Flagstaff City Hall

The City Council candidates will find out which three of them will be working here next Tuesday night.

Election day is approaching on Tuesday, meaning the long season of campaigning is almost over for City Council candidates. They have canvased and debated, and now have a few final words for voters before the election takes place.

Midterm elections historically have had lower voter turnout. While there are many reasons it, voter apathy is one of the main ones. A lot of people feel as though their vote doesn’t really count.

Adam Shimoni argues that every vote does count and speaks from personal experience. In 2016 he lost the race for City Council by only 59 votes.

“Especially here at the local level, every single vote makes a difference in determining the overall outcome of an election. This is especially true for the younger generations. The decisions being made today will have a greater impact on your future the younger you are,” said Shimoni in an email.

He wasn’t the only one who holds this thought either. Paul Deasy explained not only does every vote count, but it can also have a domino effect in motivating others to vote.

“We’ve had mayors in the past who’ve won by only 20 votes. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t just have one vote if you’re politically active. Others are influenced by your decision. I work partially in social network analysis. Just by informing others that you’re voting makes it more likely they will vote,” said Deasy in an email.

In small elections, one voter can really make an impact. Regina Salas considers voting a civic responsibility and as a naturalized citizen takes the matter quite seriously.

“Your vote is your power to choose public leaders and decisions about the future for the city, county, state and country. Do not take it [voting] for granted,” said Salas in an email. “It took me over 7 years, working for Coconino County, paying taxes, abiding laws, volunteering for several nonprofits, even organized and mobilized one, before I earned my privilege to be a naturalized citizen and earned my right to vote.”

Some students at NAU are opting to vote with absentee ballots. But whether a student is voting in their home district or here in Flagstaff, Dennis Lavin just wants student voters to keep one thing in mind—the future of the area they are voting in.

“I encourage the students to vote, but they need to pay attention to the background. The decisions they make may sound really good now, but long-term it may not be best for the city,” said Lavin.

Salas sees absentee ballots as a good thing and had no opinion on where a student was voting, so long as they were still voting.

“Absentee voting is essential in the election process. It allows voters who are away due to school, work, or military service to exercise their right to vote,” Salas said in an email.

Alex Martinez didn’t care at all where students were voting.

“It doesn’t make a difference where you vote, just as long as you’re voting. You have the right and you should be exercising it,” said Martinez in a phone interview.

Having once been in the position of being a college student away from home himself, Austin Aslan agreed that where students choose to vote is ultimately up to them.

“I remember being in school and knowing that I wasn’t invested in this place long term. Perhaps you’re more invested in your home territory that you’re pretty sure you’ll be returning to in the future. That’s fine,” said Aslan in an email. “Just be sure to make that decision based off nurturing what’s important to you, and not simply because it’s a hassle to re-register.”

Aslan also wanted students to know the importance of not only voting but voting consistently. He stated politicians pay attention to voting habits of people in various neighborhoods. He posed a hypothetical situation of an industrial company attempting to move next to some residential neighborhoods.

One neighborhood where people weren’t voting consistently complained while the other which did vote often welcomed the company. When both groups went to City Council to discuss the issue, the council members would side with those who frequent the polls.

“Your vote builds power where the vote was cast. So be strategic and remember your self-interest when deciding where you choose to vote,” Aslan said in an email.

On the other hand, Deasy encouraged students to vote locally.

“For the freshman, you’re going to be living here for a while. Local politics affects your everyday life — the water you drink, the roads you drive on, the ability for you to party, the price of housing, your physical safety, and your income,” Deasy said in an email.

Shimoni agreed with Deasy, stating not only were students voting for their own local leaders but also local initiatives.

“If you will be living in Flagstaff even just for a year or two, then the results of this election will have a huge impact on your daily life,” Shimoni said in an email. “In addition to choosing your local representatives in government, there are some incredibly important propositions on the ballot this year, and there will certainly be more on the ballot in 2020 as well.”

The candidates also had thoughts on the propositions that voters will be deciding on. From the minimum wage to new sales taxes and housing bonds, voters have a lot to keep in mind.

Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD) also has two propositions, 423 and 424, and Salas is a strong supporter of both of them.

“I come from a family of teachers in the Philippines,” Salas said in an email. “My grandma often told me, ‘Your lifetime inheritance is education, not wealth or property.’ I earned my bachelor’s degree from a college that produced the country’s first woman president. I went back to teach at my alma mater. My sons were molded by FUSD education. I support education, teachers and the FUSD bond and override renewal.”

Aslan supports both Propositions 423 and 424 as well, but also hopes the Coconino Community College and Grand Canyon Unified School District propositions pass.

“I think it’s important to support the continuing resolutions for funding for all of our school funding propositions [Propositions 417, 423, 424, 425],” Aslan said in an email.

Salas also supported Proposition 417.

Not all the propositions have to do with education, as 419, 420 and 421 are sales tax initiatives aimed at funding roadways and public transit. Deasy stressed looking at each one individually and thinking about whether it’s really needed.

“Taxes effect everyone in our community. Prioritize what is most important and do a cost-benefit analysis — not just a benefit analysis,” Deasy said in an email. “Do you really want to increase sales tax and pay for a bridge that won’t be built for years [Proposition 420]? I’m voting no on this. Do you want better public transit where city buses will come every 15 minutes rather than every 30 [Proposition 421]? I’m voting yes on this.”

Lavin supports the first of the three sales tax initiatives, Proposition 419, which is a renewal of an existing sales tax. He opposes both 420 and 421, but for a more complex reason than whether or not he is in favor of what the taxes are funding.

He brought up the issue that Flagstaff Fire and Police Departments are currently owed $100 million in unfunded liability for retired police and fire fighters. He plans on voting against the two new sales taxes because he wants to prioritize funding pensions instead.

“We have to save our sales taxes for our police and firefighters to adjust their pension plans.” Lavin said.

Affordable housing, always an issue of much debate in Flagstaff, is on the ballot, too. If voters approve Proposition 422 the city will create a $25 million bond for funding affordable housing. Shimoni believes this is the most important proposition on the ballot.

In his view, the housing issue is the root of all other issues. For instance, employment is impacted as it limits the city’s ability to retain lower income workers, and that it also has different effects on various groups of people.

“As housing costs continue to rise, the ability to live in Flagstaff becomes more and more exclusive to those facing the fewest economic barriers. Families who have lived here for years are being forced to leave town, and it’s important to understand that this is disproportionately effecting minority groups,” Shimoni said in an email.

Lavin also believes that 422’s purpose is too vague, and brought up the fact that a currently unfilled commission will be the ones telling the city how to spend the money.

The candidates had a lot to say about Proposition 418 as well, also known as the “Sustainable Wages Initiative.” The proposition is creating a lot of tension within the city and the candidates have a variety of opinions on the issue. Lavin wants to amend the current minimum wage law to help with companies and specifically, nonprofit organizations, that are struggling to pay workers.

“A lot of nonprofits can’t just raise their employee’s salaries and they can’t just get more donations,” Lavin said.

Salas plans on voting for 418 too. In her experience she sees the current wages hurting not only businesses but the workers as well.

“I view wages with labor economics perspective. Over 90 percent of businesses are small businesses struggling to stay afloat. Some closed shops, reduced operations or moved out of Flagstaff,” Salas said in an email. “I’ve heard from employees whose take-home pay decreased: reduced work hours, tips went down, or were laid off. Local nonprofits stopped or reduced services.”

Not all candidates share this viewpoint, as both Martinez and Aslan plan on voting against 418.

“I’m for keeping the minimum wage the way it is,” Martinez said in a phone interview.

Aslan has concern for the workers as well, and is afraid if 418 passes that many working in Flagstaff will lose certain rights and protections

“It’s important to deny Proposition 418, the so-called “sustainable wages act,” which will actually cause your minimum wage to be LOWER in the coming years and more importantly, would strip workers of safeguards that currently help to protect them from wage theft and other predatory employer tricks,” Aslan said in an email.

Voters will have the opportunity to decide which City Council candidates are elected and which initiatives are approved Nov. 6.