As the Nov. 3 general election nears, political battles close to home heated up, especially the highly contested race for two open seats in Legislative District 6 of the Arizona House of Representatives. Democrat and Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans, Independent and Coconino County Supervisor Art Babbott and Republican Brenda Barton are running to fill two open seats, while Republican Walt Blackman seeks reelection.
The district includes Cottonwood, Flagstaff, Holbrook, Sedona, Show Low and Williams, and it has an unbroken record of Republican representation over the past decade.
However, Evans raised significantly more money than her opponents with $219,206 as of her October filings, according to the Arizona Secretary of State office. Babbott has obtained the second highest amount at $78,997, Blackman has acquired $68,549 and Barton has the least at $16,390.
Another decision facing Arizona voters this election cycle is whether to approve or reject Proposition 207 and Proposition 208, in addition to other issues facing the state.
Proposition 207: The legalization of marijuana
Prop. 207, otherwise known as the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, would allow limited marijuana possession, use and cultivation by adults 21 years of age or older. If approved, the proposition will impose a 16% tax on marijuana sales to fund public programs and allow for the expungement of marijuana offenses, according to Smart and Safe Arizona.
Blackman and Barton both agreed legalizing recreational marijuana would be detrimental to communities around Arizona, especially because of its negative effects on the body, as reported by the Arizona Daily Sun.
In contrast, Evans believes the initiative has major flaws in how it was crafted, specifically regarding the language about who qualifies to have their record expunged for low-offense marijuana charges on Arizonans’ criminal records. She explained the proposition does not include how the state will help populations that have been disproportionately affected by these possession of marijuana convictions.
“First and foremost, there’s no legal mechanism in the state of Arizona for the expungement of criminal records,” Evans said. “This is something that this particular proposition says it’s going to do, but there is no legal way to do it. It also talks about the fact that there is going to be a program set with the [Department of Health Services] that will make sure individuals who are in these communities that have been disproportionately impacted have the opportunity to purchase these licenses or work in these [marijuana growing] facilities.”
Moreover, Evans said she is worried about a potential repeat of 2010, when the state legalized medical marijuana and large corporations maximized their profits at the expense of others upon receiving licenses. These corporations were able to easily receive licenses to sell medical marijuana in the state.
Proposition 208: Education funding
Prop. 208 would impose a 3.5% tax surcharge on taxable income over $250,000 for single persons or married persons filing separately; additionally, the surcharge would apply to married couples who earn over $500,000 and are filing jointly. According to the Arizona Secretary of State office, these taxes would increase funding for public education.
The state of Arizona currently ranks No. 44 out of 50 states in K-12 education and 24 in higher education, along with a 79.5% graduation rate compared to the national average of 84.1%, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Evans said she supports Prop. 208 because Arizona continues to rank in the bottom 20% of K-12 education, although it remains at the cusp of the top half for higher education in the country.
“In 2019, the state of Arizona gave away $18.4 billion in tax incentives and credits, and we have to legislate the fact that we want an education system that is fully funded,” Evans said. “We pay more money for a private prison system here in the state of Arizona then we do for a public university system, and we have defunded our community college systems. Arizona can be number one in education if we make it a priority.”
Evans is not the only candidate who supports Prop. 208. Babbott also backs the proposition because he foresees citizen initiative tackling the persistent issue of Arizona’s failure to provide sufficient education funding.
“Proposition 208 finally makes progress on the number one public policy priority that the citizens of Arizona have enunciated year after year,” Babbott said. “We cannot settle for last in the nation in all of those metrics.”
Additionally, Babbott said these statewide failures to support students and teachers alike are connected to Arizona’s high student-to-teacher ratios, along with the limited number of trained counselors.
According to an ABC article from 2017, data obtained from the Arizona Auditor General documented the state’s average teacher salary as $48,372, which ranked No. 49 and 48 around the country for elementary and high school instructors, respectively. Babbott advocated for pay raises for public and private school teachers throughout the state.
“We have the highest number of students per counselor in the nation, with today’s teachers, support staff and counselors doing a job that is on par with those in public safety,” Babbott said. “This initiative will address what has been one of the top priorities on teacher pay for both charter and public schools to make sure that we invest in the people who invest in our kids.”
However, Blackman and Barton are both against passing the citizen initiative to raise the wealthy’s tax rates and increase education funding in the state.
Blackman said he feels the state’s education system already received a significant amount of funding from the state’s budget.
“We have a budget of $11.8 billion — with $6.2 billion going to education — and education funding has received a $4.5 billion increase just this year alone,” Blackman said. “We have all of these ideas, but none of my opponents know what the budget is for education. It’s always either go back to 2008, or it is that we need more money.”
However, a Jan. 13 press release from Gov. Doug Ducey stated, “In total, [since 2015], we’ve pumped $4.5 billion of new investments into Arizona schools. Without our latest budget, [in 2020], that figure will rise to $6.6 billion. And we’ve done all of this without raising taxes.”
Barton said she dislikes how the bill impacts higher tax brackets, which is not conducive to supporting businesses. She added that academic funding should be based on individual school performances, and moreover, that the state government should not influence the education of Arizona’s children. Instead, she advocated for more parent involvement and discretion in their childrens’ schooling.
“I believe funding should follow the student and be outcome-based,” Barton said. “One-size-fits-all is a poor way to spend our education dollars, and administrative costs should never be greater than the money flowing to the classroom. Master teachers should be developed and encouraged wherever possible, and every education dollar spent should return a maximum yield.”
Law enforcement and Black Lives Matter
Blackman, who is Black, faced criticism over the summer for calling the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement a terrorist organization, as reported by The Arizona Republic. When asked to clarify his stance, Blackman doubled down on his past comments over the social reform movement.
“BLM is a Marxist, terrorist organization,” Blackman said. “If Black lives matter, they’d be thinking about the thousands of Black babies that are aborted every single day in Black communities. 80% come from fatherless homes and only 50% of Black males graduate from high school. If they cared about Black lives, they would be looking at these types of problems being seen in Black communities.”
However, Blackman acknowledged there are some bad law enforcement employees throughout the country, which he said happens because of the lack of resources provided to police officers.
“We don’t want the first encounter of a person with a law enforcement officer to be negative, but unfortunately there are some bad apples everywhere in the law enforcement community,” Blackman said. “What we are asking police officers to do is to solve someone’s problems in 15 minutes, so they have to be a chiropractor, social worker, a mom, a dad, a teacher, so on and so forth, and police officers are not equipped to do that because of a lack of resources.”
Babbott is against defunding or abolishing the police, but he said he believes the U.S. should strive to create a trusted law enforcement with good relationships, along with a system that enforces the law both fairly and effectively.
Additionally, Babbott explained that instead of using slogans and hashtags, the state should tackle the issues within the law enforcement profession head on.
“One of my observations is we have a propensity to try to use simple slogans to solve really tough problems,” Babbott said. “I don’t believe in abolishing the police or defunding the police is actually a strategy. I don’t believe it really engages what we are trying to seek out of the outcome of good, effective law enforcement.”
Early voting already started in Arizona and it will conclude Oct. 30, shortly before Nov. 3’s election day. For important election updates, visit the Coconino County elections website.