LIKE THE DIFFERENCE between a sharp cheddar and a mild Colby, the Republican state Senate hopefuls offer voters in District 12 on Tucson's sprawling northwest side a clear choice in next week's primary election. The distinctions between Scott Alexander and Toni Hellon range from their views on the major issues to why they decided to run for the office.
Alexander is blunt in stating, "My wife got tired of my bitching about stuff and told me to do something about it." Hellon, on the other hand, says she never thought she would run, but after looking at other possible candidates decided to get into the race.
That doesn't mean that Hellon is necessarily a political neophyte. She refers to her record of achievement on political campaigns and community service projects as proof that she can get results in the Senate. "I have been incredibly effective because I know how to get things done without getting people mad," she boasts, adding of Alexander, "His connections and experience are 30 years old. He makes people mad and they don't want to work with him." Hellon refuses, however, to name those people.
Alexander characterizes his primary opponent as being "a sweet young thing when I got started in politics." He contrasts their political styles by saying Hellon believes that merely her networking and political-operative background can get laws passed. He, on the other hand, claims proudly that he has the "audacity to propose laws, and the willingness to lay my body on the line" to get them adopted. He points to a long list of legislative accomplishments, including the state's Open Meeting Law. Alexander also believes that Pima County's legislative delegation, both Republicans and Democrats, must once again work together to achieve the 16 votes in the Senate and 31 in the House needed to adopt legislation.
Among the issues Alexander would like to see the legislature tackle is the traffic situation on the exploding northwest side. To supply more money for road projects, he proposes a number of solutions, including raising the state's gas tax along with indexing the tax to the rate of inflation. Hellon opposes the tax increase, calling instead for more coordination between governmental entities to address the problem.
Preparing the state for a future tidal wave of aging Baby Boomers is one of Hellon's priorities. She wants to see a commission established to look at the problems this will cause, stating, "If we want to provide a rich and fulfilling retirement for our (future) senior citizens ... we have to start planning now."
Hellon also believes that economic development and improved workforce training are important. Although acknowledging that Arizona's funding for job-training programs is poor, at first she declined to endorse more spending on these efforts, preferring to study the issue more. A day later, however, she had revised her position, saying that Arizona should increase its level of job-training funds to a competitive level with other states as fast as possible.
Improving education is a top priority for both candidates, and they agree on backing the proposed .6-cent sales tax increase for schools. Hellon goes further, however, stating in her campaign brochure, "In District 12, our children are taking a back seat to owls. This must be resolved."
Alexander believes in assuring a water supply in perpetuity for southern Arizona. He says the prevailing philosophy toward additional agricultural, mining and population growth is, "If you bring the plow, the rain will follow," and in his opinion that must change. Sitting in his study, surrounded by pictures of prominent people including Barry Goldwater and the pope, Alexander proposes creating an elected authority to take control of all water in the Tucson region. He acknowledges that this group may eventually have to say no to mining interests or developers in order to guarantee an adequate water supply for current residents.
Despite this position, Alexander agrees with Hellon in her opposition to the Citizens Growth Management Initiative, and both candidates oppose the proposed ban on bilingual education. They both also stand against requiring a two-thirds majority of voters to endorse ballot-approved wildlife management practices.
Hellon and Alexander disagree on the November election measure that would freeze property taxes for some senior citizens. While pointing out that he could potentially benefit from it, Alexander opposes the initiative, calling it another erosion of a once-balanced tax structure. Hellon, however, supports the idea.
They also take opposite sides concerning the proposal to have a citizens' committee, instead of the legislature, draw political redistricting boundaries. Alexander supports the idea, but Hellon says, "You're never going to de-politicize the process."
The candidates vigorously disagree on the state legislature's role in reviewing locally enacted legislation, such as Tucson's livable wage ordinance or its billboard regulations. "I don't see myself voting to overturn local laws," Hellon says. "The state shouldn't nickel and dime these issues. Where do you stop? If local laws are bad, the people of the community will see that they are changed."
For his part, Alexander characterizes the relationship between the state government and local municipalities as parent and child. "I'm not against the legislature overriding cities," he says, "when it is determined the local law is not consistent with good state policy."
A final distinction between the two candidates is their approach to campaigning. Hellon needed only one fund raising letter and one social event to raise $50,000, of which she plans to spend $35,000 or more on the primary race. She points proudly to her 370 contributors and the first-class campaign she believes she is running.
While using his electric vehicle to get around the district to meet people, Alexander has had to loan his campaign all but $5,000 of the $30,000 he plans to spend on the primary. But, he points out, he spent only $300, and a lot of shoe leather, on his first successful legislative race 36 years ago.
The winner will face Scott Osterloh in the November general election, setting up a contest between a Democratic Clean Elections candidate and a Republican nominee who is not participating in the publicly funded campaign program.