Given the chance on Wednesday night to attack their GOP rivals for governor, many put away their knives and opted to serve up softballs instead.
The night before early ballots were mailed out to voters, former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones asked retired U.S. Rep. Frank Riggs what his favorite part of the state was since starting to campaign. It occurred during a Republican debate held at the West Campus of Pima Community College.
Former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas asked Secretary of State Ken Bennett whether he thought rural areas of the state needed more funding for highways and roads.
Scott Smith, a former mayor of Mesa, offered up his own slow pitch to Bennett as well, but first he took a jab at the only Republican candidate not in the room — state Treasurer Doug Ducey.
Smith was hoping to get Ducey to follow up to an answer the former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery gave at a debate a week ago, but he noted Ducey had skipped this debate as well as one earlier in the week in Mesa.
Looking at Jones directly, Smith said they both had questions for Ducey and openly hinted that Ducey may have lied in a response last week.
A spokesperson for the Ducey campaign said the Republican candidate for governor had a conflict, preventing him from participating in first debate to be held in Tucson.
A representative for the League of Women Voters of Greater Tucson, which helped organize the debate, said all of the candidates were invited shortly after all six candidates had filed their campaign paperwork several months ago.
Smith then went on to ask Bennett a question about integrity in office.
Jones said after sharing the stage with the same men for the last 50 debates, she was tired of the all the attacks.
Less than a minute later, Riggs asked Jones why she saw public service as a pejorative, repeatedly positioning herself as a political outsider.
Jones responded that the state currently has a leadership vacuum.
As the only candidate who has not held elective office, Jones said she raised the 50 years the others have collectively held office “because if you have such a great border plan, if you have such a great plan for economic development or education or water management or energy or forest management or any of the other things that have an issue, in this case or in this election — why are we just now hearing about it?
“With all of that time and all of that opportunity, why just bring it out now?” she asked.
Riggs focused his response on saying he offered a proven record of experience, asking the audience to look at the 3,000 votes he cast representing California in Congress.
Jones was also asked by Bennett about her border plan, specifically how to get the federal government to pick the tab for her $270 million plan to again send the Arizona National Guard back the Arizona-Mexico border.
She said there were some interesting legal strategies to get federal reimbursement in Texas and South Dakota, but added the state has to try to get repaid for what is ultimately a federal issue.
“There are some ways to get this done, with strength and conviction and leadership,” Jones said.
She said her plan does have a fallback to use funding out of the state budget, but she said she would not give up on federal reimbursement.
Bennett, who was in the Senate when then-Gov. Janet Napolitano sent similar bills to the federal government, continued to be skeptical of Jones’ plan.
“I don’t think you are going to get the federal government to pay a bill,” Bennett said. “We got to do the things the state can do.”
A quirk in the format allowed the candidates to choose which questions they would answer — which led to some questions not being answered by all five candidates.
For example, a question of health care had all but Jones answering.
Riggs called Obamacare a debt that Americans simply cannot afford in the long term. “The Affordable Care Act is not affordable,” Riggs said, “It won’t work; it is not sustainable.”
Smith echoed Riggs, calling the Affordable Care Act “a disaster.” He did, however, say Gov. Jan Brewer made a wise decision in terms of expanding Medicaid.
Thomas told the audience he was strongly opposed to expansion of both Medicare and Obamacare.
He said it would only serve as the “expansion of the welfare state here in Arizona” and vowed, as governor, to require community service for those received some types of government benefits.
Bennett said he opposed the governor’s Medicaid expansion, and he opposes Obamacare, saying the creation of the federal system has only created a layer of bureaucrats who serve as another barrier between doctors and their patients.
In opening statements, Thomas said he was willing to fight the political and legal fights ahead to secure the border, saying the state will eventually go broke without a substantive change in direction when it comes to dealing with the border.
“If we do not secure our border and stop illegal immigration before it is too late, this state will go broke. We cannot afford to feed and clothe every person coming into our state illegally; we need to be honest about this,” Thomas said.
Bennett said the state could no longer continue with the status quo.
“We can either continue to do the things we are doing and expect the same results, or we can embrace bold leadership,” emphasizing his experience in the Legislature and as secretary of state as assets toward moving Arizona in another direction.
Jones highlighted her experience in helping GoDaddy, an Internet domain registrar and Web-hosting company, grow from a few dozen to an estimated 4,000 employees.
“I understand the need for us to have leadership that focuses on economic development from a private-sector, results-proven way,” Jones said.
Riggs, an Army veteran and ex-cop, said the state needed a strong candidate willing to fight the hard political battles.
He vowed to dismantle Common Core on Day One of a Riggs administration and said he supported parental choice when it comes to schools.
Smith took a slightly different tack in introducing himself, thanking the nurses who were working at St. Mary’s Hospital when his father rushed an infant Scott Smith into the emergency room.
He called it his “closest brush with death” when his father learned the hard way that his infant son was lactose-intolerant.
Smith said his conservative principles have successfully guided him in his 30 years in the private sector and while serving as mayor of the 38th-largest city in the country.
“Bringing people together for the greater good and focusing on a goals that build a better community and now a better state are important,” Smith said. “That’s why I am running for governor.”
The winner of the Aug. 26 Republican primary will face Democrat Fred DuVal in the general election in November.