Tonight, Flagstaff will host its first-ever gubernatorial debate. Each candidate will spend 15 minutes in an interview-style forum with the moderator, fielding questions gathered from an online poll. The event will take place at the Cline Library Assembly Hall at Northern Arizona University. Doors open at 5:15 p.m. and the event begins at 5:30. It’s free and open to the public and will go until 8 p.m. To become part of the debate, take the Gallup poll at www.thearizonawewant.org/azpoll.
Seven of the nine candidates vying for the governor’s office will be in attendance: Republicans Scott Smith, Ken Bennett, Christine Jones and Frank Riggs; as well as Democrat Fred DuVal, Libertarian Barry Hess and John Mealer of Americans Elect. Republicans Doug Ducey and Andrew Thomas will not be in attendance.
The forum is being hosted by several local organizations along with two Flagstaff City Council members. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius recently spoke with Flagstaff Vice Mayor Coral Evans and Councilman Jeff Oravits about the event’s significance to northern Arizona.
Jeff Oravits: Not only is this most likely, as far as we can tell, the first gubernatorial forum to be held in Flagstaff, but as far as we can see, this is also probably the last forum that’s going to happen before the primary election of August 26. So, the hope is and the thought is that Flagstaff and rural Arizona is going to have an impact, especially what is on the Republican side, a very, very close primary that ultimately could be won by one or two percentage points.
Ryan Heinsius: What does it say about northern Arizona’s relevance to state politics that this debate happened and a vast majority of the candidates are going to show up?
Coral Evans: I think the candidates themselves understand the closeness of this race, understand the importance of coming up to northern Arizona, and having a presence here and making sure that the voters here know where they stand on certain important issues.
RH: And, like you said, Jeff, as far as anybody can tell this is the first debate on a gubernatorial level that’s ever happened in Flagstaff and northern Arizona. Why now?
JO: Well, I think it goes to show that there’s an increasing influence not only of Flagstaff on a state political level but also just rural Arizona. And especially when it comes to close races people realize that they’ve go to get outside of that, let’s call it the Maricopa bubble, and come up here and reach out to voters.
RH: The two of you have often been on opposing sides of issues in the Flagstaff City Council. What does it mean for two people who come from different ends of the ideological spectrum to come together to host this debate?
JO: It says we’ve got to come together. We don’t always agree. Sometimes people don’t like to hear the compromise word in politics, but nobody can ever get 100 percent of everything they want and we have to move the ball forward.
CE: And I think it also shows that there is common ground to be found. Certainly, Jeff and I have different backgrounds. We approach challenges and issue s differently. We have different opinions about a wide variety of things. But, I think this also shows that we do have things that are in common: we both love Flagstaff, we both love the political process, we both think that people should have access to all the information that they need to make the decision that they need to make.
RH: Can you each briefly summarize what issues you think are the most important ones that will come up in this debate?
CE: So, I think in this debate some of the issues that are going to be extremely important have to definitely do with water and water security. I think that forest health is a big issue, especially after the forest fires that we’ve seen. I think economic development and jobs. And, where are we? Are we out of this recession or not? And if we are, how come it’s not affecting me in a positive way, right? So, I think those are going to be huge things. Here in northern Arizona, especially Flagstaff, affordable housing is a big, big issue as well as education and the fact that at least when it comes to higher education, the concept of having and education that is as close to free as possible doesn’t seem to be a reality for most people.
JO: Yeah, I would agree with all of those. I think economic issues are huge. A lot of people feel like, “Yeah, the recession ended, but did it for a lot of folks in Arizona and northern Arizona in particular?” So, how does the next governor bring jobs to Arizona? And also, water issues are huge for this state and in particular even for us here in Flagstaff. So, finding solutions for that. I’m sure there’s going to be issues — being a border state — border issues is huge on the radar right now.
RH: What’s at stake in this governor’s race?
CE: The State of Arizona. I mean, literally, what is at stake — what is at stake in this governor’s race, at least for me as an individual, is the future of Arizona, the reputation of Arizona. Is Arizona moving forward? Is Arizona becoming stronger? Is Arizona becoming a place that’s going to attract not only the top talent and the top jobs, but it’s also going to retain the top talents and the top jobs here in Arizona. I’m a third-generation Arizona native, and I think for me, deep down inside, what is at stake in this race is truly the heart and soul of Arizona.
JE: We are selecting Arizona’s next governor, and Flagstaff and northern Arizona is about to have a huge part in that. This is the person that not only the state looks to but folks around the nation. We’ve seen in the past couple years some of the hot-button issues — people look at this person, whoever the governor is, they are the leader of our state and they have the power of their pen to veto bills or sign them into law. That’s huge and we’re going to have to make sure, pay attention. That’s why this forum is great because, you know, you hear a lot of the political ads and you see a lot of the rhetoric, but when you really get into a conversation for 15 minutes with someone, you start getting a sense of that person and you can do more research after that and hopefully make the best decision.