County candidates gather for final Copper Area News forum

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By Chase Kamp Southeast Valley Ledger

There was plenty of heated debate and some occasional fireworks at the final candidate forum sponsored by Copper Area News Publishers held on Oct. 11, 2012. Candidates for County Attorney, District 1 Supervisor and LD-8 state House and Senate participated in the forum.

The contentious race for County Attorney reached a boiling point with incumbent Democrat James Walsh fervently defending his record against steep allegations by challenging Republican Lando Voyles.

Voyles continued his assertion that Walsh’s office has been soft on violent crime. “We have cases right now where officers are getting shot at, which are getting probation,” Voyles said.

Walsh contended the opposite, saying felony prosecutions in the County are up 41 percent in the last five years. “FBI statistics show violent crime is down in the County by 30 percent.”

Voyles also touted his claim that 61 percent of mandatory prison cases have been plead down to probation by Walsh’s office, one that Walsh virulently opposes.

“It’s flat wrong,” Walsh said. “We are not letting violent criminals out in the street.”

Voyles campaign is being run in tandem with Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu’s re-election campaign, sharing expenses and appearing together on road signs labeled as the “Law and Order Team.”

Walsh argued this kind of political allegiance is dangerous, pointing to the relationship between Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Thomas was disbarred earlier this year by a state legal ethics panel for filing unfounded malicious charges against Arpaio’s political opponents, among other violations.

There must be a degree of independence between the two offices, Walsh said. “There is an inherent tension between prosecution and law enforcement, and it’s critical,” he said. “It’s checks and balances.”

“I have no political motivations,” Voyles said in response.

At the conclusion of the County Attorney portion of the forum, Walsh asked if he would be allowed a closing argument, but the format did not allow time for final statements. Walsh was still compelled to address Voyles accusations of lax prosecution.

“You have no basis of accusing the lawyers of my office of unethical behavior,” Walsh said.

“This is a lack of policy,” Voyles responded before the segment was concluded.

The candidates for District 1 Supervisor also had their share of heated language. Incumbent Pete Rios lashed out at Republican challenger Gem Cox for accusing Rios of doubling the County Supervisors’ retirement fund, saying the Board is not legally capable of making such a move.

Independent candidate Alicia Bristow said the biggest problem at the Board is lack of communication. She argued there was not sufficient notice about a special session of the Board earlier this month that changed the number of Oracle Fire Board members from three to five.\

A primary topic discussed by the LD-8 House candidates was education. Current state Representative Frank Pratt said the legislature had to make painful cuts to education during the financial crisis.

“We’re in a position now where we restored $120 million to education that was cut previously in this current budget,” he said.

Republican TJ Shope touted his experience as a member of the Coolidge school board and said he would support Pratt’s bill to allow Central Arizona College to give four-year degrees.

“These are the types of programs that will be needed for future employment in this district,” Shope said.

Democrat Emily Verdugo attacked the Republican-led legislature for cutting to the maintenance of effort, the state statutory minimum of funding, for education.

“They have been cutting education to the limit that is legally stated by the Constitution and have not found a way to make up this revenue,” she argued.

Democrat Ernest Bustamante pointed to his record of voting for all-day Kindergarten in 2004 when he was in the legislature.

“I will work diligently with all parties on a bipartisan basis to ensure that we fulfill the education statute,” Bustamante said.

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