It’s a sunny Thursday afternoon in bustling downtown Tempe, and Tim Pomeroy is relaxed at a coffee shop reading a newspaper. In terms of East Valley politics, he sits at the crossroads — the place where urban liberalism runs head first into suburban conservatism.
For years, voters in this legislative district have consistently sent a mix of Democrats and Republicans to the Legislature. And typically, every two years, the district produces some of the few competitive political races in the East Valley.
But for Pomeroy, 36, a registered independent, the politics of parties don’t matter much in Tuesday’s election. He reflected a common view among voters across the political spectrum, regardless of where they live in the East Valley: that this year’s midterm election has evolved into a referendum on the war in Iraq and which party will control Congress.
“Yeah, there’s lots of reasons to vote this year, but the war is obviously the top one,” he said.
That’s led him to watch the congressional races more closely this year than in past election cycles.
While he believes a change in leadership in Congress is in order, he’s not sure a change would shift the direction of the war.
“The lines between the two parties have become so skewed they’re almost irrelevant,” he said.
This marks a sharp shift in public opinion from several months ago, when it appeared illegal immigration would dominate voters’ decisions.
BORDER ISSUES LINGER
Massive marches of hundreds of thousands of immigrants in American streets as the nation’s top lawmakers toured the Mexican border were big news stories. Likewise, talking heads debated the issue ad nauseum on cable television.
While immigration is still among the top reasons voters are marching off to the polls on Tuesday, the dozens of voters contacted by the Tribune across the East Valley mostly agreed their interests lie in two areas — which party controls Congress and the war in Iraq.
For most of them, the two issues are closely tied.
For Chandler resident Kylla Headrick, 21, it’s nearly the only reason to vote. Two years ago, she voted for President Bush. But the war has changed her opinion, and she now thinks sending Democrats to Washington would send a message that there needs to be a change.
“I think we need to withdraw,” said Headrick, who is an office manager. “I think we should be out. There’s no reason we should be in another country.”
Although many voters see the war as the top issue, that doesn’t mean they all agree Democrats should to be given control of Congress. Leah Polasik, 52, a born-again Christian and artist living in Mesa, has concerns about the direction of the war but believes Republicans should continue to lead the country. “I’m very leery of what these liberal Democrats want to take away from us,” she said.
Specifically, she is concerned Democrats would botch the war as well as strip the country of its religious freedoms. “They want to try and take religion out of the system,” she said.
POWER OF THE INDEPENDENTS
Arizona State University professor Bruce Merrill attributed the focus on this year’s midterm election and control of Congress to the general mood of the country.
“Basically, people feel the country’s gotten off on the wrong track,” he said Friday. “But it’s not like Democrats are offering any good alternatives.”
Merrill said he believes this year’s elections will be decided by the state’s fastest growing voter block: independents. According to his research, Merrill said most independents are breaking 2-1 for Democrats. That, he said, could make up for the 160,000-deficit in registered voters between Democrats and Republicans in the state.
Although the debate about the war has captured the attention of most voters, there were still strong points of view expressed on a wide range of other issues relating to immigration and this year’s various ballot propositions.
Although not the pre-eminent issue that it was several months ago, illegal immigration was still on the minds of potential voters throughout the East Valley.
Most want something done to stem the flow of illegal immigrants crossing the state’s southern border with Mexico. In addition, most voters also favor some sort of guestworker program for the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal immigrants already living here.
“It’s difficult if you’re going to be serious about the issue,” said John DiStefano, 80, of Chandler. “But the borders have to be protected.”
DiStefano, a retired engineer and consultant, said he doesn’t vote a straight party ticket and prefers to see some sort of bipartisan deal cut between the two major political parties.
‘TOO MUCH HOMEWORK’
While voters want their leadership to act on immigration, they will have the chance to enact change by voting on this year’s numerous ballot propositions — 19 of them to be exact.
Denise Kedziora, 50, of Chandler, expressed the frustration of many regarding the high number of ballot measures this year.
“It’s just too much homework,” she said. “It’s like taking a test.”
But Kedziora, who was shopping Thursday at a Mesa mall, said she was mainly interested in Proposition 107, also known as Protect Marriage Arizona. Although she’s not completely made up her mind, Kedziora, a registered Republican, is “leaning toward voting yes.”
MUCH ADO ABOUT MARRIAGE
Of all the propositions, the so-called gay marriage ban was one of the most talked about on East Valley streets. In short, if the measure passes it would amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
Supporters say it protects the sanctity of marriage while its opponents argue it would deny domestic partnership benefits to heterosexual couples who live together but are not married.
But most were not teetering on the issue. When asked, most voters were either strongly for or against the measure.
“They’re trying to suppress a particular group of people,” said Alison Cook, a 28-year-old law student at ASU. “I think it’s insulting they call this Protect Marriage Arizona.”
While East Valley voters were quick to sound off on all the various issues in this year’s election, noticeably absent from the ongoing political debates was the race for governor. Most had to be reminded and asked directly about the contest for the state’s top elected position.
Mesa resident Meg Stark, 26, said the race between incumbent Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and GOP nominee Len Munsil was lost amid the noise of other races.
To explain why the normally high-profile race has been lost in the shuffle, Stark suggested: “Maybe because we’re not being bombarded in television commercials.”