Gubernatorial candidates Gov. Doug Ducey (R), David Garcia (D) and Angel Torres (G) faced off in televised debates in both Phoenix and Tucson this week.
During the two debates three main issues emerged: education, border security, and economic development.
Candidates spent more than half of both debates discussing education, confirming many observers’ views that public education funding is the biggest issue of the election. Gov. Ducey and Garcia differ on how to provide additional resources for teachers and schools.
Ducey touted his education record, which includes more money for education through passage of Proposition 123, the 20-year extension of Proposition 301, and the 20×2020 teacher pay-raise plan that was adopted in the 2018 legislative session.
“More is needed but we are off to a good start and we are getting these dollars to our teachers,” Ducey said. “We have the momentum right now [and] I want to continue to build on that momentum.”
Garcia claimed Ducey is not doing enough, saying there needs to be more funding that goes towards classrooms, teachers, and support staff. Garcia offered few specifics when it came to his plan to fund these areas.
“We are still below $800 million of our 2008 levels,” Garcia said. “There’s a lot of room to grow. I am not in favor of raising taxes on the middle class, I am in favor of a direct funding source which is what our teachers have been demanding.”
Garcia was also a supporter of Proposition 207, which was recently removed from the ballot by the Arizona Supreme Court due to a misleading description of the measure. The proposed ballot initiative had a cumulative 10-year fiscal impact on lower and middle-class families of $1.25 billion.
The two candidates also discussed the topic of charter school accountability.
“We need more transparency and accountability for charter schools, so that we have an understanding of how public dollars are being used,” Garcia said. “On the other hand, we also need more flexibility for our traditional public schools… so that they can have a chance to create innovative schools … One set of rules for all schools we call public.”
“I’m a fan of public district schools and I’m a fan of public charter schools, I think it’s a part of the reason why Arizona kids are improving faster in math and reading than any other kids in the country,” Ducey replied. “Where we do need reforms, I would like to address that. Transparency, accountability, financial reporting, and how boards are put together.”
In the Tucson debate, both candidates focused their closing statements on education.
“More funding is needed; more funding will be available,” Ducey said. “Our general fund is at a record high. In addition, we need to address this teacher shortage, we have the Teachers Academy. We need to get more dollars into the classroom and I think there’s other things we can do to reform our system so that we can help districts consolidate from a contractual basis … so that we can push cost out of administration and get the dollars into the classroom for our teachers to benefit our kids.”
“What we need to do in Arizona is back away from our fascination with standardized testing,” Garcia said. “There are no multiple choices in life and the region and state that gets beyond this fascination with standardized testing is going to lead the rest of the world. We need to bring innovation back to the classroom … focus on real world outcomes that make a difference in students’ lives because in addition to salary, one of the other reasons we lose so many teachers is because we take creative, bright people and we box them in and, under my administration, we are going to let them teach again.”
In the discussion on border security and state law enforcement, Ducey proclaimed that Garcia wants to abolish ICE. Garcia fired back that he only wants immigration reform, not to dismantle government agencies.
“What we need is an immigration system that works,” Garcia said. “That includes three things. It includes: security, lawful entry for those ready to enter the United States and contribute, and to be a place of refuge.”
Garcia added that he would put more funding towards securing Arizona’s highways, saying “our highways are left un-patrolled for four hours. The key here is to fund [the Department of Public Safety] to patrol our highways 24/7. It will be my priority because it is what our border county sheriffs are asking the state to accomplish.”
Ducey countered that his campaign was endorsed by Arizona State Troopers Association, saying they supported him for prioritizing public safety.
“We have law enforcement 24-hours a day in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said. “But with our Border Strike Force, and with our Arizona state troopers, we have prioritized focusing on drug cartels, human trafficking, and child sex trafficking, and I want to give these brave men and women in uniform a real congratulation.”
Ducey noted that under his administration the economy is booming and Arizona is a “start-up state” that nurtures innovation, drawing entrepreneurs and companies away from other states.
“Arizona is open for business. We had 240,000 new private sector jobs come to the state of Arizona in the past three years. We’ve had 300 companies that have expanded or relocated here. The last time our unemployment rate was this low people were renting their movies at Blockbuster,” Ducey said. “We’ve simplified, we’ve improved our tax code the past three years, we’ve eliminated 676 regulations, we’ve made it a higher quality of life, a better place to live.”
Garcia disagreed, saying the state focuses too much on drawing outside talent to the state instead of supporting in state companies.
“I’m going to be focused on the 7 million inside Arizona, our fellow residents,” Garcia said. “The path to economic development, to balance out attracting companies from outside Arizona, as well as, developing talent within Arizona is investing in our human capital.”
But according to Ducey, he wants “to see the people inside the state have more opportunities, I want opportunities for all of our citizens and we’ve got the third fastest wage growth in the country right now,” he said. “I also want to attract companies to come here. Economy, education and public safety have been what we’re working on in [my] administration.”
A recent NBC News-Marist College survey found that Ducey is ahead in the race with 51 percent of Arizona’s registered voters, and Garcia earning 42 percent.