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Comeback Trail

A not-so-liveblog of last week's Legislative District 27 Democratic debate

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Reps. Phil Lopes and Olivia Cajero Bedford, the incumbent Democrats in Legislative District 27, are facing a primary challenge from former lawmaker John Kromko, who is attempting yet another political comeback. The three candidates met Tuesday, July 22, at a Clean Elections debate in Tucson. Here are the highlights.

7:06 p.m.: Cajero Bedford reminds us that both of her parents represented the area in the House of Representatives. Cajero Bedford grew up on the south side of the district and now lives on the west side. During her six years in the House, she has worked on spending, business and tax issues. Her blinged-out glasses are absolutely awesome.

7:08 p.m.: Kromko complains that he needs more than three minutes to cover his many accomplishments during his 14 years at the Capitol. He takes credit for the state's AHCCCS system, getting rid of the sales tax on food, the groundwater-protection act, the motor-voter law and even gambling on Indian reservations. He also helped create the Clean Elections system. About the only thing he does not take credit for is inventing the Internet. "I did good work when I was in the Legislature, but I think I was different from all other legislators in that I really worked in the community," Kromko says.

7:10 p.m.: Lopes cites his experience as the House minority leader. "It's not an opportunity for self-aggrandizement or ego or personal agendas," Lopez says. "It's about service. It's about getting stuff done for the residents of District 27." Lopes says he wants to work on education, environmental and health-care issues and make growth pay for itself. He hopes Democrats can win the state House in November.

7:13 p.m.: Candidates are asked whether the AIMS test should be a requirement for high school graduation.

Cajero Bedford wants to scrap the AIMS test altogether.

Kromko favors some sort of testing system, but doesn't like the AIMS test. He likes the idea of a two-tiered testing system that includes a test for people to graduate from high school, and a higher-level exam for college-bound kids.

Lopes says AIMS supporters had good intentions but that the test has had unintended consequences, including encouraging some students to drop out because they think they might fail the test. He suggests using the ACT and the SAT tests as placement tools to help students take the right courses.

7:19 p.m.: The candidates are asked about balancing the state budget in light of the multi-billion-dollar shortfall during last session. Kromko dismisses the accounting tricks the Democrats used, including borrowing money, putting off payments, passing costs to counties and cities, and using photo-radar tickets to raise revenue. "They're using trickery to go in debt," he says--adding that it would be too hard to offer spending-cut ideas this evening.

Lopes boasts about his role in crafting this year's budget. He says accounting tricks were necessary to protect vital programs. "We have an obligation to manage the crisis," Lopes says.

Cajero Bedford gives Lopes props for his work on the budget and explains that it came down to having to "take the seeds with the tomato." She's unhappy, however, that the state is counting on $90 million from photo-radar tickets.

7:26 p.m.: Candidates are asked whether voters should approve the legislative pay raise.

Lopes argues that there is no evidence that if you pay lawmakers more, you'll get a better legislature. He says voters won't support the pay raise, but he'll probably vote for it as a symbolic measure.

Cajero Bedford says she hopes it passes. She mentions two members, Jennifer Burns and Doug Clark, who said they were leaving the Legislature for financial reasons. She says the pay increase would bring a better mix of people to the Legislature.

Kromko says he is going to vote against it, because the whole system is dishonest. He complains that lawmakers enjoy a substantial, tax-free per-diem payment.

7:46 p.m.: Kromko is asked why he wants to replace the incumbents. He says: "In this country, we're supposed to have a democracy. I can't run, because there is somebody else there already? ... I think I will do a good job."

7:49 p.m.: Candidates are asked if they would vote for the TIME initiative, which would increase the sales tax by a penny per dollar to fund highway, rail and local-transportation projects.

Lopes bemoans the regressive sales tax but says he supports the initiative, because there are no other realistic alternatives for funding mass transit and highway construction.

Cajero Bedford also supports the initiative. However, she wishes it were a half-cent sales tax hike for the first 15 years before increasing to a full cent.

Kromko says he had been wondering if he should be running, but hearing that his opponents support the TIME initiative "has restored his faith" in his decision. He can't believe any Democrat would ever vote to increase the sales tax for transportation. "It's a tragic thing that someone would fall for a scam like this," says Kromko. He complains that the gas tax hasn't been increased in decades, but quickly adds that he is not advocating an increase in any tax. He says the sales tax will cost each family in the state $500 to $600 a year, which would be true if each family in the state spent $50,000 to $60,000 annually on taxed purchases (which is unlikely considering the state's median family income is less than $50,000 per year). He tells the crowd that the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election was actually rejected by voters, but a conspiracy in the Pima County Elections Division led to a flipping of the election.

8:20 p.m.: Closing statements! Lopes tries to rally independent voters to help Democrats gain the majority in the House. His goal is to finish the job he started when he was first elected four years ago.

Kromko says seeing his opponents in action has made it clear to him why he's needed at the Capitol: The constituents need a forceful leader to give the people a clear voice in what they want and need.

Cajero Bedford boasts that she's been the top vote-getter since 2002 and plans to be again in this year's election. She reminds us that both of her parents served in the House of Representatives and lists her endorsements.

8:25 p.m.: Moderator Christopher Conover of KUAT Channel 6 thanks the candidates and the audience. It's a wrap!

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