One-Term Wonder?

Democrats seek to oust Republican state lawmaker Todd Clodfelter in midtown Tucson

From left: Rep. Todd Clodfelter, Domingo DeGrazia and Rep. Kirsten Engel
From left: Rep. Todd Clodfelter, Domingo DeGrazia and Rep. Kirsten Engel

Two years ago, Republican Todd Clodfelter defied the odds and knocked out a Democratic incumbent in the race for one of two House of Representatives seats in central Tucson's Legislative District 10.

This year, up against Democrats Kirsten Engel (a law professor and attorney who won her LD10 seat two years ago) and Domingo DeGrazia (an attorney and political newcomer), Clodfelter is hoping to avoid the fate of other Republicans who have won in competitive districts in Pima County: ending up a one-term lawmaker.

It's a challenge for any Republican to win a Democratic-leaning district in the year of the resistance. Roughly 38 percent of the voters in LD 10, which includes central Tucson, south of Speedway and east of Campbell, identify as Democrats, versus the roughly 29 percent who identify as Republicans (with the remainder not registered with either of the major parties).

Clodfelter hasn't been helped by headlines this year. A few weeks ago, the Arizona Daily Star reported that Clodfelter, who has branded himself a family man in his campaign materials, had set up an account on the Ashley Madison website in order to find a sex partner outside his marriage. Clodfelter said having the account was a mistake and he's dealt with it with his family.

"Those kinds of things are not necessarily for public purview," he said. "This stuff was three to eight years old, and I don't think people are too riled up by it... People are very forgiving and understanding."

He also made news back in January, when one of the two black state lawmakers in Arizona, Rep. Geraldine Peten, took issue with Clodfelter's decision to have a Confederate Flag screen saver on his computer. Peten noticed the screen saver repeatedly pop up on the computer as she sat behind him during a mandatory harassment and ethics training session.

After the incident, Clodfelter told the Tucson Weekly that he hadn't realized the flag, which was on his personal computer, would offend anyone. He said the flag represented his family's Southern heritage, but he would leave his computer home in the future.

Clodfelter is a conservative who generally votes along party lines, although he's gone his own way on a few key issues, such as the expansion of the state's education vouchers (which he opposed) and decriminalizing marijuana (which he supports).

Clodfelter says legalizing recreational cannabis could generate hundreds of millions in annual tax revenue, which could create a new funding source for education. He presented a bill for recreational cannabis use last session, but it didn't go anywhere. He argues it would be better for the Legislature to pass a bill than legalize it through a voter-approved initiative, so lawmakers could have more flexibility to make changes.

Another one of Clodfelter's top issues is criminal justice reform, which he says could free up more funds for education. He says the Legislature should look at whether people who have mental-health issues or substance-abuse problems can get help rather than being incarcerated, and lawmakers should reconsider the state requirement that a person serve at least 85 percent of a sentence, regardless of the crime.

"That means, even if it's a nonviolent crime, you're sitting in jail when you could be a productive citizen of the community," he said. "Of course if you're sitting in jail, you're an expense to society and the state as well."

Criminal justice reform is also a top issue for Engel, who has sat on the bipartisan House Judiciary Committee and a smaller ad hoc committee. Engel agrees with the points Clodfelter made and also wants to look at lowering marijuana possession to a misdemeanor and expunging some felony records.

Like most Democrats these days, education funding is at the forefront of Engel's campaign. Arizona has an education budget that's far below where it was at a decade ago. And despite additional funding in this year's budget, the state is still dealing with teacher shortages and inadequate infrastructure. Seeing cuts to public education motivated Engel to first run for office in 2016.

A University of Arizona law professor and product of public education herself, she saw the result of dismal education funding firsthand at her daughter's school, which had a faulty air-conditioner last year that was on and off for a week.

She says the first thing she'll do if re-elected is work on a bill to adequately fund public education by closing sales-tax loopholes, which she says are there to please special interest groups. She also says the state should cap school-tuition credits at somewhere around $100 million, tax digital goods to out-of-state companies, stop funding the "ideologically driven" Freedom Schools on the UA and ASU campuses, and return corporate tax rates to 2011 levels to create more revenue.

The other Democrat running, DeGrazia, is an attorney who represents kids and families in Arizona's foster care system—work that inspired him to run. He called Arizona's education funding "just shameful," and says Gov. Doug Ducey's increases are not enough.

He thinks the state has the funds, and the legislature needs to re-assess expenditures and prioritize education. He also says the state should give less corporate tax breaks and spend less on the prison system.

If elected, he says one of his first bills would be to support kinship families that take on the role of foster care. He said people who care for the child of a family member can receive as little government assistance as $25 to $75 a month, whereas foster parents with no familial ties receive more. He thinks that's an unfair disparity and would like to see the kinship placement receive more monetary support.

Another issue that's important to him is preventing gun violence. He thought the Severe Threat Order of Protection, or STOP order, last year in Ducey's School Safety plan was a great start.

The order would have allowed law enforcement, family members and others to petition to temporarily confiscate someone's guns who may be a danger to themselves or others. Ducey's plan went nowhere, as many Republicans thought it went too far and Democrats thought the plan didn't go far enough.

Engel was in support of the STOP order and says she was disappointed the governor didn't put together legislation that could have received more support. Clodfelter was against the STOP order, saying it was a "slippery slope when you get into constitutionality and the premise of being innocent until proven guilty."

Engel also said closing the "gun show loophole" would be an important step toward curbing gun violence. Clodfelter actually drafted a bill that would have done just that. But he wants it to be clear that he never intended to introduce it to the Legislature. He just wanted to see what the legislation would even look like. He says he took a lot of heat from Second Amendment advocates and knew the bill wouldn't go anywhere. And he questioned if it would even be constitutional.

"You're getting into what individuals can do with their personal property under the guise of protecting the universe against harm," he said. "You can walk into Harbor Freight, and for $7.50 you can buy a machete. Or you can walk into Ace Hardware and buy an ice pick or a baseball bat. Any of those can be used as a weapon. You start looking at firearms as being the ultimate death machine and that's just not true. People are beaten up every day. People are killed with fists every day."

Clodfelter and the Democrats also disagree on the upcoming Prop 127, which would require utilities to get 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Opponents to the bill say it will raise customers' utility rates, but DeGrazia thinks that if the state would provide better subsidies for homeowners who put in solar systems, people would have less reliance on the energy grid. While not everybody would be able to take advantage of that, he says if more did, it would require a smaller power production system overall.

DeGrazia also disagrees with the argument that Arizona will lose jobs if it moves away from coal and gas, believing that workers can instead find work in the solar sector. He sees Prop 207 as "a great step for Arizona."

"That we don't use that natural sunlight is a bit offensive," he said. "We can do a whole lot better in requiring our energy producers to do so in a clean method that is gonna be beneficial to not only the taxpayers but the environment."

Engel said making use of that sun—rather than using water, which is used in production of other forms of energy, like coal—is good for the climate, our health and economic development.   

"The cost of solar is dropping like a stone," she said.

She wishes that the state didn't need a ballot initiative to require clean energy, but she's concerned that the Arizona Corporation Commission's recent votes reducing the amount that energy companies pay for excess energy generated by rooftop solar demonstrates that commissioners favor utility companies.

Clodfelter isn't against creating new sources of renewable energy, but he's worried building the infrastructure needed to meet the requirements of Prop 127 would create a huge expense that'll be passed to consumers.

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