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GOP governor hopefuls mostly of one mind in SaddleBrooke debate

Unlike his rivals for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said he supports outgoing Gov. Jan Brewer’s push to expand Medicaid to take advantage of the federal government’s agreement to pay most of the cost.

With the exception of that break from the crowd, six Republicans running to replace Brewer largely agreed with one another during a debate in SaddleBrooke on Wednesday.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett, state Treasurer Doug Ducey, former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones, state Sen. Al Melvin, former U.S. Rep. Frank Riggs and Smith all said they would create new jobs if elected, would take a stand against adopting Common Core standards and would actively oppose Obamacare. 

Smith, however, reluctantly supported Brewer’s decision to back a key part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act last year — the expansion of Medicaid to include single adults and those making up to 138 percent of the poverty level — noting there are no alternatives that wouldn’t bankrupt the state’s financial reserves and empty the rainy-day fund.

“Here is the deal — the state of Arizona is not covering the number of people that are mandated by law under Prop. 204,” Smith said, referencing the voter-approved mandate to provide broad health coverage. “The governor made a wise decision, I believe. Not a fun decision but the right decision to follow the rules.”

Noting the decision brought dollars paid by local residents back into the state economy, Smith said, “If you give me an alternative, I’d support it.”

Melvin said he has already begun fighting to reverse Brewer’s decision, openly praising the Goldwater Institute for filing a lawsuit against Brewer and her Medicaid director for expanding the program.

“Thank the Lord for the Goldwater Institute,” Melvin said.

The remaining four candidates also vowed to reverse the decision to expand the program.

All six candidates support SB 1070, the controversial immigration law.

Bennett said he supported a similar measure to deploy the National Guard along the border and fine employers for using undocumented workers a full three years before SB 1070 was adopted, only to see it vetoed by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano. 

Ducey railed against the Obama administration for its immigration policies, noting they have led to signs warning Southern Arizona visitors of the dangers of smugglers.

Jones said SB 1070 has largely been gutted of its original legislative intent, pledging to send the National Guard back to the border if elected.

Riggs, a former police officer, said he fully supports SB 1070. He said the law gives another tool to law enforcement, conceding it has become a more dangerous job since he was a cop more than two decades ago.

Smith said when he was mayor, the Mesa Police Department received specialized training about checking immigration status two years before SB 1070 was enacted.

Melvin said Arizona can’t afford to wait for the federal government to protect the border, adding that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu could be part of the solution. 

The winner of the GOP nomination will likely face presumptive Democratic candidate Fred Duval.

To date, only Bennett and Jones have filed the necessary paperwork with the Arizona secretary of state to appear on the ballot. The deadline to turn in qualifying signatures is May 28.

All six candidates pledged to support the Republican nominee the day after the primary.

Bennett, following his pledge of loyalty, said reluctance by some Republicans to back their political rivals gave the political edge to Napolitano when she was first elected as governor 12 years ago.Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4346. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeFerguson

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at or 573-4346. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeFerguson

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Joe has been with the Star for six years. He covers politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona. He graduated from the UA and previously worked for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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