The Republican and Democratic candidates for governor met for their final debate last night and again focused on the main issues in the race: education and the economy.
While education funding and teacher pay have dominated the year, from the state budget to state politics, the candidates also discussed other education policy questions.
Republican incumbent Gov. Doug Ducey has at times called himself the "education governor." His Democratic challenger, David Garcia, often talks about his education credentials as a teacher and professor.
During the debate, both called for more money to go to Arizona's K-12 classrooms. Ducey said it is not just the infusion of state dollars that will get more money in the classroom.
"We can help districts consolidate, from a contractual basis — janitor, maintenance, food service are more things that we need to do so that we can push cost out of administration and get the dollars into the classrooms for our teachers to benefit our kids," Ducey said.
Garcia said another way to improve education, in addition to more money, is to back away from standardized testing."
"There are no multiple choices in life, and the region and the state that gets beyond this fascination with standardized testing is going to lead the rest of the world," Garcia said. "We need to bring innovation back to the classroom, bring creativity back to the classroom."
In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Arizona lawmakers came up with proposals to improve school safety. None of them passed the Legislature. During last night's debate, Ducey said he supports additional school resource officers.
"I want to make sure that our schools are safe and that there is law enforcement available if there is a shooting, the first person you are going to call is the police department, why would you remove them from campus if you could have them there?" Ducey said.
He didn't answer whether he supports teachers carrying weapons in the classroom.
Democratic candidate David Garcia says school safety involves more than new state laws.
"If you want to find out what works best for high schools, you need to talk to students in them. I'm against more weapons on campus. What we need are more eyes and ears, more guidance counselors, more opportunities for our young people to go to," Garcia said.
Road repair budget
Road funding is a perennial issue in Southern Arizona, and a large part of local governments' ability to fix the roads depends on state funding. One solution proposed time and again is increasing the state gasoline tax to bring in more money for road repair. That would require legislative approval and the governor's signature.
County suggestions like that are welcome, said Garcia.
"What they are saying is, they need investment at the state level, we need to stop the tax cuts at the top and start investing in all of Arizona," he said.
Ducey countered that the state is investing in roads again.
"We were able to accelerate $134 million for SR 189, and we have additional dollars. We also stopped the sweep of the HURF funds. We are also going to be able to work with Washington, D.C., Department of Transportation in federal things in terms of I-11," Ducey said.
To clarify, State Route 189 connects the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales to Interstate 19, and is full of heavy truck traffic. Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) money is state dollars from sources such as vehicle registration fees, paid by local residents and intended to come back to pay for local road work. During the economic downturn, that money was diverted to other departments, including the Highway Patrol.
Ducey said he would not raise the gas tax, especially because he sees an increase in the number of electric cars on the road.
Garcia said water is a topic that keeps him up at night.
"Arizona has been a leader in water, and I will continue to lead going forward, and one of the first things I will focus on is bringing all parties and focus on working on Arizona's drought contingency plan, working on conservation measures," he said.
The drought contingency plan will help decide the future of water resources in the Western states that rely on Colorado River water. Ducey said Arizona is one of the best in the world for water conservation.
"There are things we need to do address today's water needs both from a reform perspective and from a generational perspective," Ducey said. "We'll have the reforms done in this next session through the drought contingency plan."
In recent weeks, Pima County turned down federal border law enforcement dollars known as Operation Stonegarden. Democratic challenger Garcia said that is fine.
"I think that this is decision where they made a decision for themselves and as a state we need to work with local authorities to honor those decisions and work together as a team," Garcia said.
Republican incumbent Ducey said he does not understand why Pima County would reject federal funding.
"Funding is scarce in this state. Public safety is a top priority. They should accept those dollars and protect this county, Ducey said."
Pima County is the largest border county to turn down the federal funding.
The debate, sponsored by Arizona Public Media, KJZZ and the Arizona Daily Star, was the second in two days, and the final time the Republican and Democrat running for governor were scheduled to meet before Election Day, Nov. 6.