Republican candidates exchanged heated remarks Saturday morning during a primary-election debate at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center.
More than 100 community members and campaign supporters turned out to watch the last opportunity for candidates to debate in a public forum before early voting begins. The primary is Aug. 26, and early balloting begins July 31.
The debate featured candidates running to represent Maricopa on the City Council, in the Arizona Legislature and in Congress.
A cordial city council Q&A kicked off the agenda. The fireworks really started in the Congressional District 1 debate, which featured Rep. Adam Kwasman and fellow Republican candidate Gary Kiehne.
Kwasman responded to what he perceived to be a shot at him when Kiehne responded to Kwasman’s promise to only serve three terms. Kiehne said all career politicians say they only want to serve three terms because that is when they are financially vested. Kwasman asked Kiehne if he was referring to him personally, and Kiehne said “You’re on your way.”
Kwasman then said, “Ladies and gentleman, Gary Kiehne ran for city council and lost. Had he served in city council, he would have served longer than I have. So the only reason you’re not a career politician is because you’re a failed politician.”
Kwasman’s remarks were met gasps and boos from the audience.
The third Republican candidate, Speaker of the House Andy Tobin, was unable to attend.
The Legislative District 11 debate for the open seat in the state Senate continued the fireworks.
Current state Representative Steve Smith called out his primary opponent for the state Senate seat, Scott Bartle, for his commitment to conservatism.
“If you heard my opponent what he’s saying is that he supports the expansion of Medicaid in Arizona, and when he talked about the fact that we shouldn’t repeal things on our ideology, well when you’re standing up here and saying you’re a conservative, well that’s our ideology,” Smith said.
Bartle in turn responded to Smith’s statement about being recognized as a “Champion of the Taxpayer” by Americans for Prosperity, a grassroots organization committed to educating citizens about economic policy.
“He used your taxpayer dollars to put campaign signs up on 347 on the Gila River reservation,” Bartle said. “He sponsored legislation that spent a quarter of a million of our dollars to pay one of his legislator friends for their recall campaign. That’s not being a champion of the taxpayer in my opinion.”
Candidates for the two available seats in the state House of Representatives, Vince Leach, Mark Finchem and Jo Grant, also took part in the Legislative District 11 debate.
The Democrat legislative candidates – Jo Holt for the Senate and Holly Lyon for the House – are running unopposed in the primary and were not in attendance.
Audience member Ron Bernier said he wasn’t a fan of the heated exchanges between candidates in the latter two debates.
“I thought the city council candidates were better prepared,” Bernier said. “The state and Congressional candidates gave nothing but Republican talking points. I can listen to Rush Limbaugh if I want to hear that. I wanted to know their ideas on issues.”
The City Council debate occurred first, and all 10 candidates participated: Peg Chapados, Lee Feiles, Marty Hermanson, Rachel Leffall, Vincent Manfredi, Patrick Melvin, Nicholas Sheppard, Nancy Smith, Rich Vitiello and Henry Wade.
The panel was asked five questions, and topics included bringing business to Maricopa, the State Route 347 overpass project, high utility costs and the candidates’ visions for the future.
Each candidate had 45 seconds to answer each question, 30 seconds for a rebuttal if questioned by another candidate, and 90 seconds at the end for closing remarks.
When candidate Nancy Smith mentioned the necessity to consider a feasibility study to determine whether the city should purchase its utilities instead of partnering with Global Water to save money, Wade responded: “Well I’m glad to be in a room with a bunch of millionaires, because all these tax increases that we are looking at I’m sure you as the community are appreciating the fact that we are going to do that.”
Wade agreed that Global Water and Electrical District No. 3 are too pricy but referred to the tax increase that has already been implemented to pay down the Copper Sky Recreation Center debt.