With only two more days to cast their ballots, Mesa voters can expect a change in the composition of the Mesa Public Schools Governing Board.
But voter registration numbers suggest any shakeup in the city’s delegation to the State Legislature – where three of the four districts covering the city are solidly Republican – could be an entirely different matter.
Spending this year by independent organizations on legislative races suggests none of those groups regardless of their political persuasion expects a change in the legislative delegation.
Unlike political action committees and candidate’s own campaign finance statements, independent organizations do not have to disclose the source of the funds they spend on ads and other support for or against a candidate.
This year, those organizations of all political stripes and causes have flooded Arizona with a reported total of more than $55 million, spending it on mailers and other forms of advertising in support of or opposition to individual candidates as well as the two initiatives on the Nov. 3 ballot.
The Arizona Capitol times recently reported such spending totals more than $55 million – much of it coming from liberal and conservative organizations headquartered outside the state.
Beyond the presidential and U.S. Senate races in Arizona, those organizations have spent more than $16 million advocating the passage of Prop 208, which imposes an income tax on wealthy earners to support public education. Groups advocating its defeat have ponied up $5.1 million.
By stark contrast, independent groups have spent only $200 advocating passage of Prop 207, which legalizes the sale and possession of recreational marijuana. Not a dime has been spent in opposition.
When it comes to the state legislative districts, independent organizations have been highly selective in where they put their bucks.
Independent organizations have poured more than $2.5 million into a single East Valley race – the Senate race in LD17, which represents south Chandler, Sun Lakes and part of Gilbert.
In Republican Sen. J.D. Mesnard’s race against furniture store owner, Democrat Ajlan AJ Kurdoglu, independent groups have spent $1.2 million so far against Mesnard and $616,000 on his behalf. They also have spent $409,194 against Kurdoglu and $309,273 for him.
Compare that to independent organizations’ spending on all four Mesa legislative districts – which totals $358,785.
And much of that – $158,654 – went to advertising for and against LD25 Republican Rep. Michelle Udall, who won a fiercely contested primary election. Independent groups supporting her – or urging her defeat in favor of a more conservative GOP hopeful – each spent a little more than $79,000.
The candidate who has attracted the most independent organization spending after that is Rep. Mitzi Epstein in the all-blue LD18, which covers parts of Mesa, Tempe and Chandler and all of Ahwatukee. Independent groups have spent $99,968 on her behalf and none against her.
But independent groups are largely ignoring LD25 in the general election.
Udall entered the third quarter spending $234 more than the $68,934 donated directly to her campaign through Sept. 30, records show.
Suzanne Hug, the only Democrat running for two House seats there, reported direct donations to her campaign totaling $65,246 and spending $28,433. Independent organizations spent $1,073 on Hug’s behalf and nothing against her campaign.
In the other LD25 House race, independent groups spent $33,402 advocating for Republican House Leader Rusty Bowers, who also collected $184,678 in direct donations and spending $94,673 through Sept. 30. No independent group has spent money against him.
Bowers’ haul in direct donations is exceeded among all Mesa legislative candidates only by LD18 Sen. Sean Bowie of Ahwatukee, whose war chest totaled $198,695 through the first three quarters of the year.
LD25 Sen. Tyler Pace collected $21,300 in direct donations and has spent $7,500 while attracting $902 in independent spending on his behalf and nothing against his campaign.
Independent groups have shied away from any spending for or against Pace’s challenger – Democrat Paul Weigel, who spent all but $10,000 of a war chest totaling $47,698 through Sept. 30.
Much of the other independent organization spending went to candidates in LD26 and LD18, both solidly Democrat.
The exception is LD16 political newcomer Jacqueline Parker, a Republican running with incumbent Republican John Fillmore.
Independent groups have spent $21,592 advocating for Parker’s bid to succeed Kelly Townsend in the House and nothing in opposition to her.
Meanwhile, independent groups are ignoring Townsend, who collected $43,786 in direct contributions through Sept. 30 and spent $39,828 in her bid to succeed retiring Dave Farnsworth in the Senate.
While Townsend has been a conservative firebrand in the House, no independent organization has spent a penny for or against her Senate bid.
That could be because her challengers are three write-in candidates. Two did not collect enough donations to meet the threshold minimum for reporting their campaign finances. The other write-in, independent Dr. Nick Fierro, reported a war chest of $3,384.
Among other candidates in Mesa legislative districts who have attracted some interest from independent organizations are LD26.
Independent organization spending benefited Democratic Rep Athena Salmon and her running mate, newcomer Melody Hernandez. Those groups spent $21,156 to support Salmon and $10,408 in favor of Hernandez and nothing against them.
In that district, Republican challengers Bill Loughrige and Seth Fuentes have amassed $24,125 and $47,338, respectively, in direct contributions but have attracted no support from independent groups and only $6 in opposition advertising.
Likewise, independent organizations have shied away from the LD26 Senate race, where Democratic Sen. Juan Mendez has amassed $45,256 in direct contributions as he fends off a challenge by Republican Jae Chin, who reported collecting $10,250.
Compared to the money spent in legislative races in Mesa, cash in the Mesa Public Schools Governing Board race is modest, although donations to four of the six candidates total $67,774.
In that election, only incumbent Kiana Marie Sears is seeking another term while board President Elaine Minor and member Steven Peterson are both retiring after 12 years of service.
Sears and Cara Lee Schnepf Steiner, a retired MPS teacher and elementary school principal, reported taking no donations and spending nothing.
Among the others, Lara Ellingson, a former full-time Mesa Public Schools teacher and current substitute teacher in the district, pulled in $27,563 and spent $8,194, according to her latest filing with the County Recorder.
Not far behind her in fundraising is Joseph O’Reilly, director of the Arizona State University Decision Center for Educational Excellence who spent 30 years as director of MPS’s Research and Evaluation Department and Student Achievement Support. He reported $25,808 in total donations and $4,490 in expenditures.
Richard Crandall, a former Mesa Governing Board member and Mesa legislator, reported raising $14,320 and spending $3,793 while Vikki Johnson, physician liaison for her family’s practice, Advanced Hearing Group, raised $2,053 and spent $1,375.
None of the Mesa Public School candidates, however, compare in fundraising to Ahwatukee resident and longtime educator Dr. Linda Thor, who is seeking another term on the board for the Maricopa County Community College District.
Thor, who served as president of Rio Salado College for 20 years, is facing a challenge by Shelli Boggs of Queen Creek. Boggs, a former member of the East Valley Institute of Technology Governing Board, has gained notoriety for posing on social media with an assault rifle.
Thor reported raising a whopping $50,314 while Boggs reported zero.
The other election on the ballot that Mesa voters will be weighing in on is Question 1, where the city is seeking approval for a $100 million bond to improve and develop streets.
The transportation bond will underwrite projects mainly, but not entirely, in southeast Mesa, a hot spot for residential, commercial and industrial development.
Mesa Mayor John Giles, Mesa Chamber of Commerce CEO Sally Harrison, ex-city manager Mike Hutchinson and other advocates are selling the bond issue as a necessary and modest investment in the future.
They also note taxpayers will get a lot of bang for their buck, with $100 million bond issue growing by $62 million in regional reimbursements from Proposition 400, which returns sales tax revenue to Mesa.