring in businesses without the proper infrastructure for education,'' he said. ``You say you care about the kids, but in the next breathe you cut (Medicaid).''
The cadre of Republicans signed up to challenge Brewer after she angered conservatives last year with her proposal for a temporary sales tax increase. She also was party to a high-profile showdown with the Republican-controlled Legislature that nearly shut down state government over budget disagreements.
But the environment has grown friendlier for Brewer this year.
Voters last month overwhelmingly approved her tax hike. She and the Legislature reached an early agreement on the budget. And she has signed a number of measures cheered by conservatives, including bills giving Arizona some of the nation's loosest gun laws and toughest restrictions on illegal immigration.
The debate was sponsored by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, the agency that administers Arizona's system of public campaign financing. Brewer and Martin are taking public funds and were required to debate. Participation was optional for Mills and Jette.
The debate will be archived on website of the Clean Elections website.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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