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Arizona governor hopefuls meet in Flagstaff forum

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Seven candidates for Arizona governor faced
wide-ranging questions Monday during a forum in Flagstaff that gave them a
chance to expand on their backgrounds to try and draw votes.

The questions posed to the candidates during 15-minute interviews touched on
education, the economy, health care, public lands, taxation, natural resources
and the role of the federal government. Most agreed that the state’s tax system
needs reform, that public education is underfunded and that the way to fix it is
to stop partisan bickering. They also said the federal government needs to let
Arizona control more of the land within the state’s borders.

The forum came a week before the Aug. 26 primary election in which six
candidates are seeking the Republican nomination. The winner will face Democrat
Fred DuVal in the November general election.

Without a chance to debate each other directly, Republicans Christine Jones,
Frank Riggs, Ken Bennett and Scott Smith sought to differentiate themselves
based on political experience or a lack thereof. Doug Ducey and Andrew Thomas
didn’t attend the forum, saying they had prior commitments.

Bennett, the current secretary of state, touted his experience as a state
legislator and a businessman in saying he knows how to bridge gaps between
elected officials to move the state forward. He said he would push for Arizona
to reduce its reliance on federal funding for health care by growing the state’s
economy and providing a way for employers to hire more people with health care
benefits. He said he also would try to make spending on political campaigns more
transparent. Bennett’s campaign is publicly financed.

Smith, too, said this election is about leadership. He said developing
industries and drawing tourists to Arizona means each region of the state must
figure out its assets and capitalize on them. As the former mayor of Mesa, he
said the city was successful at working with health care companies, aerospace,
educational institutions and tourism because those things are unique to Mesa.
For northern Arizona, its strengths include the Grand Canyon and the ponderosa
pine forest, he said.

The questions posed to Riggs didn’t stray much from charter schools, a movement
he helped propel forward. He said charter schools allow decisions to be placed
squarely in the hands of parents. He didn’t miss a chance to tell of his
experience as a former U.S. representative to build consensus among elected
officials, saying he’s tried, tested and proven.

Jones tried to set herself apart as having no political experience. The former
Internet executive said she would look at the education system from a business
perspective, analyzing the state budget to determine how money is best spent.
She said Arizona needs more teachers, lower student-to-teacher ratios, school
supplies and a curriculum that isn’t based solely on a common set of standards.
During her closing remarks, she pointed to her challengers’ experience in
politics and asked why problems like border security and Arizona’s spot near the
bottom for education haven’t been solved.

Jones, Smith and Ducey are widely viewed as the front-runners in the race, but
Bennett also has a good shot. Thomas, the former Maricopa County attorney, and
Riggs are seen as less likely to pull off a win.

DuVal, Libertarian Barry Hess and John Mealer from Americans Elect also spoke
in front of hundreds at the forum. The event also was streamed online.


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