As voters head to the polls Tuesday to vote in East Valley legislative primaries, their choices are mostly among candidates with nearly identical political beliefs.
The overwhelmingly Republican districts feature conservative candidates who tout endorsements, work experience or their life stories to set themselves apart.
In the District 19 House Republican primary, newcomers Scott Perkinson and Justin Olson are hoping to join House Speaker Kirk Adams as the two representatives for the Mesa district.
Perkinson is backed by Adams and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. While Olson lacks an endorsement from Adams, he’s supported by Sen. Russell Pearce and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Olson said he was motivated to run because of his knowledge of government spending through his research analyst rob at the Arizona Tax Research Association. The job, which he left to run for office, makes him the most able candidate to actually cut state spending, Olson said.
“I’ve been in the fight, defending the taxpayer down at the Capitol,” he said.
He declined to take part in the Clean Elections system because he opposes state funding of candidates.
Perkinson is campaigning on his 27 years of business ownership, work with the Mesa United Way and being on the Mesa Planning and Zoning Board. Running a business gave him valuable knowledge of regulations as well as how to survive during economic downturns, he said.
“I feel strong that elected officials need to have more real-life experience and practical experience,” Perkinson said.
He is using Clean Elections funding, arguing that many conservative candidates have participated over the years.
Both said they did not want to defeat Adams because they were running for the position that Rep. Rich Crandall is leaving to run for the Senate.
Voters will have only newcomers to chose from in the Republican primary for the House in District 21, which encompasses Queen Creek, south Gilbert, much of Chandler and some of west Mesa.
Vanessa Whitener serves on the Higley Unified School District board and said she was prompted to run because of her experience with current lawmakers. Higley lobbied for school districts to have more flexibility with their budgets but said lawmakers wouldn’t allow that. Whitener said she’s cut spending, focusing on efficiency without cutting quality. “What sets me apart is I’m the only candidate with experience in balancing the budget,” she said.
J.D. Mesnard said his eight years as a policy advisor for the Senate make him more able to deliver on campaign promises. Newcomers tend to be frustrated in elected offices because they don’t know how the system works, he said, arguing his time in government gives unique experience.
“I know this stuff about as well as you can know it,” Mesnard said.
Tom Forese touts having no role in government.
“I’m a small business owner and I’m very concerned about where we’re headed as a state and I consider myself a real outsider,” Forese said.
He is the president of a marketing company and works for a firm that creates online educational programs for colleges and universities. Forese said that has given him experience in how government can cut costs while still providing service.
Whitener did support Proposition 100, which temporarily raised the state sales tax by a penny to fund education, public safety and health and human services. Mesnard and Forese said they voted against it. Mesnard and Forese also have endorsements from Pearce and Arpaio.
Of the six East Valley legislative districts, only one senate race features competition. District 18’s Democratic primary for Senate pits small business owner Robert McDonald against professional dog trainer Andrew Sherwood. They victor will face Pearce in a heavily Republican district in Mesa.
In addition to the competitive races in districts 19 and 21, three other districts include choices in the primary. District 17’s Republican primary features Donald Hawker and two write-in candidates: former lawmaker Steve May and Bob Bush.
District 20’s Republican primary includes former lawmaker Bob Robson, Jeff Dial and Christopher Tolino.
District 22’s Republican primary is the most competitive, with incumbent Rep. Laurin Hendrix, former lawmaker Eddie Farnsworth, former longtime Gilbert Councilman Steve Urie, and newcomers Paul Howell and Brett Petillo.