Challenger Michael Muscato Representative Debbie Lesko

Challenger Michael Muscato presses Rep. Debbie Lesko at the two Peorians debate the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues.

It’s beginning to look a lot like election season, with campaign signs on nearly every major intersection.

This week, Peoria voters will decide on many of the faces seen on those ubiquitous posters.

In one race with national implications, a pair of Peorians face off: Michael Muscato takes on Rep. Debbie Lesko, challenging for her U.S. House of Representatives seat in the 8th Congressional District. The district stretches from New River to Goodyear, including parts of Peoria, Glendale and Luke Air Force Base.

In an Arizona PBS Channel 8 debate Oct. 5, Muscato and Lesko spent an hour sharply discoursing on the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy, health care and immigration.

Lesko, a Republican, is the heavy favorite. She was elected in 2018, winning 55% of the votes against Hiral Tipirneni.

Muscato, a newcomer to politics, bested Bob Musselwhite, Bob Olsen and Kyle Martin in the Democrat primary.

Muscato is a former professional baseball player who said he had to close his gym businesses (CrossFit Archangel in Glendale) during the pandemic. He was the aggressor in the debate, insisting several times that Lesko has not done enough to help small businesses.

“Her enablement is why 200,000 Americans are dead ... why tens of thousands of small businesses have been destroyed,” Muscato charged.

Lesko was dismissive of the harsh words of Muscato, who painted Lesko as a disciple of President Donald Trump. Indeed, Lesko boasted, “I’ve flown on Air Force One three times.”

Lesko said Trump responded to COVID-19 appropriately, starting with a travel ban early in the crisis. “I think the president has done a good job,” she said. “Now he is doing Operation Warp Speed. I think we’ll get a vaccine maybe by the end of the month.”

And, she added, “I’ve voted for three coronavirus aid bills. ... In the realm of things, we’ve done a good job.”

Asked about her personal philosophy on wearing masks, Lesko again alluded to Trump: “I try to take as much precaution as possible. I’ve gone to the White House several times—they always test you before you see the president,” she said.

Muscato said he has seen Lesko at Trump rallies, “fist-pumping like a fan I would see at a concert”—rather than focusing on helping local businesses, as Muscato pledged to do.

“This county is hurting,” Muscato said. “And the reason it’s hurting is leadership has done nothing but bend the knee to the president without getting the job done.”

Lesko countered that Trump is a business leader. “Quite frankly, he’s done a fantastic job on the economy,” she said.

And, Lesko said, she voted for a pandemic-related, loan-forgiveness program: “The Paycheck Protection Program helped thousands of businesses in Arizona.”

When she questioned why Muscato didn’t receive the funding, he responded, “I’m not Oliver Twist and I’m not going to reach out and say, ‘Please sir, can I have some more.’”

A moderator asked Lesko about wording on her website, which he said quoted advice that people who are not sick should not wear masks.

“My website says what?” Lesko responded. “I always wear masks, even before there was a mandate. ... If my website says that, I’m going to talk to my staff to remove that immediately.”

 

Ballots in the mail

According to the Maricopa County Department of Elections, early ballots are being mailed starting Wednesday, Oct. 7.

In-person voting began Oct. 7, through Election Day, Nov. 3.

Registered voters can vote by mail or in person. 

To check early ballot voting status and more, visit recorder.maricopa.gov/elections.

The Nov. 3 election is the final election held between nominees of various parties, as well as nonpartisan races including school board elections, bonds, ballot propositions and initiatives.

While some races are fiercely contested, Legislative District 30 is decidedly unexciting. Robert Meza and Raquel Teran are the only two on the ballot for the two LD 30 House of Representatives positions, and Tony Navarrete is the only name on the ballot for Arizona Senate District 30.

“Because of the need for physical distancing and heightened safety protocols, voting locations may have moved, but we are expanding access through a Vote Center model. Voters may now choose from any voting location, rather than just one assigned location,” said Scott Jarrett, director of Election Day and emergency voting with the Maricopa County Elections Department. 

“These large locations will also be able to check in more voters at a time, and are located across the county, including on tribal land and in rural areas to ensure in-person voting continues to be an option for all communities.”

According to the Elections Department, nearly 78% of Maricopa County’s nearly 2.5 million registered voters have already requested a ballot in the mail. 

Voters have the option to return their early ballot by mail by Oct. 27 or drop it off at any Vote Center or secure ballot drop box by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

The Elections Department is also adding new, drive-thru drop boxes in the parking lots of sport stadiums across the county. Voters will be able to return completed ballots in their signed and sealed green affidavit envelope from their vehicles. 

According to the county, trained staff will work at all drive-thru drop boxes and will deliver the sealed envelopes to the Elections Department nightly, tracking the chain of custody and keeping ballots secure.

Drive-thru drop box locations will be open Oct. 24 and Oct. 31 to Nov. 3.

Find sites and hours of operation at locations.maricopa.vote.

“Maricopa County has been providing every voter with the option to request a ballot in the mail since 1996. We have layers of oversight to ensure only valid ballots are counted,” said Rey Valenzuela, director of early voting and election services with the Maricopa County Elections Department. 

“We plan to make sure that no matter what option voters choose, it’s safe, accessible and secure.”

 

State races

Unlike other state races, such as Legislative District 30, where only incumbents are running, the Peoria area has some hotly contested races for state representatives.

In District 20, Paul Boyer of Glendale, the incumbent, and challenger Douglas Ervin of Phoenix are on the ballot for Arizona Senate. Arizona House incumbents Anthony Kern of Glendale and Shawnna Bollick of Phoenix and challenger Judy Schwiebert of Phoenix.

In District 21, Rick Gray of Sun City, the incumbent, and challenger Brian Whitman of Peoria are on the Arizona Senate ballot. Arizona House of Representatives incumbent Kevin Payne of Peoria and challengers Beverly Pingerelli of Peoria and Kathy Knecht of Peoria are on the ballot for two positions.

 

Key dates

On Oct. 5, U.S. District Court Judge Steven Logan extended the Arizona voter registration deadline to Oct. 23.

All voting locations will follow strict physical distancing and cleaning guidelines, according to the county.

Oct. 23 is the last day to request a ballot in the mail.

For more information, visit recorder.maricopa.gov/elections.

To check on your voting status, visit recorder.maricopa.gov/beballotready.