By ADAM GAUB
FLORENCE –– Keeping dissention and jabs at a minimum, the three Republican candidates for secretary of state met Saturday in Florence as part of a series of political forums hosted by the Pinal Republican Committee.
State Rep. Justin Pierce, State Sen. Michelle Reagan and businessman Wil Cardon spoke to a good-sized crowd about why they should be the choice for the state’s No. 2 office.
In an admitted effort to tamp down the infighting that has pervaded the Arizona GOP in recent years, the trio often highlighted how they agreed with the plans or proposals of the others.
“There has been too much divisiveness,” said Cardon, who lost in a primary race for a U.S. Senate seat to then-Rep. Jeff Flake in 2012. “If any one of us gets elected, I believe the other two of us would support them.”
In a wide-ranging forum with questions from the audience on issues from voter fraud to border issues and SB 1062, each of the three seemed hesitant to call out their Republican opponents on nearly every issue.
There were, however, a few differences worth highlighting.
Cardon took what was perhaps the only major shot of the event at his opponents, saying Reagan and Pierce’s support of SB1062 may have been ill-advised.
“I’m a big proponent of religious freedom, but I’m not a fan of bills in search of a problem,” he said.
Cardon spoke the most of seeing the secretary of state’s office refocused on economic development as its second-most important role behind insuring a fair and efficient elections system in the state. He said the person in that No. 2 job needs to be a champion of this state, participating in trips to recruit businesses from other areas across the country and the globe.
In a question on mail-in balloting, all three candidates agreed that going to an all-mail system was not in the voters’ best interests, as it opened the door for fraud. Reagan, who has been intimately involved in elections-related legislation in what is now her fourth year in the senate and 12th overall at the State Capitol, said she has seen voter participation increase tremendously with the use of mail-in balloting.
She said voters in younger generations are less likely to show up to vote at the polls on Election Day and Cardon added that the secretary of state’s office should be focused on electronic Internet-based balloting as a possible option moving forward.
All three candidates shared concerns about those who are not here legally attempting to vote.
“We have some gaping holes in our laws,” said Reagan, who, along with Pierce, criticized the left wing for intentionally mischaracterizing some of the elections-related bills that have been proposed in the State Legislature in recent years.
Several of the questions for the candidates, ranging from support for Common Core (little to be found) to Medicaid expansion, dealt more with topics they would tackle were they to assume the governorship.
Pierce said even though it isn’t his primary focus, it’s something he knows he has to be prepared for.
“Four of the last eight governors have come from the secretary of state’s office,” Pierce said, adding that his ability to build coalitions in the legislature makes him the best person for the job.
Cardon, while not discrediting the experience of Reagan and Pierce in the State Legislature working on elections-related bills, said the secretary of state’s job would be best filled with someone with executive, CEO-like experience.
Reagan said the voters should look for someone who can work with the sitting governor –regardless of which party he or she may be from.
“(Gov. Jan) Brewer was the secretary of state under a Democratic governor and there was several things they worked on together,” Reagan said. “How much more powerful would it be if we had those two offices working in tandem?”