Split Ends

Pete Hershberger and Al Melvin: the yin and yang of the Arizona Republican Party

Nobody gave stalwart Republican Al Melvin much of a shot two years ago when he launched his campaign to knock out then-Sen. Toni Hellon.

A well-connected moderate Republican, Hellon had served the district, which sweeps from Saddlebrooke down through Oro Valley and across the Catalina Foothills, for three terms.

Melvin, who moved to Saddlebrooke just six years ago after retiring from a career as a Merchant Marine, used more than $58,000 in public campaign funds to hammer Hellon on issues ranging from abortion to border security, calling her out of step with GOP principles. On Election Day, he crushed her by 13 percentage points.

Unfortunately for Melvin, 2006 was a Democratic year--and the Democrats successfully painted him as an extreme conservative, just as he'd painted Hellon as an extreme liberal. Even though Republicans hold a voter-registration edge, Melvin lost the general election to Democrat Charlene Pesquiera, a political rookie who won by just 455 votes.

The race was close enough that Melvin is back for a second run against another well-known moderate: Rep. Pete Hershberger, who has reached his limit of four terms in the House of Representatives this year. Hershberger has deep roots in the district. He grew up on Tucson's northwest side; both of his parents, Pete Sr. and Freddie, represented the area before him.

Hershberger, who has spent most of his career working in the area of counseling services for wayward youth, wants to focus on child-welfare issues in the Senate. He says Arizona is "not a child- and family-friendly state. ... Children should be safe, healthy and have access to quality education."

Melvin and Hershberger represent the yin and yang of the Arizona Republican Party. Melvin says Hershberger is too soft on gun rights; Hershberger says he favors restricting weapons in bars and schools. Melvin says Hershberger is too soft on the border; Hershberger says he doesn't support every piece of border legislation sponsored by members of his caucus, but he did support the employer-sanctions bill passed last year.

Melvin says Hershberger is too soft on abortion restrictions; Hershberger says he believes that government has no business getting involved in the decisions of a woman and her doctor. Melvin says Hershberger won't protect traditional marriage; Hershberger says he doesn't support amending the Arizona Constitution to ban gay marriage, which he calls a "wedge issue."

Melvin says Hershberger voted against permanently repealing the state property tax, which raises about $250 million a year; Hershberger says that he supported a temporary suspension of the property tax during healthy economic times, but repealing the tax when the state is borrowing money for school construction is fiscally irresponsible. "You're borrowing money to pay for a tax cut," Hershberger says.

Melvin complains that Hershberger was one of only four Republicans who refused to support a GOP budget in the Legislature this year and instead crossed party lines to support a Democratic budget that leaned hard on borrowing for school construction, various accounting gimmicks and new revenue through lottery proceeds and photo-radar speeding tickets. Melvin says he would have pushed for deeper spending cuts, though he offers few details about what he'd ask the public to do without.

Hershberger says he supported the eventual budget, which made $343 million in cuts to state services, because deeper cuts would have affected too many programs.

Melvin has highlighted the differences between the candidates with a mailer similar to one he sent out against Hellon two years ago that pushes his contention that he is a "loyal, mainstream Republican," while Hershberger is not.

But Hershberger is putting up more of a fight than Hellon did in 2006. He blasts Melvin as an extremist who is out of touch with the voters of LD26.

Hershberger says that he often votes against the majority of his caucus, because they generally favor Maricopa County over Southern Arizona.

"I'm someone who is not afraid to stand up to leadership and represent Southern Arizona," says Hershberger. "I represent the district well. It's a moderate Republican district. That's exactly where I am. ... I want to be a statesman, not a partisan politician."

Hershberger says that Melvin is too extreme to win a general election in the district, which is home to roughly 41,600 Republicans, 34,600 Democrats, and 26,000 Independents. "My opponent has already shown he can't win a general election," Hershberger says. The winner of the GOP primary election will face Democrat Cheryl Cage, who decided to run after Pesquiera announced earlier this year that she would not seek re-election.