When Legislative District 26 voters cast their ballots for the House of Representatives in the Republican primary, they'll help determine the direction they want the Republican Party to take.
On the far right, running on responsible spending and gun rights, is Tea Party sympathizer Terri Proud. Vic Williams, the incumbent who lies somewhere between the other two, cites the hard decisions he has made in tough economic times. Wade McLean's more moderate platform involves education and his career in the public-school system.
The candidates in this district, which covers an area east of Interstate 10 from Flowing Wells to SaddleBrooke, agree on many things. All support SB 1070, improving the state's economy and strengthening the educational system.
Their differences, though, are striking.
Proud, a paralegal making her first run at elected office, says she voted against Proposition 100, the state's temporary one-cent sales tax, because the school system's problem isn't a lack of money; it's a lack of transparency. She says public education should provide only the essentials.
"Education is reading, writing, math, history, science, and that's it," she says. "Any other programs that they want to implement should be afterschool programs and up to the parents whether they want their children involved in (them). The taxpayer money should go to strictly academic education."
McLean, who received a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Arizona, takes a different approach. The retired superintendent of the Marana Unified School District voted for Prop 100 and says he got into the race because legislators are over-regulating schools and under-funding education. The state needs to invest in education, he says, to attract quality jobs.
"People aren't going to bring their businesses to Arizona unless there are good schools for their employees to send their children," he says. "Business aren't going to come unless there's a good trained workforce, an educated workforce for their company.
"Prop 100 is a Band-Aid. The Legislature needs to reconsider the priorities of the state and make education a top priority, because it's the future. It's our children; it's my grandchildren; and it's the future of our state. Without adequate funding for education, I don't think we're going to be able to get out of the hole that we're in now."
Somewhere in the middle, Williams, a small business owner and early supporter of Prop 100—which didn't earn him many friends on the right—voted for the Republican budget to mitigate cuts to education and balance the budget. He says it wasn't an easy decision or a final solution to the state's educational problems, but it was pragmatic.
"We're in a situation where our financial crisis is so deep that we cannot rely on a single ideology to get us through this," he says. "The crisis is to the point where we cannot cut our way out, as most ideologues on the right would talk about, and we cannot tax our way out of this, as the ideologues on the left were suggesting. We had to have some kind of combination of cuts and revenue."
With about 37,000 registered Democrats, 46,000 Republicans and 33,000 others, LD 26 is one of Arizona's few swing districts. Democratic Rep. Nancy Young Wright holds the other seat and is running unopposed in the primary; the top two GOP vote-getters will face her in the general election.
Republican Pete Hershberger, who represented LD 26 for eight years through 2008, says the district has a long history of electing moderate Republicans, including both of his parents in the 1970s.
He says Williams is inconsistent, citing his "yes" votes for both Prop 100 and Speaker Kirk Adams' "jobs-creation" package. The package—which was killed in the Senate and is expected to be re-introduced next year—would reduce business taxes paid to the state by roughly $650 million per year, and deflate the revenue gains made by Prop 100.
"That's Vic Williams for you," Hershberger says. "He's going to say one thing to one group, and another to another group. He's known for that."
Williams says that if he's taking hits from both the right and left, he's probably in a good position to represent LD 26. He says the jobs package wasn't perfect, but he thinks parts of it would help get the economy rolling. He won't say whether he would vote for a similar piece of legislation next year.
McLean says he wouldn't have voted for the jobs package. In fact, he wouldn't support any budget tinkering before running "a complete fiscal analysis of the state budget."
"We need a new way of generating revenue," he says. "Now I'm not saying raising taxes; I'm saying let's have a conversation about a budget analysis, setting priorities and looking at different ways of generating revenue besides the sales tax. It doesn't work, and we haven't had the conversation."
Proud says she supports the jobs package. She also says the economy can be fixed by "cutting taxes, period"—but she also thinks some state agencies, like Child Protective Services, need more money. She has never voted in a primary (see The Skinny), but she prides herself on being informed about both sides of issues. She says she has spent a lot of time researching immigration—including taking a tour of the border—but says she has never spoken with anyone who opposes SB 1070.
"I guess there must be people who (oppose the law), but I haven't met them walking the district," she says.
Hershberger, who lost the 2008 Senate primary by less than 1,300 votes to the more-conservative Al Melvin, knows firsthand how a small number of primary voters can decide the fate of the district.
"With the low turnout in the primary—50 percent of the people are registered (to vote), and 20 percent of those vote in the primary election—that's one in 10 electing your legislators through the primary process, and (the far right has) done a good job of capturing the primary."