A candidate forum in Ahwatukee last week produced a candid confession by a Tempe Union governing board hopeful that he had spent 3 1/2 years in prison.
But Andres Barraza’s arrest in 2007 on burglary, forgery and possession of drug paraphernalia was only the beginning of the story of how he turned his life around, graduated with a degree in statistics from Arizona State University’s Barrett the Honors College, became a senior firefighter for Cave Creek and, now, a coffee importer.
Barraza and Brian Garcia, both of Tempe, and Ahwatukee attorney Don Fletcher are competing for two vacancies on the Tempe Union board.
Barraza told the audience he had been depressed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that he couldn’t join the military and had turned to drugs to cope. That in turn led to his arrest on possession of drug and burglary paraphernalia.
While on probation, he was arrested for allegedly trying to forge a check, court records show, and subsequently sentenced to a minimum-security prison.
But Barraza said his arrest became a wake-up call. Court records show his civil rights to vote and hold office were restored by a judge in January 2016 and that his conviction was set aside.
The three Tempe Union candidates were joined by all the candidates for House and Senate in Legislative District 18 as well as all four Kyrene school board candidates at the forum, which was sponsored by the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce.
Because each of the 13 hopefuls had two minutes to discuss their background before the audience of about 50 people, there was only time for two questions from moderator Nick Knight for the LD18 candidates and one — on school security — for the seven board candidates.
Each candidate was given an opportunity to answer the questions.
The legislative candidates were asked about criminal justice reform and health insurance affordability.
The question on criminal justice reform drew a largely bipartisan reaction with all candidates saying there is a need to examine the rate of incarceration, although Republican Senate candidate Frank Schmuck also stressed that public safety had to be as much a consideration as reform. He said he favored, however, more job training programs in prison to reduce recidivism.
The question on affordability of health insurance drew mixed reaction, with some candidates noting that the issue was largely up to Congress.
All candidates said it was important that Arizonans have more options, including the option to choose from a menu of different types of coverage.
On the issue of school security, the Tempe Union and Kyrene candidates called for more collaboration with police, particularly the Phoenix Police Department. The Kyrene candidates noted that none of the three middle schools in Ahwatukee have school resource officers — police who are on campus all day.