Just finished the Arizona Legislative District 26 debate:
Let me summarize some of my thoughts.
First of all, those in attendance included Jerry Lewis and Ed Ableser running for State Senate; Juan Mendez, Andrew Sherwood, and Ray Speakman running for the two open House seats. Ok, there was a libertarian and a green candidate, but they were so bad they aren't worth mentioning. There is also another Republican running who didn't show, Mary Lou Taylor. I'm not sure why people don't attend or want to engage in a debate. It makes it harder for a voter to get to know where they stand and who they are. Mary Lou Taylor, who are you, beyond a name on a political sign?
Ok, surprisingly enough, every candidate agreed on every issue, from the need to provide Kid's Care (health insurance for the poor), high tech jobs for Arizona, investment in education, investment in solar, and on and on. So, ideologically, they might as well all belong to the same party.
Where the starkest contrast comes from was in tone, background and approach to politics. The three Democrats are all young, energetic, and passionate. They each have different backgrounds, but are hyper-motivated to make a difference in the political process.
Ed Ableser has the longest tenure in the legislature starting in his twenties. He is a counselor by training and profession and is passionate about the effects of policies on individuals, especially those most at the margins in society.
Juan Mendez grew up in the valley from immigrant parents. He grew up poor, but his parents took advantage of state programs, health insurance, training programs, schools and scholarships. Mendez is alarmed (as am I) at the extremes in the Republicans in Arizona's legislature, folks who cares more about tax breaks for corporations, balanced budgets and rainy day funds then funding essential services for the poor. Worse, they care more about demagoguery on immigration, conspiracy theory legislation on global warming or birthed theories, then they do about solving real problems we face - but I digress.
Andrew Sherwood has been a volunteer for the party for a while and is running on jobs - high tech jobs for the future and making sure we have an educated work force to fill those jobs.
Jerry Lewis has the most impressive and extensive business resume of the group and it shows. He's been a religious leader in his community. He's been involved in education, in business, he's an accountant by training and profession. He took Russell Pearce's seat in an historic recall election and is running as a moderate. Someone who is trying to roll back from within some of the extremism in the Republican party of late. He wants to be someone who listens, finds common ground and compromise.
Ray Speakman has the least impressive resume of the group and it shows. He's older but his experience does not seem that relevant. He has eight kids and a bunch of grandkids. He's been a volunteer in scouting and has owned business, construction and design. However, he doesn't seem to have the much grasp on the issues and shows almost no passion, energy, or charisma.
Lewis vs. Ableser
It seems that Ableser's main critique of his opponent is Lewis's voting record, primarily his vote for the Republican budget that cut Kid's Care. Lewis's retort as far as I understood it was that he's worked with Republicans to moderate these bills but fundamentally must go along with bills, however flawed to get things done. Lewis is not there to make statements.
Ableser, Mendez and Sherwood definitely take a harder stand in their approach. They want to stand up for principles and on certain things may not be as willing to find common ground.
Lewis's main attack on Ableser was on his attendance record, something Ed never really addressed in the debate. In my home he had a really good explanation. He has actually had a stellar attendance record up until his wife became pregnant and their baby was born. Then, he chose to skip non-essential votes to assist his wife with the pregnancy. I'm not sure why he didn't offer this defense in the debate.
Lewis in his attack did say something I loved, that he shows up, he represents, he listens to those he represents, even those that didn't vote for him. Along that vein, where was Mary Lou Taylor?
Of the two in the debate, and it was close, but I found Lewis more well-spoken, seem to speak more from the heart and was less reliant on notes. In my home visit, I found Ableser knowledgeable and charismatic in fact more so than when I met Lewis at a different house party, which is why I found it surprising that he read his opening and closing statement.
It's hard for me, based on the information I have to know conclusively whether Lewis or Ableser would be the more effective legislature. I guess my next step would be to look at their legislative record and to figure out which bills they sponsored, what were their priorities, which one of the two seemed to make the bigger impact.
As of now, for me it comes down to what I want from my state government. I want to see greater representation from the Democratic caucus. I want Republicans that are forced to listen and work with Democrats. The only way to get there is to elect Democrats to office. I think Ed Ableser is more than qualified and deserves to be elected. I wish I could elect Jerry Lewis as well, but I can't. As of now, I'm likely to support Ableser.
Juan Mendez and Andrew Sherwood are clearly better than Ray Speakman. That race should not be close.