There's no shortage of differences between Republican Frank Antenori and Democrat Dave Bradley, the candidates seeking a state Senate seat in central Tucson.
They disagree about what kind of tax system works best: Antenori favors a flat income tax that would provide breaks to higher earners while raising taxes on the majority of Arizonans, in the name of "fairness"; Bradley prefers a progressive income tax.
They disagree on health-care issues, with Antenori favoring a private-market system in which the government has little to no role, and Bradley believing that the government should help low-income Arizonans with coverage. (See The Skinny for details.)
They disagree on abortion, with Antenori favoring a ban even in cases of rape or incest, and Bradley wanting to allow women to be able to terminate pregnancies under the general framework set out under Roe v. Wade.
And they differ in temperament: Antenori is a former Green Beret who possesses a legendary bluntness that has brought him into conflict with his political opponents on a regular basis (as well as his political allies from time to time), while Bradley is a mild-mannered former lawmaker with a background in counseling who believes in a collaborative approach to politics.
Antenori's no-nonsense attitude has been an asset in the past, allowing him to win a House of Representatives seat in the conservative Legislative District 30 in 2008 and rise to the Arizona Senate in 2010. But now it may prove to be a liability, as he attempts to hold a Senate seat after redistricting put him in midtown Tucson's competitive Legislative District 10, where Democrats have a slight registration edge.
Despite his new political battlefield, Antenori has run an aggressive campaign against Bradley, a former state lawmaker who served in the House of Representatives from 2002 to 2010.
"Bradley bankrupted the state," Antenori says. "I saved it from bankruptcy."
Bradley says Antenori is distorting the record. While state spending did grow while he was in the Legislature, and Arizona eventually faced a massive budget crisis when the economy cratered in 2007-2008, Bradley argues that much of the spending had to do with infrastructure, such as schools and highways, that had been neglected in previous years. In addition, voters had mandated an expansion of the health-care system to cover anyone below the federal poverty level.
Bradley argues that the budget might be technically balanced now, but that's only because in 2010, voters approved a temporary sales-tax increase that Antenori opposed. In addition, the GOP majority has cut programs that are vital to the future of the state.
Bradley offers a metaphor: "I say to my wife, 'Gee honey, we have money in the bank this year. I paid off the credit cards, but the irrigation system is broken, so all the plants died six months ago, and there's a hole in the roof I didn't fix, so when that storm came through, we lost some of the furniture. And I haven't changed the oil in the car in a year and a half, so we don't have a car, either, but we have money in the bank.' Well, no you don't, because we didn't do prevention, so now we're going to have to pay the piper."
The candidates are just as split on social issues. Antenori says he believes in banning abortion even in cases of rape or incest because he's met the children of women who became pregnant as a result of rape and did not get abortions. They were later happy to have had the child.
"It's a life," Antenori says. "Everybody plays politics, but the Constitution clearly states the government's role is to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or quote, unquote, property. And that, to me, is the justification."
Antenori voted, in the last session, to ban abortion past 20 weeks in a pregnancy; to allow "religiously affiliated" employers to decline to provide contraception coverage in health-insurance policies; and to cut off federal health-care funds for Planned Parenthood for services to low-income women—services that have nothing to do with abortion. (A federal judge put that law on hold last week.)
Bradley opposes those measures.
"I'm pro-choice," says Bradley, who adds that abortion is an issue that people will continue to disagree on, so it's important to seek common ground, such as finding ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies. He says that cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood will lead to more unwanted pregnancies.
"Cutting off that kind of service is just foolish," Bradley says. "It doesn't make an ounce of sense."
The race is also riding on the question of temperament. Antenori makes no apologies for his approach to politics, which has cost him some of his natural allies. Antenori's frequent clashes with Gov. Jan Brewer have kept her from endorsing him; two of her top advisers, Chuck Coughlin and Doug Cole, have given money to Antenori. (He says they oppose him because he wouldn't support a boost in funding for prisons, and Coughlin is a lobbyist for the private-prison industry.)
He also doesn't have the support of Senate President Steve Pierce, which has cost him some potential financial support. Antenori says he wouldn't support Pierce for Senate president, so Pierce does not want him back at the Legislature.
And the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Bradley. (For more on that, see The Skinny.)
Antenori says his blunt approach is the best way to get things done in politics.
"If you want Barney the Dinosaur, that's not me," Antenori says. "Dave Bradley may be. He's a little closer to Barney the Dinosaur than I am. ... Do you want a Teletubbie or a Barney the Dinosaur, or do you want a guy who is maybe a little rough around the edges, but is a guy who gets the job done? ... I think it's time the voters started realizing that the nice, touchy-feely, bipartisan, civility, all this baloney that everybody is looking for, really hasn't brought us anything."
Bradley, no surprise, disagrees with Antenori's perspective.
"With Frank, almost everything seems to get to a battleground rather than common ground," says Bradley, who believes Antenori views everything through a militaristic prism of protecting his allies and destroying his enemies.
"Not everything fits into that metaphor," Bradley says. "... Barry Goldwater and Mo Udall were people who felt strongly about many things, but knew that if we wanted to move the state forward, there had to be some way of getting to common ground."