PIMA COUNTY, AZ ( Tucson News Now) - More than 300 people packed into Most Holy Trinity Church on the westside of Tucson to learn where several candidates stand on education this election season.
Pima County Interfaith Council hosted candidates running for the state legislature, attorney general and Pima Community College's governing board. Before candidates could address the crowd, several speakers shared stories to provide personal accounts of larger issues regarding education in Pima County and Arizona.
Organizers stressed that the event was not a debate, but rather an opportunity for candidates to engage voters on important issues. The structure of the session kept candidates from straying off topic, according to Rev. Leah Sandwell-Weiss, from St. Phillips in the Hills Episcopal Church. The moderator asked two candidates to get back on topic Sunday.
Members of PCIC handed out scorecards for the candidates. The blanks were filled in the same for all candidates, but the men and women running for office said that does not make them indistinguishable.
Legislative District 9
After the session ended, all three candidates wanting to represent Legislative District 9 answered a few extra questions.
Democratic challenger Dr. Randall Friese said being new to the State House would not stop him from working for the people he represents. In reference to the state's low national rankings in education, Friese said it's important for legislators to focus on public schools.
"Those are where we've been failing," he said. "Public education is the one that advances opportunities for all Arizonans."
All three candidates agreed that the state needs to repay hundreds of millions of dollars to Arizona schools. Republican Representative Ethan Orr said it's important to first meet with teachers, parents, students and administrators to understand how the money will be used and where it is needed most.
"So when we do restore the 300 million dollars, we do it in an educated and intelligent way.," he said. "We're not just throwing money at a problem. "
Most of the candidates on stage Sunday said having less than three minutes to talk can make it tough to truly connect with a crowd. Sunday's talking points covered education, but Democratic Representative Victoria Steele said she would have liked a little more time so the speakers could address higher education in Southern Arizona.
"That's what we have that's going to build our job creation," said Steele. "That's what we need to do. We need to support our universities."
As candidates and concerned citizens filed out of Sunday's accountability session, Father Tom Tureman, of Most Holy Trinity Church, said what matters more than what was said during the event is the need for voters to hold their leaders accountable once they're in office.
"As citizens we're going to keep them on base with this," he said. "They are going to have to answer to use if they fail on these commitments so it's active citizenship, which is what we're all about."