Fifty-four-year-old Toni Hellon has been a longtime political operative, having worked on numerous Republican campaigns. She has also volunteered for community causes ranging from joining the Tucson Boys Chorus board to directing the successful 1993-94 effort to save the Poison Information Center at the University of Arizona.
Mark Osterloh, 48, has influenced Arizona politics by helping to write, then collecting signatures for, several statewide ballot propositions intended to correct what he calls a dysfunctional legislature. These include 1996's Healthy Arizona measure, the Clean Elections campaign finance law adopted two years ago, and this year's redistricting reform and Healthy Arizona 2 propositions.
While both candidates agree that improving education and working on the district's growth problems are top priorities, they disagree on how to address those issues, along with almost everything else.
Osterloh believes public education has systematically been financially starved, and that passage of Proposition 301, the sales tax increase for schools, will only begin to solve the problem. "It will take our school funding rank from 50th to about 44th" in the nation, Osterloh says, and he thinks education needs more money immediately. To obtain it, he favors eliminating business and personal tax loopholes and not granting new ones.
While admitting it is clear that additional school funding sources besides Prop 301 will be needed, Hellon takes a very cautious approach to providing more money. She supports the proposition and wants to give it a chance to work for a couple of years before considering more funds for education.
The two candidates also take opposite sides on the Citizens Growth Management Initiative. Hellon believes that instead of reducing problems like traffic congestion, the proposition will exacerbate them: "I don't think infill will solve any problems in the district; it will create more." Plus, she adds, "I don't believe in drawing a line and saying those inside it have rights and those outside don't. That causes problems."
Osterloh disagrees. The growth problems of District 12, he thinks, are an example of a lack of planning, planning that passage of Proposition 202 would mandate. "If there had been a planning requirement, the district wouldn't have traffic problems or double class sessions in schools," he says. "We clearly did not have planning in the district."
Hellon and Osterloh are also poles apart about the two health care measures on the ballot. Osterloh helped to write Proposition 204, Healthy Arizona 2, and in his campaign literature says it "will allow the working poor to keep their jobs and still receive health insurance if their employer does not provide it. What is even better is that this can be done WITHOUT RAISING TAXES."
Toni Hellon opposes Prop 204, instead favoring the Healthy Children Healthy Families option of Prop 200. She supports this measure since it includes more programs and because "it has a built-in mechanism to only spend money that is available and it won't bankrupt the state."
Osterloh, however, charges that Hellon's positions on this and other issues are dictated by her campaign contributors. He is running as a Clean Elections candidate, for which he has received $25,000 of public money. Hellon, on the other hand, has raised $63,000 in contributions from a wide range of prominent personalities including developers Don Diamond and Joe Cesare, Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, former Democratic mayoral candidate Betsy Bolding and Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
"I don't owe $63,000 in favors to lobbyists, developers and contributors from Phoenix," Osterloh says. "She represents her campaign contributors and developers. That's the problem," he insists. "They buy legislators. Money is given to buy influence. Voter apathy is so great because people see we have auctions for office instead of elections."
With more than a twinge of animosity in her voice, the usually placid Hellon replies, "Those statements are not true. [The maximum individual campaign contribution of] $256 doesn't sway votes and it is ridiculous to think that it would. I'm not dirty for taking my campaign money." Hellon declares, "It is a bald-faced lie when my opponent says I took $63,000 from special interests."
At a recent candidates forum, Osterloh again criticized Hellon, charging she was beholden to her Phoenix contributors. Republican state representative Steve Huffman came to Hellon's defense, saying the Democrat's comments "were unfair and he should be ashamed of himself."
"I'm not," Osterloh shot back.
Toni Hellon throws out some accusations of her own. She says Osterloh doesn't work, that he doesn't know anything about public education since his children don't attend public schools, that sitting at home writing propositions isn't community involvement, and that you can't find him because he's not listed in the phone book.
With a chuckle of surprise, Osterloh responded, "This boils down to her trying desperately to turn the issue around that she owes $63,000 in favors to special interests." Then he said, "I don't have my number listed because of telemarketing calls and because in my '98 state House race I received obscene messages. [With the propositions] I managed to get things done that the legislature wouldn't do. It takes building consensus and it takes an incredible amount of work. I send my children to parochial school for religious training but I firmly believe we must expand and improve public education. I work as a part-time volunteer ophthalmologist."
While he will be outspent by more than 2 to 1 in a district that is predominately Republican, Osterloh thinks he has a fairly good chance of winning on Tuesday. He believes the Clean Elections money has been sufficient to get his message out and that it has made him competitive.
For her part, Toni Hellon simply says, "I expect to win."