Business/education connections highlighted in local candidates forum

Traditional political issues of taxes and business growth arose at a local candidates forum on Monday, Sept. 24 at the Arizona Inn. However, many of the 15 candidates vying for seats in Legislative Districts 9, 10 and 11 and on the Pima County Board of Supervisors repeatedly harked back to the importance of education in the region’s growth. The event, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Real Estate and Allied Professionals (REAP) and Jewish Community Relations Council, drew around 65 attendees.

The candidates had plenty to say about both commercial and personal real estate. Adam Kwasman, a Jewish Republican candidate for the Arizona State Legislature, called for the elimination of the personal business property tax. On the Democratic side, Steve Farley, who’s running for the Arizona State Senate, said, “Let’s restore $50 million stolen by the legislature to help people with foreclosures.”

Other candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, covered the gamut of real estate issues in Southern Arizona: the idea that business taxation kills capital investment; the need to get construction going again; the view that Arizona is more environmentally friendly than pro-business; how to promote geo-tourism and solar manufacturing jobs; and how bringing back major league baseball and other professional sports to Kino Stadium would encourage the development of the stadium area.

The connection between business development and an improved educational environment quickly emerged as a key to growth in Southern Arizona. The issues are “interrelated,” said Mohur Sarah Sidhwa, who’s running for state representative. “With cuts in higher education young people are spending money on student loans instead of for a down payment on their first homes.”

“Let’s start by [the state] funding education at the 2008 level,” said Bruce Wheeler, who’s running for state representative, adding that the legislature “has cut $2.2 million from education to build for-profit prisons.” James Kelley, who’s running for a seat as a Pima County supervisor, said, “50 percent of the money in some school districts is going to administration, not into classrooms.” Nancy Young Wright, who’s also running for a county supervisor seat, called for “paying teachers a decent salary” and making charter schools accept special needs students.

Ethan Orr, a Republican running for state representative (one of three candidates who identified themselves by political party on their campaign literature), told the AJP that his wife is Jewish. Orr, a faculty member at the University of Arizona, touted the Pima County Joint Technical Education District (JTED), which offers programs in everything from culinary arts to nursing services in Tucson schools. Victoria Steele, who’s running for state representative, said “We’re not valuing our families when there are 40 students in a classroom.”

“Everybody in this room can tell us about a teacher who made a difference in their lives,” affirmed incumbent County Supervisor Richard Elias.

Other candidates in attendance included Ted Vogt for state representative; David Bradley and Tyler Mott for state senator; incumbent County Supervisor Ray Carroll; Tanner Bell and Fernando Gonzales for county supervisors; and Mark Napier for Pima County sheriff.

When asked about their ability to cross the aisle, looking ahead to working in the legislature in a bipartisan manner, Mott replied, “I want to vote for good bills, not Democratic or Republican bills.”

“I’m a Jewish Republican,” said Kwasman. “I have to work with [all] legislators or else I can’t see my family at Pesach.”