Majority Report

The District 26 Senate Republican candidates disagree on independence vs. being a team player

Al Melvin claims District 26 State Sen. Toni Hellon, a Republican, votes like a Democrat on key issues, and says he is opposing her to offer a "common-sense conservative" alternative in the northwest-side primary.

Hellon replies that she knows the district well and keeps its interests at the top of her list when making decisions. "I'm open-minded," she says, "and think I'm really good at my job."

On a mailer sent to voters, Melvin shows 13 areas where he disagrees with Hellon, asking: "Which Republican candidate for state Senate shares your values?"

Defending her voting record, Hellon responds: "My strength is my independence. ... Lots of things come up which benefit Maricopa County but not Pima County, and I just won't go along with the crowd. Who else (votes that way) doesn't matter to me."

While the differences between the candidates are glaring, their ages are similar. She is 60, and he is 61.

Perhaps the biggest disagreement between the two is in political philosophy. Hellon believes she must be a strong advocate for Southern Arizona issues, while Melvin insists that by being a team player with the Maricopa County Republican majority in the Legislature, he can get more accomplished.

"There's no doubt many legislators in Phoenix would love my opponent to be elected," Hellon reflects, "because he'd vote with them. But the reality is, we have to fight for everything we get (for Southern Arizona). We need every vote from the Southern Arizona delegation, and our accomplishments have been remarkable."

Melvin says of the Maricopa County Republicans: "When they're conservative like me, they'll do everything they can to help. They've been extremely disappointed in our representative in the past. It's like sending more Democrats to Phoenix."

Continuing, Melvin says: "My position is (that) what's good for all of Arizona is good for Tucson and Southern Arizona." He also accuses Hellon of using a "Democratic" tactic of pitting "us vs. them" in her defense.

Hellon labels Melvin's approach to dealing with the Maricopa County Republicans "ridiculous," and adds: "It will hurt Southern Arizona."

One of the other issues separating the two candidates is education. Melvin supports school vouchers, saying: "We spend about $8,500 per pupil a year (for public education), and I believe every family should get a $7,000 voucher per child" to spend at whatever school, public or private, they wish. The balance of $1,500, he suggests, would go into the public school system.

Believing school choice already exists in Arizona, Hellon opposes vouchers, expressing constitutional, accountability and transportation-related concerns. Plus, she says: "The $8,500 figure is crazy. We spend well less than $6,000 per pupil excluding capital costs, and we're far below what other states spend.

"In kindergarten through 12th grade," Hellon continues, "Arizona has the fastest-growing school population in the United States. Since funding is based on the previous year's enrollment, we're not going to catch up; we'll always be behind."

Despite that, Hellon dreams of the day when enough money can be spent on public education in Arizona to help lower class size. "But our growth will make that difficult," she acknowledges.

"She wants the status quo to continue and to throw money at public schools," Melvin counters, "but money's not the problem. We have a lack of competition (in education) ... and competition is a good thing."

Melvin also supports providing all teachers, from both public and private schools, with a $2,500 tax credit. Plus, on his Web site, he says his opponent "has done nothing for teachers in Arizona."

Laughing at that comment, Hellon responds: "Ask a teacher; they are absolutely supportive of me. I don't know what he's talking about."

To increase security, Melvin believes the state should begin building a double fence across its entire southern border, and bill the federal government for the expense.

"The fence should have many gates," he says, "where foreigners can line up for visas and then board air-conditioned buses (into the United States). We have to stop people dying in the desert."

Hellon backs putting the National Guard on the border; she also backs employer sanctions, "as long as not all the pressure is on businesses," she says. But she doesn't support a fence, saying it sounds like an extremely expensive, unreasonable concept.

Pointing with pride to such accomplishments as the UA budget, Rio Nuevo's funding extension and assistance obtained for the Arizona School for the Deaf and the Blind, Hellon is seeking her fourth term in the Senate. She says she'll work to get money to build a new Department of Public Safety crime lab in Tucson, as well as funding for public education, if re-elected.

For his part, Melvin wants to push for a cap on state taxes. "They should only increase by the amount of inflation and population growth," he says, believing that figure is typically 10 percent per year. Meanwhile, Melvin says, the state budget has been growing by 20 percent.

To avoid problems that Colorado experienced with a similar tax-capping measure, Melvin suggests an "anti-ratchet" fund be established to cover any shortfalls due to economic downturns.

Contending there is a conservative sleeping giant in churches and other places in District 26, Melvin concludes: "My job is to wake that giant up."

As to why people should re-elect her, Hellon says: "I'm extremely rational, listen and respond. I've taken 5,400 votes (in the Senate), and Melvin disagrees with 20 of them."

The winner of the Sept. 12 primary will square off against Democrat Charlene Pesquieva in the general election.

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