Sen. David Braswell, a former district GOP chairman who was appointed to replace Pamela Gorman in the Legislature, is trying to fend off a challenge from Republican activist Lori Klein.
The winner of the Aug. 24 primary election will face Democrat Pat Flickner in November.
Klein, who has worked on a number of citizen initiatives, including the 2006 ballot measure that limited the use of eminent domain, seeks to portray herself as the “conservative choice.”
She points to the support her opponent has received from labor unions and Gov. Jan Brewer to buttress her argument that Braswell is “more or less a big-government type.” She said it’s a race between a conservative and a moderate.
But for Braswell, a CEO of a software company, it’s not a question of who is more conservative. They both are, he said.
Instead, it’s boils down to who has the better set of skills to represent the district. It’s also a question of character and judgment, he said.
To some extent, the primary contest between Klein and Braswell reveals glimpses of the ideological battles that are being waged within the Republican Party.
“It is the usual conservative-versus-moderate race that we see all over the state,” Klein said.
But Braswell said Klein is simplistic and “very libertarian” in her approach to issues.
Braswell supporter Bob Haran also described the ideological moorings of Klein’s supporters this way: “They want no taxes, no government, (and) they don’t care about public schools.”
But Rep. Carl Seel, who has teamed up with Klein, said “liberals” try to make those like him and Klein seem like right-wingers when they are “middle-of-the-road conservative Republicans.”
“(Klein) is a clearly proven conservative,” Seel said. “She is opposed to the sales-tax increase, Proposition 100. She is a well-known advocate for school choice and cutting taxes. She has been in the conservative field for over 10 years.”
The district, which is located in the northern part of the Valley, has consistently elected some of the most conservative legislators, including Gorman and former Rep. Sam Crump, both of whom are running for Congress this year.
Any Republican primary candidate who concedes he or she is a “moderate” might as well not run at all in the district where Republicans outnumber Democrats by about 18,000 voters.
Braswell supporters have made Klein’s 2009 DUI conviction a campaign issue.
Her conviction taught her a hard lesson, Klein said, but she said she doesn’t hide her record. She said she had two glasses of wine and didn’t feel impaired when she was pulled over for speeding in 2008.
“I would say that it would be a judgment in error if this is something I have done chronically,” she said. “This was a mistake that I made, that I paid for, that has nothing to do with my conservative philosophy.”
Haran also criticized Klein for donating to Wish List, a Republican group that is devoted to helping elect pro-choice Republican women to public office.
Klein said donating to Wish List was a mistake, and said she thought she was donating to Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Klein has taken aim at Braswell for getting union support.
Klein said a group funded by the Arizona Education Association is also backing Braswell, while the conservative Pachyderm Coalition is supporting her.
Actually, Braswell has received the support of the Professional Firefighters of Arizona and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Agency. But the endorsement of PLEA, in particular, is also sought by many Republicans, who see backing from the organization as buttressing their tough-on-crime credentials.
Klein made another charge: Braswell would be under the teacher union’s sway because his company sells software to schools and he would be “colored” by these ties.
“(But) that shows,” Braswell said of the charge, “that she hasn’t done her research.”
Braswell said the software he has sold to schools trains superintendents and principals in holding contract education employees accountable.
In fact, Braswell has voted for measures that are perceived to be anti-union.
He supported a measure that, among other provisions, prohibited public schools from adopting policies that provide employment retention priority for teachers based on tenure or seniority.
Braswell also voted “yes” on the recently passed referral guaranteeing workers’ right to a secret ballot in organizing unions.
The Arizona Education Association vigorously opposed the teacher contract legislation while some police and firefighters unions spoke out against the secret ballot measure.
“That’s why I’m proud of the endorsements because I think it says a lot for the unions to step up and endorse someone with the positions that I hold,” Braswell said. “They know I am going to be fair, consistent and reasonable.”
Both camps feel confident they can win the seat.
Braswell and Klein have raised roughly the same amount – more than $23,000 each.
Braswell, however, has benefited from about $5,000 in independent spending.
This intraparty filtering happens every primary season, according to Seel, who is seeking re-election and is running as a team with Klein.
“No matter who is running, every primary cycle, you run into that ideological war (question),” Seel said, adding this is true in both the Republican and Democratic parties.