Who will win the McSally-Sinema slugfest? Will the nation see a game-changing Blue Wave? And what propositions will emerge victorious amid a furious ad blitz for or against some of them?
While all those questions might keep people up late next Tuesday, Ahwatukee voters have their own share of nail-biters in the Nov. 6 General Election to ruin a good night’s sleep.
Amid continuing uncertainty surrounding the performance of the County Recorder’s office after last August’s ballot-counting debacle, the Legislative District 18 and the two school district elections will provide plenty of down-to-the-wire suspense regardless of whether results emerge Tuesday night – or sometime Wednesday or even Thursday.
And independents likely will have a strong influence on the outcomes in those three jurisdictions.
In LD18, Republicans dominated registration with 53,751, but registered independents number 49,711 – significantly higher than the 40,080 registered Democrats.
While the district includes pieces of Chandler, Tempe and Mesa, Ahwatukee registration figures show Republicans lead in registration with 18,762 to 16,855 independents and 16,039 Democrats.
The gaps among those three registration categories shrinks considerably where both Kyrene and Tempe Union High School districts’ numbers are concerned. While there are 34,391 registered Republicans in Kyrene, Democrats and independents aren’t far behind with 31,906 and 31,577, respectively.
And in Tempe Union, Democrats have a major registration lead with nearly 61,000 compared to about 50,000 Republicans and approximately 56,500 independents.
With control of at least the State Senate hanging in the balance, LD 18 is among a handful of legislative districts across Arizona that is being watched closely. It also is perhaps the most expensive of all the legislative campaigns in Arizona.
Like many legislative races across the state, education has emerged as the dominant theme in the LD18 senate and house campaigns with over $550,000 in contributions combined and over $235,000 spent.
A replay of the 2016 election, Democratic incumbent Sean Bowie of Ahwatukee and Republican Frank Schmuck of Tempe have both portrayed themselves as advocates for education. They differ on vouchers, with Schmuck advocating parental choice and Bowie maintaining his support for public education.
Schmuck has asserted that Bowie has no education plan.
Bowie has stressed his vote for Gov. Doug Ducey’s budget, which provided for a 10 percent raise in teacher pay this school year and promises 5 percent raises in each of the next two years. He also has campaigned on restoring the massive cuts to public education that have occurred since the 2008 recession as well as increasing funding for the state’s three universities.
Noting his founding of Tempe Dollars for Scholars, a program that has provided $250,000 in scholarships to students attending local high schools since 2006, Schmuck has declared on his website: “Principals and teachers, not bureaucrats, should have local control over curriculum, testing, classroom size and accountability measures. By focusing dollars into the classroom, providing educational options, and providing local control, Arizona schools and students will thrive.”
Schmuck has beat Bowie in fundraising, according to the latest campaign finance reports – a fact that Data Orbital and Polling took notice of last week.
Reports filed with the state Secretary of State show Schmuck has raised $286,641 – much of it his own money – to Bowie’s nearly $257,418. Of that, Bowie has spent $212,669 while Schmuck reported expenditures totaling $220,172.
Data Orbital cited a higher rate of Republican returns of early ballots and said the LD 18 Senate race “is becoming tighter.”
“In addition to what appears to be a turnout shift, Schmuck has about a $30,000 advantage in total funds raised and a little over $50,000 cash on hand advantage based off the latest campaign finance reports,” it said. “We are also seeing positive polling numbers for Schmuck, who was consistently down in 2016. We believe this race is now a true toss-up.”
The House race in LD18 offers its own intrigue as Republicans try to wrest full control of the district while Democrats have focused mainly on incumbent Ahwatukee Republican Jill Norgaard and are all but ignoring Tempe Republican Greg Patterson, who is seeking to return to the legislature, where he served two terms in the 1990s.
Incumbent Democrat Mitzi Epstein is seeking a second term while Chandler nonprofit consultant Jennifer Jermaine is looking to ride the so-called Blue Wave into the Capitol.
Much of the campaign has focused on Norgaard’s support for private school vouchers and Epstein’s vote last May against Ducey’s budget. Norgaard voted for the expanded voucher system in 2017 that has now become the subject of Proposition 305, which seeks to undo the legislature’s action.
Norgaard said at the Clean Elections debate last month that she too might vote “no” on Prop 305 because it threatens to put special needs students – one of the groups for whom the voucher system was created in the first place more than a decade ago – at the back of the line.
Republicans have attacked Epstein’s vote against the budget to question her commitment to supporting education, noting that Bowie voted for it.
Almost all House Democrats voted against the budget, claiming it failed to restore public education funding to pre-Recession levels.
With Ducey vowing to never raise taxes during his time in office, Epstein and Jermaine also differ sharply from Norgaard and Patterson on where additional education dollars would come from.
Both Jermaine and Patterson said they favored putting any tax hike for education before the voters, but Patterson said he would only favor putting a sales tax hike to a vote. Jermaine and Epstein both condemn any further increase in a sales tax, calling it a regressive levy that disproportionately impacts low-income people.
Norgaard has urged consolidation of smaller school districts as a way to find new dollars for the classroom, noting that districts with only one or two schools were driving up administrative costs in public education. Epstein and Jermaine have criticized the massive corporate tax cuts enacted by the legislature.
Kyrene School Board
The fight among four candidates for two open seats on the Kyrene governing board has been no less of a slugfest.
Ahwatukee residents David Hoye, Mike Middleton and Margaret Pratt and Tempe resident Kevin Walsh are vying to replace Bernadette Coggins and Middleton’s daughter, Kristin, who decided not to seek re-election.
Though school board races are nonpartisan, Republicans and Democrats have clearly rallied for their choices with Democrats urging votes for Hoye, a former journalist and teacher, and Walsh, a lawyer who has been active in his two children’s Kyrene elementary school. Republicans have been actively campaigning on behalf of Pratt, a stay-at-home mom who had been a school speech therapist and business owner, and Middleton, a longtime Realtor.
Supporters have made the election to some degree a referendum on Superintendent Jan Vesely, an Ahwatukee resident who became the Kyrene leader in July 2016 – though none of the candidates have openly criticized her.
Below the surface, some political activists are upset with some of Vesely’s actions, particularly her transfer of some administrators out of district headquarters and back into the classroom.
So many supporters for some Kyrene candidates were so aggressive in their support that at least one social media site banned all campaigning.
Tempe Union School Board
With two seats also up for grabs on the Tempe Union board, where DeeAnn McClehanan of Tempe and Brandon Schmoll of Ahwatukee have decided not to seek another term, the campaign has become a three-way race involving Ahwatukee attorney Don Fletcher, Tempe coffee importer Andres Barraza and Tempe ASU law student Brian Garcia.
Fletcher, who maintains his practice in Tempe, has touted his long service with the Boy Scouts and his family’s background in education as well as his commitment to developing more career education paths for non-college-bound students.
Like Fletcher, Barraza is running a second time for a seat on the board. Both ran unsuccessfully in 2016.
Barraza, a former firefighter, is a graduate of Marcos deNiza High School and his son will graduate from there next May. He is running “to strengthen student programs and services in our schools, grow post-graduate opportunities for students after graduation from colleges to trade schools to job placement.”
Garcia, also a product of the Tempe Union District whose brother is a senior at Corona del Sol High, has also advocated more attention to preparing students who are not going to college for success in the job market after they graduate.
Other local races
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.
In the Kyrene JP district, Democrats hold the registration lead with 33,115 to 30,620 independents and 28,754 Republicans.