Two nights ago, the East Valley Homeschooled Teenage Republicans (TARS) hosted a meet-the-candidates forum at the home of former Arizona House of Representatives member and 2008 Arizona CD-5 candidate Laura Knaperek. I went in order to volunteer to help Bill Montgomery, candidate for Maricopa County Attorney, but when I arrived, he already had several other people helping, so I mostly listened to the other candidates.
The forum was held in the backyard and home of Mrs. Knaperek, and upon my arrival there at 6:30pm, I was greeted by the Chairman of the state's TARS organization and some of his members in the East Valley group. Since I was a tad early, we chatted for a while, and I enjoyed hearing his perspective on some of Arizona's politics. The TARS were collecting donations for their trip to Washington, DC for the TARS national convention, and I was happy to donate $10 to help. If those kids are the future of the College Republicans in a year or two, and future leaders of the country, I think we'll be in good hands.
After a while, the party picked up steam, and I was able to talk with a few of the candidates. Those in attendance included: CD-5 candidates David Schweikert, Susan Bitter-Smith, Jim Ward, and Chris Salvino; current Secretary of State Ken Bennett seeking re-election; Attorney General candidate Tom Horne; State Treasurer candidates Barbara Leff, Thayer Verschoor, and a representative for Doug Ducey; Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate John Huppenthal; Corporation Commissioner candidates Barry Wong, Gary Pierce, and Brenda Burns; LD-20 House candidates Jeff Dial and Christopher Tolino; and Maricopa County Attorney candidates Bill Montgomery and Rick Romley. (If I missed anyone, campaigns should feel free to correct me by leaving a comment below or emailing me so I can fix my oversight!)
The people that came were given over an hour to mill about getting refreshments (prepared by the TARS under the direction of their adult liaison Lois Fitch) and talking to the candidates. I, sadly, didn't get to talk to everyone, but I did say hello to SOS Ken Bennett (who kind of, sort of said he remembered me from my College Republican days in Flagstaff where I first met him and helped his campaign), Bill Montgomery, Tom Horne, Jim Ward, and plenty of the other volunteers there. I particularly found my conversations with people from Romley's campaign and Ducey's campaign to be interesting.
Eventually, a more formalized "forum" took place, as introductions of the candidates for the hundred or so guests were made and a couple of speeches were given by Mrs. Knaperek and Secretary Bennett. Bennett talked about the importance of working to support candidates and of of helping to donate to campaigns this election cycle. The candidates were split up into their respective races and assigned different parts of the house and yard to speak in. The County Attorney candidates were in one side yard, the CD-5 candidates on the basketball court, state offices in the center yard, Treasurer candidates in one room of the house, and Corporation Commission candidates in another.
I chose to go listen to the CD-5 candidates, as two of them had run for election against current Democrat Congressman Harry Mitchell two years ago and lost (Schweikert and Bitter-Smith) and I'd never had the chance to hear from them, one is supported by a former CR friend of mine (Jim Ward), and the fourth I'd never heard of before. The four candidates were asked to give their favorite movies, with Top Gun being Salvino's favorite, and the other three choosing movies with which I was unfamiliar. Then they each got to give a two-minute synopsis of who they are and why they should be elected over their competitors for the Republican primary. Here's what I got:
Dr. Chris Salvino is a trauma surgeon who was previously in the armed forces as a flight surgeon in combat missions. He is running as one of the only CD-5 candidates well-equiped to provide meaningful change as it relates to both the healthcare debate and foreign policy what with the combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. He struck me as personally a very down-to-earth person, if not a little meek in comparison to the other candidates.
Jim Ward portrayed himself as the "outsider" candidate, having never been in politics before. He is currently the CEO of Cold Stone Creamery and previously worked as an executive for LucasFilm on Star Wars, and at Apple, Microsoft, and Nike. Whereas Schweikert and Bitter-Smith talked about their vast legislative experience, one of the best zingers of the forum was when Ward said (and I paraphrase here) "you know, you don't need legislative experience to be a solid leader." Ward is also endorsed by retiring Congressman John Shadegg. Personally, I found him to be more politican-y then any of the other candidates, and he came off sounding more than a little arrogant, but his ideological talk seems to be (from my limited research on him) more in line with mine than the other three candidates.
Susan Bitter-Smith and David Schweikert are the remaining two candidates, and I choose not to give either of them positive mention on my blog for a little stunt that was pulled last election cycle by one of their two campaigns. For long-time readers, some of you may recall a series of posts I made as a volunteer for then-CD-5 candidate Jim Ogsbury (links here, here, and here). Well, what I never dignified with a blog response was an incident which happened because of my volunteerism.
Basically, I got a call from the Ogsbury for Congress campaign manager one afternoon offering me an apology. I come to find out that a staff member from either Susan Bitter-Smith's or David Schweikert's campaigns (and hopefully not the candidate themselves) posted an anonymous blog of their own that was extremely negative of Ogsbury and which inferred that I was a pedophile (among other things) and that because Ogsbury had volunteers like me, he was not a good candidate for Congress. I attempted to find out which campaign had done it but was not able to determine which campaign or which person on or associated with those campaigns had written it. Ogsbury's campaign manager also attempted to find out, but there was never an actual "official" claim from either campaign that it was them. Personally, I lean toward thinking it was Bitter-Smith's campaign.
Take it from me, neither David Schweikert nor Susan Bitter-Smith deserves election to the United States House of Representatives. I would not ever vote for them, I would not ever encourage voting for them, and I would not support either of them should they be elected. Any campaign that criticizes its opponents through their volunteers, people devoting their free time and money to helping the most important civil process in America, deserves nothing less than that bitter treatment. And until I get an apology from those campaigns or find out who wrote that about me, these words stand.
Anyway, after the forums concluded, people began to start leaving. I stayed behind to say hello to a few more people and chat with the TARS before I also left (campaign literature in hand and a new sign for my collection from Barry Wong). It was a really good night overall, and I was happy I went to support Bill Montgomery. I got to hear from a bunch of good candidates and learned a few things that will help me make my choices at the ballot box come August 24th.