/ Modified aug 23, 2019 4:39 p.m.

Voting in 2020, hepatitis A outbreak, Purple Heart recipient

Plus, breaking down the top issues ahead of Tucson's primary election.

After voter turnout for the 2018 midterm elections broke records in Arizona, new voter registration numbers suggest that momentum may carry into 2020. According to the Arizona Secretary of State’s office, registration increased by 50,000 between April and July, raising the total to 3.8 million voters. Arizona 360 heard from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs about her priorities ahead of the next presidential election including elections system security.

“We have been really focused on making sure we have the security measures in place to prevent tampering,” Hobbs said. “We’re working with the counties to get them some of the federal funds our office received for security enhancement.”

Hobbs also said her office is reaching out to election leaders across the state in an effort to rebuild relationships that she said had deteriorated during the previous administration.

“I don’t want to second guess the actions that the previous administration took. But as somebody observing from the outside and things that have come up since I’ve been in place, we’ve just heard the previous administration just kind of came in and laid down the law and didn’t necessarily see it as a partnership,” Hobbs said. “We’re just trying to shift that focus back to being a partnership.”

Despite being the first Democrat to hold the post in more than 20 years, Hobbs said she is not interested in allowing partisan politics shape her approach.

“The chief election officer of the state should be nonpartisan, otherwise it looks like you’re putting a thumb on the scale in terms of elections.”

Elections officials in Tucson are preparing for this month’s vote-by-mail primary. The results will determine which Democratic candidate for mayor will advance to the general election in November. For insight into some issues catching voters’ attention, we turned to Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller.

“I would think the voter wants someone who’s going to spur Tucson toward the next step in its recovery or growth. We had a really hard time due to the Recession,” Steller said.

Steller also said November’s election will likely grab the Arizona Legislature’s attention if the sanctuary city initiative passes.

“It’s been a habit of the Legislature to watch the cities and essentially pre-empt whatever bills or ordinances that come out of the city that they think violate state law,” Steller said. “The second it passes there will be challenges to it. We can expect conflict.”

While Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state, recent polls indicate the potential for a blue wave in 2020. That’s according to Samara Klar, a political scientist with the University of Arizona School of Government and Public Policy, who discussed what factors signal that the state is turning purple.

“A lot of people aren’t all that happy with their existing party. And that’s going to work in the underdog’s favor. Republicans really need to fight to keep people enthusiastic about their party. What we’ve seen since the beginning of Trump’s administration is a declining approval rate among Arizonans,” Klar said. “Most of what we’re seeing in Arizona is national level discourse, which is pretty negative.”

Pima County is taking steps to end an outbreak of hepatitis A that has led to more than 220 cases so far this year. It’s a sharp rise from the dozen or so cases the county typically tracks annually. Hepatitis A is a viral disease that affects the liver and can take months to recover from. Three cases this year were fatal. Paula Mandel, deputy director of the Pima County Health Department, explained how the virus is spread and how the county is responding.

“We started seeing our numbers increase in November of last year. We’re almost a year into this outbreak. And that’s concerning for us. We have been trying to help protect those who are at risk and our community, but we’re only at 60% vaccination rate. We still have a lot of work to do,” Mandel said.

Mandel said the goal is to get to achieve a 90% vaccination rate. Other than the vaccine, Mandel said hand-washing after using the bathroom or before eating can help prevent the virus from spreading. Groups in Pima County most impacted by hepatitis A include the homeless and people dealing with substance abuse.

Since the fiscal year began for Customs and Border Protection in October, the agency has apprehended more than 400,000 family units from Central America and Mexico. In our continuing coverage of the surge, we heard from Megan Carney, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Arizona School of Anthropology, about how the advent of neoliberalism in Central America 40 years ago led to the conditions that many people are fleeing today.

“There’s been a slow building up of migration since around that time. These are policies that actually trace to neoliberal ideas of trade liberalization, privatization of basic services, deregulation of markets that have increasingly displaced people from rural livelihoods in Central America and rural Mexico. At the same time these policies have created a demand for a source of cheap, surplus labor,” Carney said. “I think it’s really important that when we talk about transnational migration that we’re not thinking of it as necessarily an individual’s decision to search for a better life which is how it’s often framed. But instead thinking of it as a necessary strategy for survival required by our global economy.”

A World War II veteran who survived a crash-landing 76 years ago finally received a Purple Heart for his bravery on the battlefield. Walter Ram was 16 when he decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps and served during the war as a radio operator and gunner on a heavy bomber in Europe. Arizona 360 attended a ceremony at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base where Sen. Martha McSally presented Ram with a Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster. Her office advocated on Ram’s behalf after his family first contacted the then-congresswoman in late 2017.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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