For voters in many East Valley legislative districts, this year’s primary election season is a real snoozer. But District 18 in Mesa and District 20 in west Chandler, south Tempe and Ahwatukee Foothills stand in stark contrast; those districts’ Republican primaries are crowded and lively.
Although both districts are strongly Republican, recent Tribune-sponsored public forums brought out some sharp differences among candidates — not only in views but in style.
In District 18, the two-way race for the GOP Senate nomination and six-way race for the two House-seat nominations have attracted particular interest because three veteran legislators are running — though two are hoping to swap seats to skirt term limits. Sen. Mark Anderson is running for Rep. Karen Johnson’s House seat; she’s hoping to replace Anderson in the Senate.
Mary Jo Vecchiarelli, former Mesa High School principal and wife of Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker, also is seeking the Senate seat, and is running on a double pledge that she not only will uphold bedrock conservative principles but will be more effective than Johnson at resolving differences among rancorous legislators.
Rep. Russell Pearce, technically the only incumbent, also is being challenged on the effectiveness issue, with several candidates pointing out that Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano managed to get her budget through a GOP-controlled Legislature — and even though Pearce chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Anderson, meanwhile, is under attack for his support for a state-sponsored marriage-strengthening program that other candidates insist is not a legitimate function of government.
In District 20, meanwhile, incumbent Sen. Slade Mead is being challenged by Rep. John Huppenthal for working too closely with Democrats to grease the skids for Napolitano’s budget. Indeed, after two years in office, Mead’s politics and support from unions and the public school establishment align him more closely with Democrats than his fellow Republicans. But Mead’s "bipartisanship" message clearly appeals to many voters of both parties who applauded the budget deal.
The five-way GOP House race is also fascinating, with Rep. Bob Robson likely to keep his seat but John McComish, with whom he’s campaigning jointly, is less assured of the other seat. Other contenders range from Anton Orlich on the right to Linda Wegener on the left.
The contests in these two districts prove that even though the East Valley leans to the right, voters can still enjoy some meaningful choices.