Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Arren Kimbel-Sannit moderated the LD 21 online debate featuring Republican incumbent Kevin Payne, bottom right, Republican Beverly Pingerelli, left, and Democrat Kathy Knecht.

School vouchers, Proposition 208 and the state’s COVID-19 response were debated during the Legislative District 21 candidate online forum sponsored by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

The participants, Republican incumbent Kevin Payne, Republican Beverly Pingerelli and Democrat Kathy Knecht, seek to fill two House seats. 

State Sen. Rick Gray, a Republican who is running unopposed, did not participate.

Moderator Arren Kimbel-Sannit asked each candidate to highlight how they plan to help the citizens of LD 21, which includes parts of  Peoria, Glendale and Sun City.

“As chairman of the Public Safety Committee, I get to hold the line against the terrorist groups who want to defund our police and leave us vulnerable to mob rule,” Payne said. “I’m an active proponent for real border security and an end to the flow of illegal drug crime violence that crosses (the border).”

Knecht said, “I have deep roots here in the West Valley. I was an elementary school teacher, a 12-year public school board member, and I was the president of the Arizona School Boards Association.

“I’m focused on strengthening our schools; ensuring that our seniors and our families have affordable, quality health care; and bringing high-paying jobs to the Northwest Valley,” Knecht added.

Pingerelli is a member of the Peoria Unified School District governing board.

“I will protect life, families and faith, defend constitutionally guaranteed rights for Arizona’s economy through lower taxes and responsible regulatory reforms,” Pingerelli said. “Expand school choice, as well as career technical and vocational training, improve the quality of education in our district schools and create more high-paying jobs.”

Arizona Clean Elections sponsored online debates for positions across the state. The LD 21 forum, in early September, was one of the first.

The candidates were asked to address the Legislature’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would like to see us come back and do a special session. I’m upset that we haven’t done so yet,” Payne said. “Back in 2002, when the law was written to start this emergency status, that the governor has taken, it wasn’t defined really well as to what constituted an emergency, so I would like to clarify that a little bit.”

Knecht, the lone Democrat, was asked how she felt about the Republican-led House’s response to the pandemic.

“The leaders of this community should get together and come together and do some problem solving on behalf of the people of Arizona,” Knecht said. 

“It shouldn’t matter if it’s Republicans or Democrats who decide to call a special session, I think true leaders recognize that now is the time to step up and work together in a bipartisan way.”

Pingerelli seconded that.

“I do agree that we should go back into special session,” Pingerelli said. “I know people are afraid to open businesses back up. ... I think that (Legislature) should get back and actually get done and finish things out strong.”

Proposition 208 

Kimbel-Sannit asked each candidate about Proposition 208, the proposed 3.5% income tax surcharge that would apply to individuals making $250,000 or more or married couples making $500,000 or more. The revenue from the 3.5% income tax will be distributed to teachers and classroom support staff salaries, according to azsos.gov.

“I’m definitely not a supporter (of) Prop 208,” Payne said. “That raises taxes on the so-called wealthy and it also raises taxes on the small businesses. It excludes business corporations, but it hits small businesses.”

Payne continued, “We have managed to fund school funding a tremendous amount, billions of dollars. In fact, the largest expenditure we have in our budget is for education, and we’ve managed to do that without raising any taxes at all.”

Pingerelli agreed.

“I do not support 208; it will hurt small businesses. And then just to let you know that $4.6 million is coming in to support 208, from outside the state, so I don’t think that’s correct,” Pingerelli said. 

“The thing is not to just look at the money, but to look at what we’re getting for the money that we’re spending. In Peoria, 70% of our 11th graders can’t pass the English language, AzMerit (tests). So in order to get those educated students, we’re going to have to change things around,” she said.

Knecht disagreed, saying Prop 208 is fundamental in attracting businesses to the Northwest Valley, which attract younger workers with younger families. 

“I do support Invest in Ed because the Legislature has offered no alternative,” Knecht said. “Arizona’s teachers are among some of the lowest paid in the nation.

“I long for the day that we don’t have to ask our local taxpayers to tax themselves to pay for their local schools, especially when those local schools are responsible for raising their property taxes, lowering crime rates, making healthy communities and preparing kids for our workforce,” Knecht added.