By: Ben Kane (Print Editor and Chief)
Despite being a historically solid red state that has produced two presidential nominees since 1964, Arizona’s midterm elections are expecting to be contentious and highly influential.
Democrats have yet to hold a critical post in Arizona governance since 2009, when two-term Democratic governor Janet Napolitano resigned to become President Obama’s secretary of Homeland Security. However, the party is trying to change that this November.
Democrats are attempting to unseat Republican Governor Doug Ducey with a progressive, Bernie Sanders-aligned candidate David Garcia, who is leading with immigration and education policy reform.
AZ Central, a news source which has been extensively covering the Arizona elections, shows Ducey has a comfortable lead with less than a week until the election. He’s become increasingly popular with voters since his time in office, garnering the electorate’s attention with his education and border security policy.
Republican Arizonans were impressed by Ducey’s handling of a state-wide teacher walkout that occurred in the spring, which led to legislation that gave teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020. Jake Rolph, a registered Republican, said that was a critical moment in Ducey’s administration which led to a lot of support from his base. “To me, he got something done, I know it took a while, but in the end, he got something passed through, and I feel like that’s something that we really needed instead of just juggling it around and putting it off.”
However, Garcia is hoping to hop on to the public’s interest on education by outlining the lack of public education funding across the state. He traveled throughout Arizona in a converted school bus, trying to rile up Republicans with a major education concern, and called out Ducey for spotty education funding. “At the end of Doug Ducey’s administration, 75,000 teachers walked out because we are still one of the last in the country in education,” Garcia said during the first debate. “They were demanding more, and they did not get what they were demanding”.
In spite of these efforts by Garcia of pandering to an issue important to the electorate, he still sees himself in a hole coming into the homestretch of the election. One demographic he’s assuredly going to target, however, are two polar opposites of each other: both immigrant Latinos upset with Ducey’s support of Trump’s immigration stance, and law enforcement, who has been getting more upset with Ducey’s controversial border security stance.
In 2015, Ducey installed a Border Strike Force, meant to patrol all of the state’s highways on the border for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, after 82 million dollars in funding, statistics show that the BSF is only actually patrolling 20 hours a day, leaving local law enforcement agencies to pick up the slack. Leon Wilmot, sheriff of Yuma County, described the issues his departments had been having with the BSF despite it’s massive funding. “Our agencies respond to call after call on the highways and interstates because [Department of Public Safety] is not available. Each time DPS creates a new task force or special program it detracts from highway safety which is their primary mission.” Despite this, Ducey has continued to back the Strike Force, adding a 2.9 million dollar boost in July and constantly throwing support behind the program.
“This team has demonstrated what can be accomplished when the federal, state and local departments and agencies work together for the good of all Americans,” Ducey said. “We’re taking the fight directly with the drug cartels and human smugglers and we’re getting results.”
However, many doubt the exact results and how they got them. A public record regarding the statistics of the Border Strike Force contradict what Ducey’s administration claimed. An article written in Arizona Public Media detailed the contradictions between the administration’s data and the data found in the public records release. “Ducey said the strike force made ‘more than 300 arrests and seized 4,400 pounds of marijuana, 194 pounds of meth and 21 pounds of heroin’ from operations since September until his speech in January,” the story writes.
However, the data that the article provided said that only 51 arrests had been made in that time span. No discernible amounts of heroin or meth had showed up in the 800-page data set, and it only registered 1,685 pounds of marijuana being seized- not over 4,000, which was what the administration reported.
Garcia hopped onto these discrepancies during the gubernatorial debates and hopes to carry them into the election, as Ducey’s administration holding back the court records and data about the BSF drawing the ire of law enforcement and legal scholars alike.
However, the bottom line is that Ducey is holding a steady lead heading into the election. He and other Republicans running statewide have the same geographic strategy. “For Republicans, the traditional map to victory is to run up the vote count in Maricopa, hold rural Arizona and minimize the loss in Pima County,” Hank Stephenson and Jim Nintzel write in Politico. Pima County is the constant liberal section of Arizona that Garcia needs to win big in to have a chance in the election. Maricopa County is the main battleground which generally runs conservative, but holds liberal parts mainly in the cities of Phoenix and Tempe.
The generally red Arizona seems primed to re-elect a Republican governor. However, David Garcia is poised to put up a strong fight and lead attempts to turn Arizona, if not blue, at least purple.