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Partisans sound off at 'Arizona We Want' session

Partisans sound off at 'Arizona We Want' session

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What kind of issues do northern Arizona residents want this year's state candidates to address?

"I would like to know what programs the candidates propose to cut so that we as a state can stay within our means," said Joy Staveley, co-owner of a river running company.

Coconino County employee Lucinda Andreani had a different take on state priorities.

"Do you believe that global warming is a real issue?" she said. "And if in fact you do believe it is a real issue, what do you think the state's role should be in addressing that issue?"

Both women were among 55 locals at an invitation-only forum Monday night at the Museum of Northern Arizona hosted by the Center for the Future of Arizona.

The forum was recorded and some questions from it will later will be put to all candidates seeking state and federal office.

Flagstaff resident Marilyn Weissman asked whether candidates would increase the income tax over other taxes, so that the wealthy would pay more in taxes overall and the would poor pay less.

Nurse Lee Harsh and United Way President Kerry Blume each asked whether politicians would be willing to increase taxes on alcohol to fund alcohol treatment programs.

Northern Arizona University anthropology professor Miguel Vasquez asked: "Do you believe that in a civilized society we're entitled to health care, or that it is a privilege for those who can afford it?"

But Staveley asked whether a state candidate would support the repeal of federal legislation requiring all to be insured by 2014, among other changes.

IGNORING THE MIDDLE?

The Center's overarching ideas are to persuade whoever is in office to focus on creating better jobs, better education, and to care for the environment, build infrastructure, and provide health insurance for all.

These goals were based on surveys of what Arizonans want.

But those who felt most strongly either for or against an issue on a scale of 1 to 5 were given greater weight, on the assumption that they are the opinion leaders and are most likely to set a community's policy direction.

That drew skepticism from Fred Solop, chair of NAU's Department of Political Science and a pollster.

"Most people are closer to the center," he said.

Solop gives the example of adamant -- but unpopular -- social groups in society. How far their beliefs vary from the norm is not a measure of how much influence they have.

"If you want to find the common ground," he said, "you can't ignore all the 1 through 4s."

EITHER/OR APPROACHES

Some of Monday's questions reflected that emphasis on either/or approaches to problems.

One woman asked whether political candidates would support deportation of children born to individuals who entered the United States illegally.

A nurse and former Flagstaff City Council candidate, Dave Arendt, asked whether candidates would support or oppose recent state legislation telling local police to arrest those they suspect are illegal immigrants, and securing the border.

"The majority of Arizonans support (the bill)," he said.

Another man asked whether politicians would support putting the measure on a ballot, for a vote of the public.

Vasquez repeatedly asked how a candidate would bring back former residents who had left the state because of the new law, and fill jobs residents don't want that have been left vacant today.

Staveley asked whether candidates would support a guest-worker program.

"Many of us feel that what we need in Arizona is a good guest-worker program," she said.

EDUCATION AND RENEWABLES

Education was the topic for many, with residents asking how a politician would improve education, decrease drop-out rates, whether current funding was adequate or not, keep early-childhood programs, fund ethnic studies, and tie teacher pay to performance or not.

Carl Ramsey, founder of a local company that builds green structures, asked what a politician would do to increase the amount of renewable energy generated in the state.

"Arizona's the No. 1 solar state in the nation," he said. "I'd like to ask the candidates what we can do to improve that and help residents benefit from that."

Andy Bessler, of the Sierra Club and Friends of Flagstaff's Future, asked what a politician would do to create green jobs, particularly with the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"You do not hear about a toxic wind spill," he said.

Others asked whether a politician would privatize Arizona's state parks and rest stops.

FINALLY, COMPROMISE?

Museum of Northern Arizona Director Bob Breunig had one of the final questions of the night:

"Are you willing to work across the aisle to find solutions to Arizona's problems, and are you willing to compromise your positions to find solutions to Arizona's problems?" he asked.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at ccole@azdailysun.com or 913-8607.

What we think: a poll's findings

A majority of Arizona residents:

-- see natural beauty and open areas as our greatest asset

-- are not at all satisfied with elected leaders (only 10 percent say they're doing a "very good" job)

-- say having a good job is really important, but that Arizona doesn't have many

-- say this state is not a good place for recent college graduates

-- say they are attached to our communities, at rates among the highest in the nation

Those are findings from a Gallup poll that queried 3,606 Arizona residents by phone and 831 online in the winter of 2008-2009 for the Center for the Future of Arizona, founded by former ASU President Lattie Coor.

The nonprofit is attempting to build a consensus about what residents here want in this century to help policymakers focus.

The poll keyed in on the more strongly felt sentiments -- those callers who said that Arizona was doing the best or worst in some areas -- and filtered out the less adamant views.

So of a 1-5 scale, those who ranked something either 1 or 5 were counted more than those who ranked it a 2,3, or 4.

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