Joyce Walther of Tempe said she was not very familiar with the candidates in Arizona’s recently-formed U.S. Congressional District 9.
So what did she do?
She attended the candidate forum at Chandler City Hall on Monday night where five Republicans — Vernon Parker, Wendy Rogers, Travis Grantham, Jeff Thompson and Martin Sepulveda — and three Democrats — David Schapira, Krysten Sinema and Andrei Cherney — sat side-by-side answering questions that focused on the myriad of problems facing the nation and how they would fix them.
Topics that emerged as the focus of the forum en route to the Aug. 28 primary election in what is widely considered one of the more hotly-contested races: job creation through lowering the corporate tax rates, fixing the nation’s poor economy by building back up the middle class and investing in our education system, resolving the nation’s debt, and affordable health care.
Foreign policy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not discussed, while illegal immigration was touched on just briefly.
The event, attended by about 150, was sponsored by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce and SRP.
Two other Republican candidates — Lisa Borowsky, a Scottsdale city councilwoman, and Leah Campos Schandlbauer, also of Scottsdale and a former CIA operations officer, were not in attendance.
The new district serves an area that includes Ahwatukee Foothills, west Chandler, west Mesa, Tempe, part of Paradise Valley, south Scottsdale and north-central Phoenix.
Candidates on hand were given two minutes to answer questions to problems plaguing the nation, like finding a new energy source, investing in education so the U.S. can again compete on an international level, or simply restoring the American Dream that some believe has been lost.
“It was interesting,” Walther said after it was over. “I was not familiar with the candidates and this gave me a beginning of helping me to start making up my mind. I like Jeff Thompson. I really liked his passion and fire. I also liked Travis Grantham. He had a good grasp of the numbers and reality of the situation facing our country. It was good to see the Democratic point of view, too.
“It’s great to have passion and fire, but then you go to Washington, you hit a brick wall,” Walther added. “You have to be a realist as well and focus on the important problems that need to get resolved.”
After it was over, there really wasn’t a clear winner among a caliber of candidates that is commendable, yet with stark differences: the political experience of Sepulveda and Parker — former city councilmen in Chandler and Paradise Valley, respectively — as well as Cherney, recent chair of the Arizona Democratic party; the military experience of Rogers, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who was one of the first female pilots and does not want to see military spending cut; the local feel Sinema, a former state legislator from Phoenix, has for supporting small business.
“I see this country at a serious turning point,” said Schapira, the state Senate minority leader from Tempe. “We have to compete on an international level and make education a priority. China has more honor students than we have students. We need to invest in the nation’s education system to get back on track.”
Added Grantham, an East Valley businessman and captain in the Arizona Air National Guard: “This nation is $16 trillion in debt, and we’re spending 40 percent more than what we’re taking in. It has to stop.”
Most of the candidates are worried for the future of their children and many agreed that government needs to stay out of health care, but they also agreed a solution has to be reached in how to make it accessible and affordable.
During his closing statements, Thompson was the only candidate to mention illegal immigration and the problems he believes it has brought the United States. He cited costs of $4.2 billion a year from undocumented immigrants and noting that federal government workers owe $1 billion in back taxes combined.
“There’s money out there,” Thompson said. “We need to send someone to Washington who’s not afraid to step on someone’s toes and draw a line in the sand, and that’s me.”
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