Abortion and education are among the top issues candidates have campaigned on.
There is only one general election race in Arizona that pits two incumbents against each other and the candidates could not be more different.
Legislative District 4, which covers Paradise Valley north Scottsdale, and north Phoenix, between Camelback Road, State Route 51, and State Route 101, is one of few competitive legislative districts. It most closely resembles what used to be LD28, which was a split district at the capitol from its inception in 2012 until 2020 when Democrats took over all three seats.
In the Senate, Republican incumbent Nancy Barto of LD15 faces off against Democrat incumbent Christine Marsh of LD28.
Barto Known for Anti-Abortion Bills
Barto has been around for years since she won her first election in 2006 and is mostly known for her views on vaccines—she’s against them—and on women’s reproduction healthcare —she’s usually the sponsor of anti-abortion legislation that makes it to the governor’s desk.
Marsh is a former teacher of the year who has been known to cross the party line from time to time, a rarity in today’s political climate.
LD4, which maintains a slight Republican registration advantage, voted for President Joe Biden in 2020 and houses some of the most moderate Republicans coming from its LD28 roots. That’s something that could tilt toward Marsh’s favor, given Barto has only needed to rely on the fringe conservative base to win primary elections, never facing a competitive general election.
The district, like most others, sees education, abortion, and the economy as top issues affecting its residents, and the senate candidates themselves mostly agree.
Marsh Wants Fully-Funded Schools
Marsh said for education, the teacher shortage is what’s most concerning. “Currently, thousands of Arizona classrooms lack a permanent, full-time, highly qualified teacher, and that directly impacts student learning.”
But she did want to put focus on a big issue that is seldom talked about –– water. Supply is extremely low and it’s still barely cracking the conversation.
Barto, on the other hand, picked topics that are more “hot button” and likely to rile up voters than anything. For education, she focused on learning loss suffered through the pandemic, and then mentioned crime and “anti-police sentiment” as a focus of hers in addition to the economy.
Drastically Different Approaches to Education Legislation
Both candidates said they planned to introduce education-related legislation as their first bill if elected. Marsh wants to lift the aggregate expenditure limit, which limits schools from being able to spend the mountains of cash the legislature just allocated to education this past session. There was supposedly a promise of a special session to get that done, but that seems unlikely now.
Barto’s first bill would put focus on more culture war chatter surrounding a chatroom set up by the Arizona Department of Education that far-right provocateurs have taken on as so-called proof of “grooming.”
“We can’t shut parents out of knowing what their children are learning. This issue isn’t going away,” Barto said.
Marsh wants voters to know that after she lost her son to a fentanyl overdose, she introduced and passed legislation to legalize fentanyl testing strips to try to reduce the number of families that have to deal with that pain.
She also is against the state’s plan for universal school vouchers, a law that passed this year. Barto is in favor of expanding the program and has voted for every bill to expand it over the past several years. The program is seen as a way to pull money out of public schools in favor of private institutions usually favoring wealthier families.
Barto also was one of just three senators who did not vote to censure fringe Sen. Wendy Rogers for threatening her colleagues and making repeated virulent antisemitic remarks in addition to her ties to white nationalists.
Two Seats, Three Candidates in House Race
In the LD4 House race, there are two Republicans and one Democrat competing for two seats. In the 10 years of LD28, the district always sent at least one Democrat to the capitol every election, with Democrats winning both seats in 2018.
Matt Gress and Maria Syms are the Republicans and Laura Terech is the lone Democrat running.
Gress is Ducey’s budget director and a former governing board member of the Madison Elementary School District before losing his re-election in 2020.
Gress already announced a proposal to give teachers $10,000 raises, which has garnered some positive responses thus far. It remains to be seen whether it’s campaign fodder or if he’ll keep his word and introduce the legislation if elected.
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Maria Syms served one term in the House from 2017-2019 and was known as a toxic Republican who fought with her party and is heavily blamed for LD28 losing its second House seat in 2018. She’s an attorney and former Paradise Valley Councilwoman who along with her husband still owes $70,000 to a former lawmaker over a frivolous lawsuit.
Syms, who is widely expected to be running as a launching point for a 2024 congressional bid, is closely tied to AZGOP chairwoman and fake elector Kelli Ward—and the fringe faction of the party as a whole. Voters rejected her in favor of Kelli Butler and Aaron Lieberman in 2018.
Terech, like Marsh, is a former public education teacher. She supports a woman’s right to choose and opposes voucher expansion.