Mitzi Epstein, Jennifer Jermaine, Jill Norgaard, Sean Bowie, Greg Patterson, and Frank Schmuck

Campaign 2018 in Arizona enters its final phase today as early voting begins in advance of the Nov. 6 General Election.

Given the length of the ballot, you might want to start soon to study a lengthy slate of offices and propositions that likely will make for some dramatic finishes once the polls close Nov. 6.

At the state level, Ahwatukee voters will be joining their counterparts in deciding a new U.S. Senator, resolving the contest for governor and choosing who will occupy for the next four years the offices of secretary of state, attorney general, mining inspector, superintendent of public instruction, treasurer and two seats on the Corporation Commission.

Ahwatukee voters also will be helping to select a new member of Congress to represent them as former mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, and radiologist Dr. Steve Ferrara, a Republican, vie to replace U.S. Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema.

They also will vote on five propositions – including three that amend the state Constitution. The Constitutional amendments affect whether the taxation of services in Arizona will ever be allowed, whether corrections officers’ and elected officials’ retirement benefits can be adjusted to alleviate pension underfunding and whether electric utilities should be required to increase their reliance on renewable energy resources to 50 percent by 2030.

The other two propositions involve the expansion of the so-called school voucher program and giving the governor appointment power over members of the Clean Elections Commission.

Beyond those races are a number much closer to home for Ahwatukee voters.

They will be helping to make the first cut in the Phoenix mayor’s race by winnowing down the field of four candidates to the two who will face off in March to fill the remaining two years of Stanton’s term.

Among those candidates is Ahwatukee businessman Moses Sanchez, the only Republican in the race, who is vying with former Democratic City Council members Daniel Valenzuela and Kate Gallego and Libertarian Nicholas Sarwark.

Sanchez has been positioning himself as a viable alternative to City Hall “insiders” Valenzuela and Gallego, noting Phoenix has not had a mayor who has not sat on the council for more than 30 years.

Legislative District 18 is also serving up some drama after some political observers dubbed it a swing district that could help decide what party controls the State Senate for the next two years – although Democrats have their work cut out for them statewide since they’re currently outnumbered by Republicans 17-13.

Republicans have been waging an aggressive effort to win back LD18, where Democrats currently hold one of the two State House seats and the Senate seat.

In the battle for the House, incumbent Republican Jill Norgaard of Ahwatukee is going for her third term, while her party’s nominee for the other seat, Tempe lawyer Greg Patterson, is hoping to make a comeback about 20 years after he last served in the House.

Incumbent Democrat Mitzi Epstein is looking for her second term in the LD 18 House race, while Jennifer Jermaine, a Chandler resident who works as an independent consultant to nonprofits, is also in the running.

The LD18 Senate seat offers a rerun of the 2016 contest as incumbent Democrat Sean Bowie is aiming for a second term while Tempe commercial airlines pilot Frank Schmuck is trying to take back the seat for Republicans and avenge his loss to Bowie two years ago.

Public education funding looms large over the LD18 contests – as it does in many legislative races across the region – in the aftermath of the Red for Ed teachers walkout this spring.

All three incumbents have portrayed themselves as education champions, though Norgaard and Patterson have criticized Epstein for joining most House Democrats in voting against Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget and 20-percent wage increase for teachers over three years.

Democrats voted against the budget in protest over what they claimed was insufficient funding for public education, though Bowie joined other Senate Democrats in voting for it.

Both LD18 Senate candidates have campaigned extensively as supporters of education, though Bowie has criticized Schmuck’s support for school vouchers as well as his plan to eliminate the state income tax. Schmuck says eliminating the state income tax will make Arizona more attractive to employers, while Bowie said it would adversely impact already tight funding for public education.

Among the House candidates, both Patterson and Jermaine have said they would support a move to ask voters to decide whether to raise taxes to support education, but while Patterson said he would only favor a sales tax hike, Jermaine opposes any further increase in the sales tax. Like Epstein, Jermaine called a sales tax a regressive levy that impacts low-income people the hardest.

Both school districts involving Ahwatukee also have spirited contests for seats on the governing board.

Four candidates – three of them Ahwatukee residents – are vying for two seats on the Kyrene school board that are being vacated by Bernadette Coggins and Kristin Middleton.

Middleton’s father, Ahwatukee Realtor Mike Middleton, is one of those candidates. Other contenders include Ahwatukee journalist and teacher David Hoye, Tempe lawyer Kevin Walsh and Ahwatukee stay-at-home mom Margaret Pratt, a former business owner and school speech therapist.

Two seats also are up for grabs on the board of Tempe Union High School District, where both DeeAnn McClehanan of Tempe and Brandon Schmoll of Ahwatukee have decided not to seek another term. Fighting to replace them are Ahwatukee attorney Donald Fletcher, Tempe coffee importer Andres Barraza and Tempe law student Brian Garcia.

Farther down the ballot are two other races with Ahwatukee connections.

Former Republican state Rep. Rob Robson and Democrat Sharron Sauls are fighting to become the next justice of the peace in the Kyrene District Court. The winner replaces retiring Justice of the Peace John McComish of Ahwatukee.

Robson had been a Chandler resident but moved last year to Ahwatukee after losing his 2016 bid for reelection in the legislature.

Also in the Kyrene Justice Court, Republican Schmoll is seeking his second term as constable against Democratic challenger Kent Rini.

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