Style and Substance

Ted Downing and Paula Aboud face off in a winner-takes-all primary

It's a former athlete vs. a current academic in the winner-takes-all Democratic State Senate primary in District 28. While both share similar stances on many issues, Paula Aboud and Ted Downing differ on their legislative goals--not to mention their political styles.

Sandwiched between Rillito Creek and 22nd Street, District 28 stretches from First Avenue to Harrison Road. Despite the district's wide breadth, both candidates live in the same Richland Heights neighborhood.

The 56-year-old Aboud was appointed to the state Senate in January when Gabrielle Giffords stepped down to run for Congress, and she hopes to win this election in order to push for greater spending on public education, including raising teacher salaries. She also wants to increase the use of renewable energy, but hasn't formulated any specific plans on how to do that.

"Reducing classroom size is my top education priority," says the former star sportswoman at the UA. "I don't think a teacher should have more than 25 students in the core subjects."

Born in 1943, UA professor Downing is hoping to move up to the Senate after serving four years in the House. If successful, he'll make finishing a work-study bill he previously introduced his top goal, along with finding ways to use tax credits to encourage more energy efficiency in homes like those found in District 28.

The work-study program, Downing explains, would provide community college and university students with $10 million in private and public funds, up from a current $1.5 million.

Even though he says 86 of the bills he co-sponsored over the last four years became law, based on his legislative experience in the Republican-controlled Legislature, Downing has changed his negotiating style.

"In my first three years, I shot grenades," he says, "but now I've become a Zen legislator. ... I keep (publicly) quiet about the bills I want and have Republicans be their primary sponsors."

To achieve her objectives, Aboud promotes bipartisan teamwork among the Southern Arizona members of the Legislature. She also thinks, as a Democrat, she has to be modest and incremental in her goals, while looking back at five years of budgetary history to help win support for her views. "I work from facts," she says.

Telling a recent debate audience, "I know what it takes to bring a team together," Aboud adds in a later interview: "I always work with a broad-base coalition of legislators. On solar energy, I'm talking with one of the most conservative members of the Legislature."

Utilizing this approach, Aboud points with pride to her role in backing the funding extension granted to Tucson's downtown Rio Nuevo project. At the same time, she sharply criticizes Downing's position on the issue.

"Downing signed his name to 32 pieces of Republican legislation," Aboud says, "but didn't sign on to the most important piece of legislation to Southern Arizona. That is very concerning."

Downing counters that he voted for the final Rio Nuevo bill, but had legitimate concerns about the city of Tucson's financial accountability, as well as the lack of voter approval for the time extension. Plus, he adds, supporting Republican measures he doesn't care about in exchange for their help on his legislation is how he gets things done in Phoenix.

"My legislative work focuses on producing results, not promises," Downing told those attending the July 25 debate. The candidate stresses he was one of two chief architects in the time-consuming process of writing and then passing a landmark voter protection bill which provides for hand recounts of election results as well as audits of electronic voting equipment during recounts.

"If people mistrust the electoral process," Downing says, "our democracy is in great trouble." If elected, he promises to push for further protection from hackers and insiders who could manipulate electronic voting machines.

Aboud wants to focus more attention on the state budget and how it impacts Southern Arizona. To do that, she proposes getting local elected officials together to discuss their priorities for health care, economic development and social services. "We should go forward as a team," she says.

Aboud also hopes to push for greater protection of environmental quality. While pointing out that she helped preserve much of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality's budget, Aboud admits most of her efforts in this area were helping to kill bad bills.

Downing additionally wants to help the environment through the installation of more solar technology and is looking for ways to promote doing that at businesses and schools. He thinks funding the improvements at schools by stretching out the payback period for the improvements from 10 to 25 years would encourage energy conservation while freeing up school district money.

The two legislators even differ on how they evaluate proposed bills. Downing says he asks three questions: Who wins? Who loses? How much does it cost?

Aboud also has questions about legislation: How good is it for the economy, the environment and the public? Plus, what is Phoenix's involvement in the proposal?

Characterizing herself, Aboud says: "I'm hardworking, committed and care deeply about Tucson." Plus, she adds: "It's important to have diversity (in the state Senate). We need pro-choice women standing up for what's right. We have enough men there."

Downing counters that political progress needs to come from both men and women. "I've got to finish my work," he says. "I'm running for the Senate so I can nudge history."

With no Republican contesting this race, the victor of the primary will be the next state senator from District 28.

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