TUCSON, AZ (TUCSON NEWS NOW) - When the Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey offered teachers a 1 percent pay raise during his budget presentation in January 2018, many educators took it as an insult.
That led to a mass walkout in April dubbed #RedforEd, which resulted in Ducey promising a 20 percent hike by 2020.
Still, the tension between the governor’s office and teachers remains, spilling into the campaign.
An initiative, which would have increased taxes on the wealthy to pay more for education, was destined for the ballot after getting 257,000 signatures, but a legal challenge and state high court ruling yanked it from the ballot.
Yet another reason many teachers feel shortchanged.
One of those is Democratic candidate David Garcia, who said the lack of attention to education by the state is why he’s running.
“More than anything the foundation of our economy, the foundation of our American dream is quality public education,” Garcia said. “It’s under attack here in Arizona, and I wanted to step up and do something about it.”
Gov. Ducey counters he is doing something about it.
“I’m not here saying everything is perfect in K through 12 education,” he said. “I’m saying there have been real measurable signs of progress.”
When it comes to the best way to rev up the Arizona economy, Ducey and Garcia present a contrast in styles.
“We’ve got this economy growing again and I want to ramp it up,” Ducey said. “I think we’re just getting started. We have a very big hole to dig out of. Now we’re winning that business, we’re winning these jobs."
Garcia is not as optimistic about the pace of economic growth in the state and said what Arizona is experiencing is just an extension of the rest of the country.
“Arizona is growing and the rest of the country is growing as well,” he said. “But other states, California, Utah, Colorado, for instance, are growing faster than we are.”
But he also believes reversing that trend boils down to a long-term strategy.
“If we want to, with respect to a high tech economy, want to walk the walk and talk the talk with respect to bringing jobs here, the foundation for that is education,” he said. “The biggest investment we can make is in an education.”
For Ducey, the strategy is luring companies which are not happy with their state governments to Arizona.
“I say there’s going to be no special favors for you in Arizona, but we’re not going to pull the rug out from under you,” he said. “We’re going to make sure you have an attractive tax climate, you have a reduction in regulations.”
Both men agree the current political climate is vitriolic.
“I would say the whole political environment right now, how toxic things are, concerns me,” Ducey said. “You can’t believe everything you see on the Internet, or Facebook or Twitter and you can’t believe everything you see on those commercials as well.”
Garcia would like to tone down things too.
“It’s hard to get enthusiastic when you turn on television and it’s attack ad after attack ad,” he said. “My daughters have seen the ads, we show them the attack ads so they had a good idea what to expect and they know they’re not true.”
Border security is an issue for both and they share a common concern.
One third of southern Arizona’s economy depends on commerce with Mexico.
Ducey said he has improved trade relations with Mexico, leading a delegation to Mexico City soon after his election in 2014. But he feels there needs to be a balance between trade and security.
“In terms of us using our border relationship to benefit our economy is altogether possible, but it has got to begin with border security and public safety for Arizonans,” he said.
However, Garcia said politics threaten that trade relationship and security on the border.
“The border is a resource for Arizona because of our economic relationship,” he said. “But as long as this issue is used to divide people, as long as immigration is used as a fear issue, we’re not going to get policies than can have an impact."
Both agree the prolific growth of charter schools in Arizona needs to be investigated.
Charter schools began to blossom in Arizona more than 20 years ago and now the state leads the nation.
“We need some transparency and accountability in charter schools,” Garcia. said “We have put a profit moving into education and Arizona is ground zero for that.”
Reports that some charter school CEOs are making millions of dollars has even the governor concerned.
“I want to dig into that and I want to better understand that,” Ducey said. “That part of it doesn’t sit well with me.”
Ducey is running for his second term. This is Garcia’s first run for governor following a failed bid in 2014 for superintendent of public instruction.