The League of Women Voters hosted a debate on Thursday, September 29 between Republican Ken Bennett and Democrat Mike Fogel, the Arizona State Senate candidates in Legislative District 1.
The debate at Yavapai College’s Verde Campus was moderated by Clarkdale Mayor Robyn Prud’homme-Bauer.
Bennett broke the ice before the debate when he exchanged remarks in Japanese with a guest from the Japanese Embassy, prompting an audience member to say, “We know where he did his mission!”
Bennett is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and grew up in Prescott. He served four years on the Prescott City Council, eight years in the state senate, and six years as Arizona secretary of state.
Fogel identified as a lifelong “citizen candidate” and activist who has walked picket lines since he was a child. A career educator, he has served as a high school teacher, basketball coach, vice principal, principal, and school board member.
Both candidates chose to focus on education funding for much of the debate.
Both Bennett and Fogel favor suspending or repealing the block spending limit, which limits how much K-12 schools can spend in a year.
“There’s no point in appropriating money from the general fund and not allowing school districts to spend it,” Bennett said.
Fogel emphasized the overall lack of funding for public education, noting that Arizona ranks last in the nation for the percentage of GDP it spends on K-12 education and that Chino Valley is in the bottom 5% of the state for school funding. He has repeatedly stressed that the only way to improve education in Arizona is to increase per-student funding, which will increase teacher salaries and reduce classroom sizes.
“We’re still at the lowest per-student funding in the country, which means we’re not competitive,” Fogel said.
With more people moving into the state, he argued, overall increases to the state’s education budget make “no sense” because per-student funding is not increasing in this situation. . He referred to a “systematic defunding of Arizona public education” attributable to structural deficits created by Republican legislatures that funded education “irresponsibly” for 30 years, particularly in Yavapai County. .
Fogel also claimed that Arizona schools never recovered from the post-Great Recession budget cuts of 2009-2010.
Bennett agreed with Fogel on the need to increase per-student funding — although Fogel kept saying that “Ken continues to avoid the per-student funding factor” — and to increase teacher salaries. .
However, he attributed these problems to poor management rather than a lack of funds.
“We have to use the money we have better,” Bennett said.
He pointed out that with average per-student funding of more than $13,000 per year, given a class size of 25 students, each school should receive at least $325,000 per class – but the average teacher salary is slightly over $55,000.
To remedy the problem, Bennett proposed that schools implement priority-based budgeting with teacher salaries as the first priority, only allocating funds to other areas after teachers have been paid appropriately. adequate. He also said more funds should be allocated to currently underfunded districts to fill the gap, perhaps $2 for every dollar better funded districts receive.
The two also differed sharply on school vouchers.
“When a parent wants to send their child, I think a significant portion of that funding should follow that decision,” Bennett said.
Fogel strenuously disagreed: “Corruption is at the heart of the school choice program…The funds that flow into for-profit charter schools are not accounted for…and it turns out that we, the taxpayers, are defrauded. For-profit charter schools are simply wrong.
For Bennett and Fogel, water management policy came just after education.
Fogel pointed out that Arizona’s water resources are in crisis, described the Verde River as “dying” and said one of his legislative priorities would be to allow the Arizona Department of Water Resources to monitor the amount of water taken from large wells.
“We can only manage what we measure,” he said, pointing out that only 13% of the state’s land area is currently monitored for water use. Bennett observed that this 13% of land area comprises 85% of Arizona’s population.
In addition to better monitoring, Fogel called for modernization of the Groundwater Management Act 1980, more effective incentives and penalties for recharging or not recharging water sources, and emphasizing on water-neutral development, using rainwater harvesting and wastewater treatment to enable continued development. and construction without affecting groundwater levels.
He said augmenting local water supply with out-of-state resources would not be economically feasible in his audience’s lifetime.
While Bennett disagreed with Fogel’s description of the Verde River, he expressed support for water-neutral development in addition to importing water from other states. He predicted substantial savings in water use if the federal government managed forests at a rate of 30 to 40 trees per acre rather than 300 to 1,000, and if the number of septic systems used could be reduced. .
Bennett expressed confidence that the Prescott Water Management Area can achieve “safe yield,” or the break-even point between use and replenishment, in the next five to 10 years.
“We are nowhere near a safe return and we will never have it in the next five years unless we take drastic action,” Fogel countered.
Regarding election security, the two candidates agreed that the electoral process in Arizona generally works well, but also that it could be improved by abolishing the secret ballot.
Bennett proposed that counties be required to disclose four election-related data elements: a list of all registered voters by name and address before the election, a list of those who voted after the election, images of ballots scanned by voting machines that could be compared to these lists, and finally the spreadsheet of all votes.
He also suggested that absentee ballots should not be counted until they can be confirmed over the phone.
Fogel agreed that the Legislature should enact Bennett’s disclosure program “to ensure confidence,” but added that the only reason such a remedy is necessary is because of baseless allegations of fraud by Republicans.
“It disrupts the democratic process and our democratic republic,” he said. “The exhausted majority of people I’ve canvassed and spoken to are sick of this, and it needs to go. And the only way to do that is to make sure we vote for the Democrats in all the ballots.
The two men briefly argued over the advisability of the election audits, with Fogel criticizing the state for spending $9 million on a third Maricopa County audit of the 2020 presidential election ballots in 2021.” which has become a joke in the United States”.
Bennett served as the official Arizona State Senate liaison to Maricopa County auditors.
Bennett reminded the audience that the Secretary of State’s office does not have the power to audit county elections and pointed out that if an election comes down to a proportional difference of two votes out of 800, “that is wrong with an audit?”
Criminal justice reform
Bennett and Fogel found additional common ground when discussing criminal justice reform.
Fogel proposed increasing educational programs in prisons, while Bennett mentioned mentoring for first-time offenders.
Both identified economic suffering as the primary cause of rising crime rates.
For Fogel, however, the primary sources of this economic suffering are an economy unsuited to the needs of the working class and poorly constructed state fiscal policies.
If the economy works for everyone, he said, “we’re going to see crime go down.”
For Bennett, economic suffering is primarily the result of poor national policy choices, such as inflation and the cancellation of pipelines, although a lack of vocational and technical training opportunities in society also contributes.
“We need to remind our young people that there are consequences to their actions,” Bennett said. “If they break the law, they will be punished,” a statement Fogel tacitly agreed with.
Both candidates expressed standard positions on abortion.
Bennett agreed that abortion should be permitted in cases of rape or incest, provided the offense is immediately reported so it can be prosecuted, but otherwise “life is sacred…once a life is created, I think we must protect this life unless we need to save another…. Abortion should not be used as a method of contraception.
“To ban abortion in any form is an excess of government power,” Fogel countered. “Government shouldn’t be in the business of taking away individual rights…We just have to leave…that private decision to the mother…and whatever relationship that person has with their creator.”
He also advocated vasectomy as the most effective form of contraception: “This procedure would prevent many abortions.
On energy policy, Bennett said he is prepared to consider all possible energy sources, including clean coal, nuclear and natural gas, “and not pick winners and losers politically because of ‘different political agendas’.
He cited California as an example of the risks of reliance on renewables, saying the state experiences about 21,000 power outages a year, each with a cost to the economy of about $1.5 million.
Fogel also supported a balanced approach, but stressed that Arizona needs to make “better use” of its abundant solar resources, as only 9.2% of the state’s energy currently comes from solar power. He suggested encouraging public schools to install solar panels and noted that it would be necessary to move away from fossil fuels.
At the end of the debate, Fogel thanked Bennet for the opportunity, calling him “a bucket list item” to debate someone of his stature.
“I never dreamed I was on someone’s wish list,” Bennett joked, drawing a final laugh from the crowd.