Six Pack

A not-quite-liveblog of last week's Legislative District 29 debate

The Democrats, left to right: Eric Bustamante, Ephraim Cruz, Matt Heinz, Daniel Patterson, Patricia Puig and Tom Prezelski.
Voters in southside's Legislative District 29 will choose between seven candidates for two House seats in the Sept. 2 Democratic primary. Incumbent Rep. Linda Lopez is seeking the Senate seat that Democrat Victor Soltero is giving up, while incumbent Tom Prezelski is seeking re-election.

Six of the seven candidates met last week in a Clean Elections debate. Here's how it went down:

7:05 p.m.: Moderator Christopher Conover of KUAT Channel 6 gets the show on the road by telling us about Clean Elections, and how anyone who gathers 220 $5 contributions can get a fat check from the government to run for office. He also tells the crowd that Spanish translators are in the audience. They'll get a workout tonight.

7:09 p.m.: The candidates begin introducing themselves. First up: Eric Carbajal Bustamante, who, at 24, is not yet old enough to serve in the Legislature (though he will be before he's sworn into office, should he win). Bustamante is making his first run for office. He grew up in Southern Arizona and teaches phys ed at a charter school.

7:10 p.m.: Ephraim Cruz is a former Border Patrol agent who got crosswise with the agency and ended up beating federal charges of bringing a Mexican national across the border. Cruz talks about the need to bring more dollars for health care, education and public transit to the district from the Legislature. He mentions his door-to-door campaigning, his integrity and his support for human rights. He says he blew the whistle on the mistreatment of illegal immigrants in Border Patrol custody and got drummed out of the agency.

7:13 p.m.: Conover explains to the crowd that the empty seat next to Cruz belongs to Gil Guerra, who called in sick. That would possibly damage Guerra's campaign if (a) anyone in the audience wasn't already aligned with a candidate and (b) Guerra actually had much of a campaign.

7:14 p.m.: Matt Heinz tells the crowd that he's an internal-medicine doc at Tucson Medical Center and that he wants to bring his health-care expertise to the Legislature. "The system is out of control and in a downward spiral," Heinz says.

7:15 p.m.: Daniel Patterson promises "new progressive leadership" and promises to "protect and serve your interests at the Capitol, not the special interests." He talks about being president of his neighborhood association, his experience as an ecologist and his work with government-planning agencies. He wants a sustainable economy and touts his various union endorsements.

7:18 p.m.: Patricia Puig says she's lived in Legislative District 29 for more than a quarter-century. She says she cares about the issues of health care, education, transportation and animal cruelty.

7:20 p.m.: Incumbent Rep. Tom Prezelski says the Legislature deserves all the criticism that the other candidates are leveling. "Of course, I'm in the minority," he says, before launching a story about a friend who got hired at a local cable TV company who was told that Prezelski is their arch-enemy because he fought against legislation that would have made it easier for them to do away with public-access TV. The story quickly turns so wonky that only a staffer at the Joint Legislative Budget Committee could follow it.

Prezelski tells the crowd that most of the power of being a member of the minority party "comes from asking the right questions and saying the right things at the right time--sometimes saying very obnoxious things at the right times--and I've done that."

Prezelski mentions his family's roots in Tucson, his lifelong history as a Democrat and his previous job working as a planner for the Pascua Yaqui tribe.

7:43 p.m.: I'm so excited! The candidates have been asked the question I turned in to the moderator! I want to know if they support the TIME initiative on the November ballot, which would hike the sales tax by a penny per dollar to pay for more highways, high-speed rail service between Tucson and Phoenix, and local projects, including streets and transit. Bonus question: Do they support increasing the gas tax, which could pay for more roads?

Heinz supports the TIME initiative, even though he bemoans the regressive sales-tax burden it creates. He opposes an increase in the gas tax with current fuel prices.

Patterson would "love to be able to support the TIME initiative," but says it's unfair, because it doesn't include impact fees for developers. Patterson panders with a favorite math trick of TIME-initiative opponents, calling the tax a "close to 18 percent increase" in the sales tax. He says it spends too much money on roads and not enough on mass transit.

Patterson wants to "take a look" at increasing gas taxes, because it's a "more fair" way of paying for roads, but he doesn't want to hike gas taxes in a "willy-nilly" fashion.

Puig opposes the TIME initiative and an increase in gas taxes. She spouts a bunch of inaccurate statements--such as a claim that politicians have promised light rail, but haven't delivered it--to support her position.

Prezelski has sponsored legislation to index the state gas tax to inflation, but the proposal went nowhere. He points out the basic problem with the gas tax: Since people are buying fewer gallons of gas, the state is taking in less money at the same time that inflation is driving up construction costs. In the not-so-distant future, he warns, the money available for transportation "is going to run out."

Prezelski touts the benefits of the TIME initiative for Pima County: We'll get about $6 billion in the plan, with $3.4 billion for mass transit, rail, bike and pedestrian improvements. "If you are opposed to the TIME initiative, you have to explain where that $3.4 billion is going to come from," Prezelski says. "If you really believe in alternative modes, if you believe in transit and rail, you have to support this initiative."

Bustamante encourages everyone in the room "to really do their research" on this one. He evidently needs to do a little himself: "I think it's good, and it could be bad," he says. Then he questions whether there's a need for travel between Tucson and Phoenix. "Are there jobs up there?" he wonders.

Bustamante is starting to sound like that high school girl from South Carolina who got humiliated when a video of her stumbling through a geography question in the Miss Teen USA competition got millions of views on YouTube.

He asks if Legislative District 29 residents will be qualified for the jobs in Phoenix. "First of all," he says, "we need to get them qualified if they're going to be going up there to work. And, um, can you read the question a second time?"

After hearing the question again, Bustamante announces he's against increasing gas taxes. "We need to figure out a way to put a pedestal there, help put a backup, something to help our district, not just something--I want to fight for this district, because I know the concerns of people."

Bustamante talks a little bit about walking door to door and then gets back to flip-flopping on the issue at hand: "If we pass this, it's really, I can't say I'm for it, I can't say I'm against it, because if we handle it the right way, we can definitely--we're going, you know, into the future. And right now, we're at a slowdown in economic growth and jobs. I definitely think that if we're going to tax somebody, it's these big corporations that are coming from out of state and making all the profits and taking all our tax dollars. Our tax dollars should go to schools and education."

I wonder if the Spanish translators were able to get all that.

Meanwhile, Cruz says that he supports the TIME initiative because it's beneficial to transportation and the environment. He talks about increasing spending for public transit, even though that's funded through local and federal funds. He has no comment on the gas tax.

8:24 p.m.: Closing statements! Prezelski says he's done a good job in the Legislature by killing risky Republican schemes. He says he's worked well with other lawmakers.

Puig points out that she's the oldest person among the candidates and that her surname is Spanish, although many voters don't recognize it. "Being the only woman, I know what women go through. In hard times, it hits the male hard; it hits us harder."

Patterson talks about experience, his endorsements and economics. He promises to do what's right.

Heinz says he wants to bring his skills as a healer to the Capitol. "Right now, our Legislature needs a lot of healing, and so does our state."

Cruz says he'll increase funding for education and public transportation, prevent southside residents from being hassled by The Man and protect the environment. He complains that voters on the east side of the district have been neglected.

Bustamante boasts that he already knows the people in the district and is just re-introducing himself as a candidate. He says he doesn't need any stinkin' endorsements, because the people know he who is.

"We need somebody to represent this district who's from southeast Tucson who knows the issues," Bustamante says, effectively disqualifying himself.

8:35 p.m.: Conover thanks the candidates and the audience. "Have a good evening," he says, "and drive home safely."

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