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Focus on the Swing Districts: LD 18

by Karen Cook

The upcoming election will be a crucial one for secularists in Arizona. Fifteen of the 30 legislative districts are highly likely to be won by Republicans with strong ties to the religious lobby organization, Center for Arizona Policy, and only 10 by Democrats, so the 5 remaining swing districts— if won by Democrats— could give our legislature a new and rare status: parity. Having a balance between the parties would have many possible outcomes, the most positive being a decrease in religiously motivated legislation.

LD 18 is one of these swing districts. Located in southern Maricopa County,  34% of the district is made up of Phoenix and the rest encompasses part of Tempe, some of Chandler, and a little bit of Mesa. The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission carved it out of parts of former legislative districts 17, 20, and 21—17 having traditionally voted Democratic, and 20 and 21, Republican; the district is now up for grabs. In the last gubernatorial election, for example, 47.3% of voters in what is now LD 18  voted for Terry Goddard, 49.2% voted for Jan Brewer, and the remainder for others.

Voters in LD 18 have an important opportunity to have a positive impact on the makeup of our new legislature, so the pressure in on to make the right choice at the polls! Voters from other districts are encouraged to learn about this race as well so that you can educate LD 18 voters, volunteer for secular candidates in this important race, and encourage candidates who are scrounging for every possible vote to speak to Secular Values Voters. 

To help voters assess the slate, following is a list of the LD18 primary candidates for the offices of State Representative and State Senator, a little info about them, and the results of the questionnaire SC Arizona gave them (from the pamphlet, "Engaging Candidates on the Role of Religion and Politics," courtesty of the Interfaith Alliance, a national advocacy group that promotes secular government).

LD18 Candidates for State Representative

Darin Fisher, Democrat (www.fisherforarizona.com)
A resident of Arizona since 1992, Fisher is the CEO of Vision Community Management. He sees education funding as a positive investment in Arizona's future; is concerned about the overfunding of the for-profit prison system within the Department of Corrections; and does not believe that employers should be allowed to opt out of contraceptive coverage. Fisher believes it is bad policy for the legislature to come between a woman and her health-care provider.

Fisher answered the five questions in one block, which has been edited for space:

Faith, spirituality, and/or morality guides and informs who we are as rational, thinking members of society (and) brings us to how we approach the decision making process. As such, I believe at least some level of discussion on these personal matters is appropriate. I believe it is possible to live my faith and secularism at the same time. In fact, this is the most accurate way to depict the concept the founders were espousing in the first amendment.

'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof'

What is very evident to me is the simple genius of protecting and preserving our individual right to express our faith, with the specific restriction and understanding that this freedom extends no further than our own physical essence. When politicians are crafting public policy, religious beliefs, while perhaps guiding our understanding, should not be legislated into these policies. Simply put, our legal system is not meant to be about religious arguments as they are not concepts of religion. The legislature does not have the constitutional authority to force their personal notions of "religious" on the entire citizenry of the state. Our country, and by extension our state, was not founded upon the bible (regardless of which bible you personally embrace), they were founded upon the Constitution.

The oath of office provides that I will uphold and defend the laws and the Constitution of the United States and the State of Arizona. This reconciles to and is not in conflict with, my faith, my beliefs, or my God. 

I have always chosen to live my faith, not preach it. I am, while not a perfect man, a good man of character and integrity. I own my successes and my failures and they combine to continually guide my growth.

Corey Harris, Democrat (www.votecorey2012.com)
Harris, a 1st Lt. in the U.S. Army Reserves, was deployed twice to Iraq, where he served as a Civil Affairs Team Chief. He is focused on tax reform; increased funding for education; health care and veterans' issues; economic development and jobs for Arizona, and is endorsed by the Arizona Education Association and Planned Parenthood.

1. What role will your faith or values play in creating public policy or making appointments?

Our nation was founded on the principle that every citizen has the right to practice their own religion. As a legislator my job is to vote in support of everyone's right to do just that.

2. What are your views on the boundaries between religion and government? 

In the Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet, 512 U.S. 687 (1994), Justice David Souter writing for the majority, concluded that "government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion." My view is that the Supreme Court has ruled on this issue time and again in support of these values and I will support their decision.

3. What steps will you take to protect the rights of your constituents regardless of their faith or beliefs?

My opponents in the State Legislature give lip service to the idea that they respect everyone's right to practice their own religion. But their voting record will tell your what they really believe. They have consistently voted to inject their religious views on women in our state in their votes to allow employers to fire any employee who asks for contraception, and their votes to have government get between decisions that should be solely between a woman, her doctor, and her belief system if applicable. No amount of rhetoric can cover up their true agenda. 

I believe every legislator should serve with integrity. I will do just that.

4. How will you speak about your beliefs without making them just another political tool?

As with every citizen my faith is my personal choice. I will speak about the values that inform my decisions, but my religious faith will not supersede my commitment to allow every citizen to believe as they choose.

5. How will you balance the principles of your faith and your obligation to defend the Constitution, particularly if the two come into conflict?

As someone who has fought for our nation in war, I have put my life on the line in defense of our founding principles. In speaking my Oath of Office upon commissioning as an officer in the U.S. Army, I stated that I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

The First Amendment to the U.S Constitution is very clear on this. It states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." I will continue to support and defend every citizens rights as outlined here.

Jeff Dial, Republican (incumbent) (www.jeffdial.org)
Dial is the Executive V.P. of Dial Chemical Company and has been a state representative since 2010. His website lists no issues or endorsements, but he is quoted in an azcentral.com article that he stresses job creation and a business-friendly environment. Mr. Dial missed the deadline to provide answers to the questionaire, but voters who would like to ask Dial his position on secular govenment can reach him at: 602-644-1776 or jd@jeffdial.org

Bob Robson, Republican (incumbent)
Robson is the owner of an insurance agency and teaches at the ASU School of Criminology & Criminal Justice. He has been a member of the Arizona House of Representatives since 2001. He has no website, and an article in AZCapitolTimes.com reports that he did not state any issues in a questionnaire they sent to him. An article on azcentral.com, however, says that one of his priorities is to keep taxes as low as possible and to create a friendly economic environment for businesses. 

Robson responded to the five questions in a phone interview.  

1) What role will your faith or values play in creating public policy?

Religious core values...shouldn't be the primary concern because you've taken an oath to uphold the Constitution. 

2) What are your views on the boundaries between religion and government?  

There needs to be separation between the church and state and the state and church.

3) What steps will you take to protect the rights of your constituents regardless of their faith or beliefs?

I do that on a regular basis. I recognize that there are many sides to the issues.

4) How will you speak about your beliefs without making them just another political tool?

I don't generally talk about my beliefs. When people ask me, I tell them that I'm Catholic, but it's not a tool that I deal with.

5)  How will you balance the principles of your faith and your obligation to defend the Constitution, particularly if the two come into conflict? 

I have an example from some years ago with sign legislation. Whether I like people holding signs on a street corner or not...the 1st Amendment gives the right of free speech.

Brent Fine, Independent
Fine is a writer and former state employee who is in favor of increased spending for education and tax reform. This reporter was unable to reach him by telephone or email. 

LD18 Candidates for State Senator

John McComish (incumbent), Republican (www.votemccomish.com)
Considered a moderate Republican, McComish was the only Republican to vote against a bill to authorize employers to exempt contraception from healthcare coverage. He is a former small business owner and the former president of the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce. His focus is on job creation and the promotion of pro-business legislation, with a commitment to reducing burdensome government regulations. He has been endorsed by various chambers of  commerce and industry, as well as the National Federation of Independent Business.

1) What role will your faith or values play in creating public policy?

My faith informs my decisions, but does not dictate what public policy I support.

2) What are your views on the boundaries between religion and government?

Simply stated, I believe that there is a clear distinction between church and state. A church or denomination has the right to advocate for a certain position; but as a  policy maker, I have an obligation to listen to all sides and make my decision according to the facts as I understand them.

3) What steps will you take to protect the rights of your constituents regardless of their faith or beliefs?

Unless they are violating a law, my constituents have a right to their personal beliefs. I will fight for that right irrespective of whether I agree with those beliefs or not. (That is what America is all about.)

4) How will you speak about your beliefs without making them just another political tool?

I seldom mention my personal religious preference, unless someone asks. I believe faith is best shown through action.  I don't believe religion should be used as a political tool - or weapon.

5) How will you balance the principles of your faith and your obligation to defend the Constitution, particularly if the two come into conflict? 

This has never been an issue to me - and I do not expect it will be. I took an oath to defend the Constitution, which I take seriously. I do not believe that any particular religion or denomination has all the answers, including my own. Therefore, I am very skeptical of religious dogma.

Janie Hydrick, Democrat (www.hydrickforaz.com)
Hydrick is the former president of the National Council of Teachers of English and has been a member of other educational governing boards. Her focus is on increasing funding for education, infrastructure, job training, and job re-training, and preserving middle-class programs such as Medicare and Social Security. Hydrick is endorsed by various educational organizations, as well as by Planned Parenthood. She did not return the questionnaire. 

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Karen Cook is a volunteer writer for Secular Coalition for Arizona and a published author. Her works include the short story “Food for the Gods,” in the July 16 issue of “Crack the Spine.”

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