Last night's first gubernatorial debate between Republican Doug Ducey and Democrat Fred DuVal largely focused on the two candidates' bread-and-butter issues: business growth for Ducey, and education for DuVal.
The most contentious parts of the debate were over DuVal's record on the Arizona Board of Regents, as Ducey repeated lines from attack ads on TV that tuition went up 100 percent with DuVal in that position.
The attacks weren't as effective when DuVal was able to defend himself.
"I don't appreciate these attacks, which are these half-truths, which don't explain the difficulty of a $400 million cut for universities," DuVal said. "People said, 'Just close the campuses,' and I said, 'Not gonna happen.' His team broke it, and I fixed it."
Ducey also claimed to place a high importance on education, stating that everything is on the table for cuts except education.
At the same time, however, Ducey voiced his support for continued appeals in the Cave Creek Unified School District v. Ducey case, in which the state was found to have illegally underfunded public schools, and was ordered to start paying up immediately. In fact, Ducey voiced his support for making changes to laws regarding school-funding calculations, like the one state lawmakers essentially ignored to begin with.
As far as the state budget is concerned, you'd expect Ducey, the dollars-and-cents guy, to have a detailed answer on how he'd solve the state's budget deficit. He didn't.
In his Midwestern accent, Ducey answered, "Well, I think the opportunity . . . with our budget is to go through it as a businessman -- line by line and dahler by dahler, and get rid of anything that's not working like a lobbyist loophole or regulation that weighs down our business community and the creation of jahbs."
Ducey also stressed his pledge not to support raising taxes.
For anyone who's not an expert on the state budget, "lobbyist loopholes" and "regulations" don't account for hundreds of millions of dollars of state spending.
Meanwhile, DuVal actually had an answer to the question of how to solve the budget deficit.
"Number one, we will will look at the rainy day fund," DuVal replied. "Number two, I will look to procurement reform, which has been done in many states very successfully. Number three, we will look to whether or not there are opportunities to privatize portions of state government. There's been discussion [between] both of us about possibly the lottery or other things which other states have played with that look like opportunities to monetize. we'll have to have a comprehensive look at all of those things. we will look to make sure the way that we structure AHCCCS (the state's Medicaid program) that we look to create more prevention and wellness in order to bring the health spending down because it's such a large portion of the budget."
Like the answer or not, it was an answer.
Another bad moment in the debate for Ducey was when he somewhat walked back on his plan to get rid of the state income tax. The way the question was phrased from the moderator, 12 News report Brahm Resnik, Ducey was asked to explain how his plan to cut the income tax to zero can happen while also funding education, which is already chronically underfunded.
"Well, the income tax to zero is a direction," Ducey replied. He expanded, explaining the real heart of the subject was reforming the tax code, and the elimination of the state income tax is something of a distant goal.
Ducey was also hit hard by a couple of the questions in the debate, which brought up some of his very divisive supporters, like Center for Arizona Policy president Cathi Herrod and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Ducey maintained that he was "proud of [his] coalition," and gave DuVal the perfect opportunity to paint himself as a centrist, as he's tried to do throughout the campaign.
However, Ducey did a pretty good job in fighting back on that claim, calling DuVal the "Democratic money-man" for his fundraising work for Democratic candidates, and linking him with Democrat figures and causes.
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The debate was the first of several that are scheduled between the two candidates ahead of the November 4 election.
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