Battle Margin

From health care to education, Democratic House District 28 contenders are mostly on the same page

Four Democrats are battling for two house seats in the Legislative District 28 primary, and the top two primary vote-getters will go after Republican Bill Phillips in November. More alike than different, these Dems are staking out strong positions on key Arizona issues, from health care and education to immigration.

Physician Matt Heinz calls health care reform his "driving issue. We have a system so flawed that it's failing our patients and the entire population." That's why doctors can make a big difference in the Legislature, he says. "It's essential for professionals--who have real solutions and expertise in these areas--to be involved in a systemic overhaul. It's not something we should play around with anymore."

As owner of a graphics and public-art business, Steve Farley knows firsthand the challenge of finding affordable health insurance. But he's confident the health-care pendulum is about to shift, citing polls that show an overwhelming majority of Arizonans supporting some form of universal care.

He points to the Legislature-created Healthcare Group of Arizona as the model for a broader coverage system, and says even conservatives are getting the picture. "A newspaper recently quoted a businessman from Wickenburg who said, 'What we really need here in Arizona is socialized health care like they have in Canada.' You have to think that if Republicans are using the 'S' word, times are changing."

Vocational education teacher Ted Prezelski supports an approach advocated by District 27 Rep. Phil Lopes. "What he's proposing is basically a state-run pool, a statewide insurance agency overseen by a board that's accountable," Prezelski says.

District 28 incumbent David Bradley--the other incumbent, Ted Downing, is running for the district's Senate seat--is CEO of La Paloma Family Services, and he's concerned that "our discussions get stuck on trying to create competition with regards to (health care) costs, instead of competition with regards to value--the quality of services that people receive.

"I think the state's focus should be upon increasing the supply of medical professionals as much as we can," he says. "We need to figure out ways to reward quality care." He adds that the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System "is a real managed-care model" that could be expanded.

Bradley also backs improving Arizona's education system. In particular, he strongly supports increased funding for early childhood education. "Investing up front is where I think a lot of our resources need to go," he says. "Given the reality of our times, where stay-at-home moms are the exception rather than the norm, government has a vested interest in assuring that kids early on get a chance at a quality education." That includes making sure that "teachers and teachers' aides are being paid enough."

He also focuses upon boosting education funds for foster children, but says problems related to a lack of education cut across the board. "If I only get to ask kids one question, the question is: What's the likelihood of your getting out of high school or getting a GED (general equivalency diploma)? And if the answer is negative, I can tell you with about 80 percent accuracy what their destiny will be."

Heinz also decries Arizona's spot near the bottom of states for education spending. "Whether we're 44th or 47th or 48th, I don't really care," he says. "It's offensive. We're jockeying for dead last, and the numbers don't matter anymore." Part of the problem, Heinz says, is that the education crisis hasn't been sold right to skeptical lawmakers. "When you see a situation like that, I think things simply aren't being framed correctly."

Prezelski would champion vocational training for high school students. "State money has been cut for vocational education and for GEDs," he says, "even for things like making sure that kids from low-income families can go to college." There is $10 million available in federal funding for vocational programs, he says, but Arizona's lawmakers refuse to tap it. "Their reasoning is because it's federal money, it's tainted; it's dirty. But it's still money that you and I are paying in taxes."

Farley also calls for more school funding. "It's crucial for Arizona to get off the bottom in education spending," he says. Specifically, "we should reduce class sizes right away. And we should reduce school sizes. I totally disagree with warehousing--the idea that you can save money by conglomerating schools together. It's just a stupid idea. Study after study shows that smaller schools with smaller class sizes do better. I'd be happy if there was a school in every neighborhood."

Regarding immigration, each of the candidates considers this primarily a federal issue. But Bradley calls a guest-worker program "the pivot point. We're just chasing our tails until we get that solved." He considers it simple economics. "We need these people who are coming into the country, so let's make it legal as fast as we can."

Farley say it's time the feds covered their share of bills for immigrant enforcement and health care. "We should look at benefits and expenses--at costs to us--and then do what the governor is doing. She sent an invoice to (Washington) D.C., saying, 'Guys, it's your responsibility to pay up.'"

Right now, says Prezelski, the Legislature mostly excels at "bumper sticker" rhetoric--even as immigrants have become an economic linchpin. "While a lot of people coming across the border are unskilled, it's not the majority. A lot of them are skilled or semi-skilled." This also underscores his argument for better vocational training, he says, so that Arizonans might fill those jobs. "Maybe there's a way through vocational education to remove the demand" for immigrant labor.

To Heinz, "there are certain things the state should be doing," such as "enforcing employment eligibility requirements and making it easier for employers to verify employees. But I'm not talking about new laws. There are already laws on the books, and it's already illegal to hire somebody here against the rules."

He agrees that "we spend a lot of Arizona taxpayer dollars detaining and deporting illegals, and on health care for those who are here. We need to be sending a very clear message to the federal government, demanding (assistance) for costs associated with all those things."

Bradley Farley Heinz Prezelski

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