In the first gubernatorial debate, Gov. Doug Ducey touted a record of improving the state’s economy and providing 20-percent pay raises to teachers while Democrat David Garcia accused him of breaking promises and leaving Arizona’s education system in crisis.
While Ducey and Garcia’s hourlong verbal grudge match on KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS station, centered predominantly on education, the candidates addressed a myriad of other issues such as border security, the economy and a now defunct ballot initiative that would have increased taxes on the rich to better fund K-12 education.
Ducey repeatedly accused his opponent of lacking an education plan. The governor did not present any details of what he would do for K-12 funding with a second, four-year term, but he did tout education highlights from his first term and said he would divert more state funding to education in his second term.
During the debate and in a follow up interview with reporters, Garcia failed to provide specific details on an education plan. He said only that education needs a permanent funding source and that he would allow Arizonans to have a say on the plan at the ballot box.
“I want to go to the Legislature and challenge them and work with them and the business community to put an initiative on the ballot,” he said.
Garcia also questioned why so much of the debate was centered on the Invest in Education Act — a defunct ballot initiative to boost education funding that Garcia supported since its inception in April. The citizens initiative, which would have boosted taxes on the state’s top earners was a major prong of Garcia’s K-12 education plan.
He would not say if the ballot initiative he wants to push through the Legislature would be the same or similar to the Invest in Education Act.
Ducey said the citizens initiative, which the Arizona Supreme Court struck from the ballot last month, would have driven Arizona’s economy off a cliff.
When Garcia said the initiative was torpedoed by Ducey’s “stacked” Supreme Court, the governor accused his opponent of trying to “rig” the election with the misleading language of the Invest in Education Act.
Accused of not doing enough for education, Ducey touted signing an extension of Proposition 301, which extended a sales tax for school funding, and praised Proposition 123, which increased school funding disbursements from the state land trust. And he stood by his budget that granted teachers 20 percent raises spread out over three years.
Garcia called Ducey’s first term a slew of half-measures and broken promises.
“We had a crisis when Doug Ducey walked into office, and we have a crisis when he’s leaving office,” he said.
Ducey argued he couldn’t be held accountable for decades of poor education funding in Arizona, but said he would take responsibility for the past four years. He also stressed the state’s dire financial outlook upon his entering office right after the Great Recession.
“I was in a straightjacket four years ago with a $1 billion deficit in our state budget,” Ducey said.
He repeatedly touted that Maricopa County is now the fastest growing county in the country.
Garcia accused Ducey of being a weak leader who only commits to policy changes when feeling the political pressure of an election year.
He pointed to Ducey’s newfound support for charter school reform after legislative Democrats have called for changes for years. Garcia also cited Ducey’s change of heart on teacher pay raises after teachers threatened to strike amidst the “Red for Ed” movement.
“I want a governor who will lead and not follow,” Garcia said.
Ducey pushed back, citing previous investments in education. He also said he boosted proposed pay raises for teachers when he saw a major influx of funding coming into the state coffers. He initially proposed 1-percent pay raises for teachers this year.
Garcia touted signing the “Red for Ed” pledge promising to boost education funding and asked Ducey if he would do the same.
“What I have signed is a budget that will deliver them a 20-percent pay increase,” Ducey said. “I don’t sign activist pledges. I sign state budgets.”
On immigration, Garcia pushed back against a narrative pushed by the GOP that he is soft on border security and said he does not want to abolish the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency nor has he called for open borders.
Garcia has called for a top-to-bottom reform of ICE, but he doesn’t want to do away with the agency.
“To give this idea that in any way, I would make for unsafe conditions for Arizona is against who I am,” Garcia said, citing his service in the U.S. Army.
Garcia stood firm in his opposition to President Donald Trump’s border wall and called for 24-hour, seven-day-a-week border security. He cited a recent Arizona Republic article that said the Border Strike Force, which Ducey’s administration created, has not achieved round-the-clock border security like Ducey had previously promised.
Ducey defended the Border Strike Force, saying the border is under constant watch with the help of the strike force and local law enforcement.
He also attacked Garcia for previously calling to remove U.S. National Guard forces from the border and pledging to eliminate the Border Strike Force.
“This is a really radical departure from what public safety has been in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said.
Green Party candidate Angel Torres also took part in the debate, stressing the need to grow the economy for people at the bottom. He also proposed reforms to make it easier for workers to unionize.