House Speaker J.D. Mesnard

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard is termed out, so he is running for Senate in LD 17; his mom, former Chandler Councilwoman Nora Ellen is seeking his House seat.

Arizona is about to find out whether the red sea that flooded the state Capitol this spring will erode Republican domination of the Legislature and districts neighboring Ahwatukee will be no exception

The RedforEd movement, in which striking teachers shut down schools across the state for six days, did succeed in wringing a 19 percent teacher pay raise from the Republican-dominated Legislature.

But many teacher demands, such as raises for support staff, smaller class sizes and hiring more school counselors, remain unfulfilled, suggesting that education will be back on the front burner when the new Legislature begins work in January.

Of course, it’s the rare candidate who doesn’t profess support for education. They generally also like Mom and apple pie.

But teachers and parents of kids in public schools showed this spring they’re serious about lifting Arizona from the bottom of the national pile when it comes to education funding. And since it’s Republicans who for years have ruled the Legislature, they could bear the brunt of that ire.

That teacher strikes have moved the needle in red states, such as Arizona, was borne out by an April 12 article in the New York Times, which reported that backlash against Republican budget cuts in Kansas and Oklahoma “spurred Republican-dominated legislatures to enact taxes that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.”

While most Arizona legislative candidate websites have avoided direct comment on RedforEd, some have addressed it.

For example, Nick Myers, a Queen Creek Republican, seeking a House seat from District 12, strongly criticized the movement, to the point of calling it illegal. He proposed a deeper look at why education in Arizona is struggling.

Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, has suggested parents could sue teachers for participating in the walkout and tried to make it illegal for teachers to use classroom time to “espouse political ideology or beliefs” – a proposal that was clearly aimed at RedforEd supporters.

On the other side, District 12 Democratic candidate Joe Bisaccia did not mention RedforEd directly but said on his website, “I stand with public schools in Gilbert and Queen Creek, with giving teachers well-deserved raises, and against voucher expansion. … Our representatives have eviscerated our public education system. It’s time to fix this once and for all.”

Regardless of how education plays in the campaign, the East Valley stands to lose some legislative clout as two powerful lawmakers bow out because of term limits.

Sen. Steve Yarbrough and J.D. Mesnard, both of whom are Chandler Republicans, have served as Senate president and House speaker, respectively. They have represented District 17, which covers most of Chandler and a small slice of northwest Gilbert.

Yarbrough is leaving the Legislature after 16 years – four terms in each the House and Senate. Mesnard is a candidate to replace Yarbrough as District 17 senator.

Here is a look at East Valley legislative candidates who filed campaign papers before the May 30 deadline. Quotations are taken from candidate websites, information provided by the Arizona Secretary of State’s office and published media reports.


Elizabeth Brown, Gilbert Democrat.  “I am running for the state Senate because being ranked 48th in K-12 education, 49th in pupil-teacher ratio and 50th in teacher pay is a travesty, an embarrassment and is unacceptable for the people of this state.” Website:

Eddie Farnsworth, Gilbert Republican. Current member of Arizona House. Website lays out conservative platform on government finances, school choice, border security, property rights and guns.  Website:

Jimmy Lindblom, Gilbert Republican. Current member, Maricopa County Planning and Zoning Commission. “Pro-life Republican with a record of fighting to protect families, the unborn and the vulnerable. … strong supporter of the Second Amendment and a fiscal conservative.” Website:



Joe Bisaccia, Gilbert Democrat. “Fighting to restore public education funding, pay our teachers a living wage, increase access to quality healthcare for every Arizonan, and to protect your rights to vote and for citizen initiative. He will also fight to restore the rights of cities and towns to pass their own laws.” Website:

Travis Grantham, Gilbert Republican incumbent. Vice president, International Air Response Inc., based at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. Website stresses “unique background relating to aviation, world events and sound conservative business policy.” Website:

Nick Myers, Queen Creek Republican. Background in information technology; advocates limited government with transparency and stricter term limits. “Strong believer of family values and educational choice.” Website:

Warren Petersen, Gilbert Republican, currently serving in Senate. “I have protected the rights of parents to choose the best education options for their children.  Since I have been elected the Legislature has increased education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars.” Website:

Lynsey Robinson, Queen Creek Democrat.  “Lynsey fully understands that public schools are underfunded and teachers are underpaid. … She believes charter schools have a place in our communities, but transparency and accountability are essential to protect our children and the community.” Website:

D.J. Rothans, Gilbert Democrat. Previously ran for House in 2014; was unopposed in Democratic primary. Website focuses on education funding, environmental quality and equal rights. Website:

Blake Sacha, Gilbert Republican. Degrees in chemical engineering, education; industrial background. “With proper reinvestment in public education and keeping Arizona economically competitive we can create an economy that works for everyone.” Website:



Benjamin Carmitchel, Apache Junction Democrat.  “Voters in Arizona’s 16th district should have a choice. Ben Carmitchel hopes to bridge the gap between conservative and liberal voters by fighting for shared values, including better education, balanced budgets, environmental responsibility and fair wages.” Website:

David Farnsworth, Mesa Republican incumbent. Was appointed to Senate in September 2013; served in House 1995-96. Farnsworth is a real estate investor with broad experience in various businesses. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group, honored him as legislator of the year in 2015. Website:

Michael Hernandez, San Tan Valley Republican. Website lists his chief concerns as healthcare (he opposes Obamacare), senior citizens, education, individual freedoms and immigration. Website:



John Fillmore, Apache Junction Republican. Served in House 2011-13; ran unsuccessfully in 2014 and 2016. “We have a Constitution, and it is being trampled upon, by both parties.” Website:

Lisa Godzich, Mesa Republican.  “Serves on U.S. Congressman Andy Biggs’ veterans affairs committee and is a board member of the Mesa Republican Women, Arizona Federation of Republican Women and Legislative District 16 GOP second vice chair.” Website:

Bonnie Hickman, Mesa Republican. “If her sixth-graders can learn to disagree without being disagreeable, she is pretty sure that the government can do the same. Her slogan? ‘Conservative, not crazy!’”  Website: None listed.

Stephen Kridler, Apache Junction Republican. Retired Apache Junction police officer and former executive with Walt Disney Co. Among his economic goals is further development of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. Website:

Tara Phelps, Mesa Republican. “Tara Phelps is a native Arizonan and conservative Republican ready to make a change in leadership in Arizona.” Website:

Sharon Stinard, Mesa Democrat. “If we want to attract 21st-century jobs to our state we must make a commitment to appropriately fund our educational system so that we can attract and retain top quality teachers.” Website:

Kelly Townsend, Mesa Republican incumbent. Running on staunchly conservative platform that includes advocating a national constitutional convention aimed at imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government, limiting federal powers and imposing term limits on federal officials. Website:



J.D. Mesnard, Chandler Republican. After an eight-year stint in the House he now seeks the seat being vacated by Yarbrough. Background includes founding Voices of the World, a non-profit Christian charity whose mission includes providing humanitarian aid to the poor and destitute of the world. Website:

Steve Weichert, Chandler Democrat.  “Politicians on both sides of the aisle have become so faithful to party, they’ve become blind to working together for the good of their constituents. We need more bipartisanship … if we’re going to solve the very real challenges we face.” Website:


Nora Ellen, Chandler Republican. Chandler City Council member since 2013. “The sanctity of life, protecting the unborn, and strong family values are important for our future. I also believe it is vital that we safeguard the freedoms laid out in the Constitution.” Website:

Jennifer Pawlik, Chandler Democrat. Served as co-chair of the successful Yes for Chandler Students! override committee in Chandler and has been active in numerous other pro-education political campaigns and organizations.  Website:

Jeff Weninger, Chandler Republican incumbent. “Jeff has demonstrated his ability to lead on critical issues, including regulatory reform, the creation of a business-friendly economy, access to capital for small businesses, and investment in our education system.” Website:

Julie Willoughby, Chandler Republican. “Julie believes families should have the right to choose which school their child attends. Choice creates an environment of healthy competition and raises the educational bar.” Website:


Kathy Mohr-Almeida, Mesa Democrat. “I will ensure child welfare, clean air, high public education standards, the mitigation of mass incarceration and recidivism.” Also stresses “conservative family values” and adherence to U.S. Constitution. Website:

Tyler Pace, Mesa Republican. Owns several businesses in Mesa. No other personal or website information provided to Arizona Secretary of State.

Bob Worsley, Mesa Republican incumbent. Successful entrepreneur and founder of numerous companies, including SkyMall. Has emerged as a swing vote in numerous Senate controversies. “I just can’t stand to see no progress because people are in their corners, bound by their political ideologies.” Website:



Russell Bowers, Mesa Republican incumbent. “With all of the economic difficulties, loss of jobs, crime and other important issues facing the East Valley and our state, I believe that is critical that we elect a highly qualified and experienced individual to represent the people of our district.” Website:

Marlene Hinton, Mesa Republican. “The primary obligation of governments is to protect the resources and rights of families. To do so, regulations, taxes and intrusions must be reduced.”  Website: None listed.

Johnny Martin, Mesa Democrat. “Our political discourse is plagued by misinformation, partisan bias and fake news. Public officials must take a stand for truth to build trust! … I pledge to promote truth as a core value of my campaign.” Website:

Michelle Udall, Mesa Republican incumbent. “She wants to improve the level of respect for teachers and other school personnel while moving toward proficiency-based funding.  She is a strong proponent of accountability that is fair, so that assistance goes to schools that need it the most.” Website:



Debbie Nez Manuel, Scottsdale Democrat. “I see Arizona celebrating our rich heritage. Where I can …  know our children are safe, where parents can raise a family and women have rights over their personal health choices.” Website:

Juan Mendez, Tempe Democratic incumbent. Facebook website highlights concerns about environmental justice, separation of church and state, the Dream Act and the transparency of campaign donations. Website:

Rebecca Speakman, Mesa Republican. “Our children are our future and the state has made it possible through education reform and tax credits to allow any parent to put their student in any school they feel will best suit that child’s needs.”  Website:

Nicholas Weller, Tempe Green. Doctoral candidate at Arizona State University.  Twitter site:


Isela Blanc, Tempe Democratic incumbent. “Investments in education result in a highly educated workforce creating greater economic gains, decreased reliance on government services and reduction in criminal activity.”

Athena Salman, Tempe Democratic incumbent.  “In light of severe budget cuts by the Arizona Legislature in 2009, Rep. Salman organized hundreds of students to advocate for higher education for funding and legislation. Beginning in 2011, she began working on campaigns to expand Latino voter engagement.” Website:

Raymond Speakman, Mesa Republican. “We must find a system which will allow those who want to be here to do it legally. We need to simplify the system to allow for legal immigration and toughen up the enforcement of existing laws.” 

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