Candidates for state and local office talked about national issues including gun violence and college financial aid for undocumented "Dreamers" at the candidate accountability forum hosted by the Northern Arizona Interfaith Council Monday night.
The forum, held at the Flagstaff Federated Community Church, drew a crowd of about 200 people to listen to what candidates planned to do about those issues. All candidates for Flagstaff City Council and mayor were in attendance, and Legislative District 6 Democratic candidates Nikki Bagley and Alex Martinez attended. Incumbent Republicans Sylvia Allen, Brenda Barton and Bob Thorpe did not attend.
Organizers said candidates were briefed on the questions and the format ahead of time, and each person was given a minute to respond to each of the questions.
Bagley said her family enjoys hunting, and her husband, a law enforcement officer, is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.
“This puts me in a unique position to make progress,” Bagley said.
Bagley said in order to combat gun violence, she would work in the state senate to integrate databases of prohibited possessors for easy access for law enforcement officers.
Martinez said in his years as a teacher, he had two instances of students bringing weapons to school and teachers having to de-escalate the situation. He said he does not support previous attempts to allow guns into schools, but said he does support the right to bear arms.
All Council and mayoral candidates said they would support de-escalation training for police officers and other occupations who interact with the public, and many said they had seen the effects of de-escalation as a lifesaving measure.
“I have had the unfortunate experience of having to call two fathers and tell them their sons had been killed in Flagstaff,” Mayor Jerry Nabours said. “If someone involved in the shooting at NAU had said, ‘Wait a minute, let’s all take a breath,’ the shooting might never have happened.”
Mayoral candidate Coral Evans said she would like to see training provided to all city employees as well as sessions for the public.
“The more people with these skills, the better community we have,” Evans said.
Both Martinez and Bagley said restoring funds to public education would be a priority if elected.
“You can’t attract high-paying jobs if you don’t have an educated workforce,” Martinez said. “We have to restore funding, not just to public schools, but to community colleges and universities. The best investment you can make is in human capital.”
Bagley said education funding and support are nonpartisan issues, and said she has heard from business leaders and educators that education must be funded.
“As a teacher at a community college, this issue is very close to my heart,” Bagley said. “I will work tirelessly to restore funding.”
City council candidates were asked if they would commit to a city partnership to provide early childhood education in Flagstaff.
Candidate Jamie Whelan said she would like to see more of an emphasis on early childhood education, and said she would like to build consensus on the council about being good partners with the school district and other educational organizations in the city.
Candidate Adam Shimoni said he would support a city collaboration for early childhood education, and said his student teaching experience in Flagstaff -- and how disappointed he was at the state of education in Arizona -- was one of the reasons he wanted to run for city council in the first place.
Councilman Jeff Oravits said he has supported the council’s allocations to the FACTS program in FUSD, which provides after school programs. However, he said he would not want to commit to spending extra city money without looking at the entire budget and seeing if the choice would be economically feasible.
Candidate Charlie Odegaard said he would support a partnership because it is disappointing to see Arizona continuously near the bottom of lists in funding by state. Odegaard said he would like to continue to support the FACTS program and help it grow.
Candidate Jim McCarthy said early childhood education is critical for child development, and said he would like to expand and build on existing programs.
“Should we as a city be involved in a new major effort for pre-kindergarten? “ McCarthy asked. “If the community wants it I would support it, but we might need new taxes to pay for it.”
Councilwoman Karla Brewster said if there is room in the city’s budget, she would like to see an increased focus on the early grades, but said the money to fund such a program would have to come from a new tax or new revenue source.
Financial aid for Dreamers
Bagley said she would be happy to meet with the Board of Regents to discuss higher education access options.
Arizona is one of three states with laws that deny in-state tuition to undocumented students, which also makes them ineligible for state scholarships.
But the Regents have voted to treat undocumented students with work visas under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as state residents for the purpose of tuition. The so-called Dreamers, who arrived in the United States as children with undocumented parents, still remain ineligible for most types of financial aid.
“We need to see that as a wonderful and valuable asset,” Bagley said.
Martinez said he would also meet with the Board of Regents because he did not want to see more roadblocks for students who want to get high-paying jobs and contribute to society.
“They add great diversity,” Martinez said.
Nabours said he personally contributes to scholarships at NAU and CCC, but said he did not want to commit city money to a plan without knowing the details of what would be done. He said he would be willing to look at any program suggested.
Evans said she has already worked with groups representing Dreamers, many of whom struggle to pay even in-state tuition without access to financial aid.
“It’s horrific,” Evans said. “We have kids we’ve invested in and they can’t go to school, not because they’re not trying -- they’re trying their hardest.”