Ken's Second Act
Arizona's GOP candidates for governor trying to out-right each other
Note to readers: I am a retired community journalist and lifelong Democrat with a passion for politics. I attended a forum for Republican candidates for governor of Arizona Monday evening at the Rowle P. Simmons Community Center in the GOP stronghold – if not stranglehold -- of Prescott to learn more about them. I advise readers to follow the sage advice of Fox News foghorn Sean Hannity: “Do your own research.”
Three Republican candidates for governor sought to out-right each other during the forum sponsored by Yavapai County Republican Women. An estimated 230 people registered for the dinner.
And whoever wins the Republican primary on Aug. 22 is likely to sail to victory in the Nov. 8 general election. The candidacies of two of the three Democratic challengers – Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez -- are marred by scandals. The winner also is likely to become a national political figure.
The possible frontrunner, former Phoenix Fox News anchor Kari Lake, has already garnered national and even international attention. She is the Trumpiet of the four GOP candidates, having won the endorsement of the party’s standard-bearer and called for his return to office in 2024. She has proposed installing cameras “in every public school classroom so that parents would be able to root out ‘woke’ educators and their secret plan to indoctrinate our children in leftie ideas,” Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts reported this past December. She gained exposure Down Under by sparring with a reporter for 60 Minutes Australia.
Lake faces ex-Congressman Matt Salmon, business executive Steve Gaynor and businesswoman Karrin Taylor Robson, who did not attend the forum. The top vote-getter will face Democrats Hobbs, Lopez or former state Rep. Aaron Lieberman, along with minor candidates in November. Gaynor ran unsuccessfully against Hobbs for secretary of state in 2018.
Lake, Salmon and Gaynor tried Monday to play to the GOP’s more conservative base by tossing red meat on gun control, illegal immigration, school choice and other hot-button issues to their hungry audience.
They attacked the usual suspects, including President Biden, COVID-19 mandates, teachers unions and the Arizona’s blue state neighbor.
Lake spews perhaps the most venom. She believes and promotes what the press calls The Big Lie, the unsubstantiated claim that Donald Trump lost the presidency in 2020 because of election fraud. Sounding ever Trumpian, she says in her campaign literature, “The corrupt corporate media is the greatest threat to our Republic.”
Lake said Democrats are trying to make Arizona into California, which Gaynor said has become a “hellhole.”
Salmon, who ran unsuccessfully for governor against Democrat Janet Napolitano in 2002, said he is pro-Second Amendment and pro-life. The candidates did not discuss abortion, perhaps because incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that makes it more difficult for women to get abortions.
They did not spare Ducey, who will step down because of term limits. Lake knocked Ducey for his handling of the pandemic, saying he “shut our businesses down twice.” She derided, without naming, the “socialist mayors” of Tucson, Flagstaff and Phoenix for imposing mask mandates, measures intended to protect public health.
Salmon cited his outsider status and his admiration for the late President Ronald Reagan, and took credit for ousting former Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Illinois as one of the founders of the right-wing Freedom Caucus. Members include Prescott’s Paul Gosar, who defended participants of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and produced an anime-style video of him slaying Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking Biden.
Responding to questions about the Second Amendment, Salmon referred to Arizona’s designation as a “Second Amendment Sanctuary State,” which carries no legal weight. He said the Brady Amendment, which followed the assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981, calls for “the confiscation of guns.”
Salmon said he “strongly believes” in campus carry and cited his A+ rating from the NRA.
Not to be outdone -- or outgunned—Gaynor said he started shooting guns at age 10 and joined the NRA a year later.
“Arizona has the best gun laws in the nation,” Gaynor said, “I am going to keep it that way.” He referred to the war in Ukraine, the only country in Europe where firearms are not regulated by statute.
“They are kicking the Russians’ butts,” Gaynor said.
Lake said she is the only candidate who calls for exempting guns and ammo from sales taxes.
She characterized the 2020 presidential election as “corrupt” and “stolen from us,” and said she filed an injunction to do away with electronic voting machines.
The candidates took a tough line on illegal immigration, which falls within the purview of the federal government. Salmon said drug cartels have invaded Arizona, called for working with Native American tribes near the border and for arresting people who enter illegally on trespassing charges.
Gaynor concurred, saying trespassing into the United States should become a felony. Arizona also needs a “citizen army” to police the border.
Again sounding Trumpian, Lake said Arizona needs a strong governor to gain control of the Mexican border or we are not going to have a country anymore.”
Responding to a question about public schools, Gaynor called for the “free market,” in which parents decide what schools to send their children. “Charter schools are more efficient than public schools. We need competition for students and we need competition for teachers.”
Lake said teachers should earn more money and does not believe school administrators should be paid more than teachers.
Teacher unions are “the scourge of the country,” Salmon said. He said he favors merit pay, which teacher unions oppose.
The candidates fielded three questions submitted by the audience on index cards. None of the questions dealt with the Big Lie, perhaps because many people in the audience – and a majority of the Republicans – believe Trump won despite evidence to the contrary that included the controversial Maricopa County audit. (The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU reports one-third of all Americans believe the false claim that Donald Trump won the 2020 election.)
Sizing up the candidates, precinct committeeman John Courtis said afterward, “I think Kari Lake wants the limelight. The other ones want the desk light.”