Republican Ana Henderson, who is seeking a House of Representatives seat in a competitive Tucson district, says climate change scientists will "continue to disagree."
"Our climate is always changing," she said at a recent Legislative District 9 Clean Elections debate. "We have had a history of cooling and warming periods. We are currently in a warming period."
On a rainy evening at Pima Community College's North Campus, the crowd was silent while the Republican candidate expressed her skepticism of human-caused climate change. But the audience—mostly elderly white voters—weren't so quiet when one of her Democratic opponents expressed his view.
Incumbent Rep. Randy Friese was drowned out with moans and people shouting "no" when he said that 98 percent of scientists agree that climate change is real and humans have a role in it.
In a rematch from the 2016 election, Henderson, Friese and Democrat Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley are running for two House seats. LD9 is home to a mix of voters who live in central Tucson, the Catalina Foothills and the Casas Adobes area, with 39 percent registered Democrat, 30 percent Republican and 29 percent independent—a demographic that makes this district competitive.
At the Clean Elections debate, Henderson said it's very important that constituents meet their elected officials.
"You cannot represent people if you don't know them," she said. "When I'm elected, I will have an open door policy. I will listen to everyone. Pick up the phone, send me an email. It doesn't matter what party you belong to because freedom is for everyone and your tax dollars will be collected."
Perhaps Henderson is waiting until elected to begin her open-door policy, as she did not respond to the Tucson Weekly's email or numerous phone calls asking for an interview. Luckily, we were able to catch up with her at the debate.
Henderson is a self-employed graphic designer who scaled back her business in 2013 and now maintains a couple of clients. She's a member of 4Tucson, a group that uses biblical principles to work on systemic issues like poverty, and serves with their governments committee.
She's also a director with Heirs of the Republic, a nonprofit that focuses on conservative civic education. On their website's homepage, there are rotating paintings, some depicting soldiers with semi-automatic rifles in front of the American flag and others showing past presidents and the Founding Fathers. In the eight paintings, the only person of color is Barack Obama, who appears in two paintings disrespecting the Constitution.
Henderson says she decided to run for office for many reasons but mainly because she thinks Tucson has been on a downward spiral since the '80s.
"I don't want to live in Tucson and watch it continue to decline," she said. "I have seen it in its glory days, and I've seen it decline. And it just continues to go on a downward trend."
Henderson's main issues are public safety, education and infrastructure. She's interested in cutting regulations for businesses to spur the economy. She's also a proponent of tax cuts as an economic driver and says she signed a pledge not to raise taxes.
"If you don't increase our businesses by giving them the room to grow and expand and reinvest, you will not have the money to fix our infrastructure, our roads, etc.," she said.
Corporate tax cuts and tax loopholes came to the forefront earlier this year during the #RedforEd campaign and teacher walkouts. Most Democratic lawmakers argue the state would have more to spend on education if it had not cut taxes so deeply.
The state budget is more than $10 billion, and in fiscal year 2016, Arizona allowed $13.7 billion in tax exemptions, deductions, allowances, exclusions or credits on things that include corporate income tax, horse vitamins, fine art purchased by out-of-state collectors, jet fuel and other luxury items, according to the Arizona Center for Economic Progress.
Henderson says teacher raises need to be based on merit, and if the Democratic legislators want more money for education, they need to identify a revenue stream. She said if elected, she would sit down with school district administrators and teachers to brainstorm new ways to fund education.
Powers Hannley says the Legislature needs to turn some of the tax cuts around to restore funding for Arizona's education system at all levels, from preschool through higher education. First elected in 2016, Powers Hannley ran on opposing tax cuts.
"I voted against every tax cut and tax credit that they had in two years because I think we should spend the money on education," Powers Hannley said. "That's where the money for the schools is. We owe the schools like a billion dollars. It's right there. They gave it away."
Powers Hannley says businesses have to choose whether they want an educated workforce or more tax cuts. She suggests public banking as a way to boost the economy by creating low-cost and no-cost loans. Public banks, as opposed to private Wall Street banks, are owned and operated by local governments, returning profits back into a jurisdiction's budget to be spent on the public good.
Giving small businesses easy access to funds that can grow their business, rather than tax cuts, is a different way to build local businesses. Public banking has been discussed in the Arizona Legislature with bipartisan support, although the legislation has gone nowhere.
Powers Hannley says the state revenue that could be generated from public banking could also be a way to address at least some of the state's anticipated $62 billion shortfall in highway funds through 2035.
She says her two greatest accomplishments in the Legislature were both on bipartisan bills.
She has a Masters in Public Health from the University of Arizona and, being one of the few state lawmakers with a medical background, she was part of the Democratic team that helped negotiate a package of bills to address the state's opioid crisis.
Her other highlight was working across the aisle to pass a dental therapy bill that created a new class of dental care provider to improve access to affordable dentistry in underserved areas. Besides expanding access, Powers Hannley says the bill fosters workforce development by creating another job title and career progression for dental hygienists.
Friese is a U.S. Navy Medical Corps veteran and a trauma surgeon at Banner–University Medical Center. He was one of the surgeons who cared for Gabrielle Giffords and other victims of Tucson's mass shooting. The experience brought him into politics; he was first elected to represent Legislative District 9 in 2014.
The most important issue for Friese is education funding. He also says the state should better fund all levels of education, though he'd like to see universities be more accountable for how they spend state money, using it solely for educational purposes rather than buying property or building a stadium.
Friese is glad Gov. Doug Ducey came up with a plan to give teachers 20 percent raises rather than the governor's original 1 percent offer. But the budget did not contain the $1.1 billion in additional funding that #RedforEd supporters were requesting to return education funding to pre-recession levels, which is why Friese, Powers Hannley and all the Democratic legislators voted no on the budget that included the 20 percent raises.
Unlike Powers Hannley, Friese said he's not absolute when it comes to opposing all tax cuts, though he leans strongly in that direction. He did vote to reauthorize the Angel Investment Tax Credits, along with 16 other Democrats, to angel investors: groups or individuals who provide private-equity investments for business startups.
Friese says another way to bolster the economy is drawing and retaining a strong workforce by investing in schools at every level of education and infrastructure including roads and new technology.
The Democrats also differ with Henderson when it comes to expanding the Education Scholarship Accounts with Proposition 305. If passed by voters in November, the ballot referendum would dramatically expand Arizona's ESA program, criticized by opponents as school vouchers.
The current ESA program caps at around 5,500 scholarships annually for children with disabilities and other vulnerable students. The expansion would make about 30,000 scholarships available for any K-12 students—increasing the pot of taxpayer money eligible to move from public schools to private or parochial schools.
Powers Hannley and Friese are both against the expansion, as are all the Democratic state lawmakers and some of the Republican ones. Powers Hannley said she thinks private school should be paid for by parents, and charter schools should have oversight that's equal to public school.
"This takes money out of public education," she said. "Parents can have choice, but I don't think the government has to pay for everything."
Friese argues that the expansion could hurt students who attend failing schools since they are already eligible to apply. If the expansion goes through, those students would be in a larger pool of applicants, with no priority written into the bill.
"There are students out there that need these vouchers," Friese said. "It works for them. They have education requirements, and if we suddenly allow 1.1 million people apply for them, those people who need them may lose their access."
Henderson doesn't see the expansion as taking money from public schools. She said there needs to be more flexibility in the school system to help students who are failing have more options.
Henderson also differs with the Democratic candidates on the 2016 voter-approved minimum-wage hike, which Powers Hannley and Friese both say was needed to give people a living wage.
Henderson describes herself as a "free-market capitalist" and a small-business owner and says it's irresponsible for government to tell small businesses what to pay their workers. She says minimum-wage hikes are an "artificial obscurity of the free-market system."
"Since I am not for socialism, I am for capitalism, I will maintain that every single time we discuss forced wages on businesses," she said.
Unlike the Democrats, she also supports allowing armed staff on school campuses. She recently promoted an event on her Facebook page which called for protecting against school shootings by ending gun-free zones.
"It is our fundamental and constitutional right to bear arms, and so any teacher who would like to be armed and receive some proper training and guidance should be allowed to carry in the classroom," she said. "With proper training and with us training our students to be working collectively, as they will be the first responders in that case, I do have a confidence in those people who are in those classrooms caring for each other on a daily basis."
Powers Hannley thinks better public health policy is needed to prevent gun violence in schools. She and Friese are both proponents of comprehensive background checks and closing the "gun-show loophole" that allows the sale of firearms without a background check if the seller is not a federally licensed firearms dealer.
Friese says the Second Amendment protects gun rights but that states are still allowed to regulate with comprehensive background checks and other regulations. He marched in local student rallies following the Parkland, Florida, shooting. He says he wants gun-safety bills to get committee hearings, but they never do because Republican lawmakers block them.
Friese says Ducey's school safety plan, which came in response to a national public outcry for gun regulation, was terrible and could even make it harder to legally confiscate guns from someone who's dangerous by adding layers of red tape. Every Democrat in the House voted against it, but it passed on party lines before it stalled in the Senate.
Powers Hannley has twice been a sponsor to an Equal Rights Amendment, but failed to gather enough support to bring it to a vote. She hopes if more Democrats get into office this year, there could be a chance of passing it. So far, 36 states have passed an ERA. If two more states pass one, it could become an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees equal rights under the law to men and women.
"This is not an issue just for poor women, but we should note that most of the people living in poverty are women and their children," she said. "Women are not paid equal pay for equal work, and it's time for Arizona to step up. Sandra Day O'Connor proposed passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in Arizona in 1972. We can get 'er done in 2019."
Henderson is not for an ERA and says the Constitution already allows for equal rights. She says an ERA would "create another special class." She said in a time when women can run for president and hold positions of power, she doesn't think changing the Constitution is necessary.