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Yavapai Republicans accuse Bennett of not being conservative enough in legislative debate

Ken Bennett in 2023.
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Ken Bennett in 2023.

During a Tuesday night debate, incumbent state Sen. Ken Bennett (R-Prescott) defended himself against accusations from Republican challengers that he’s not conservative enough.

Former state lawmaker Mark Finchem and Steve Zipperman, Bennett’s opponents for the GOP nomination in a deeply red Yavapai County legislative District 1, attacked Bennett for disrupting Republican causes. Bennett has been known to buck his own party and cast decisive votes against Republican-backed bills in the narrowly divided Arizona Legislature.

Bennett defended his independent streak.

“I haven't stymied anything unless it was unconstitutional or it had critical flaws. I don’t vote with the Democrat, but I don’t blindly vote with Republicans. I vote on the merits of every bill,” Bennett said.

Fichem and Zipperman also criticized Bennett for his handling of state budgets when he was Senate president and blamed him for not handling the 2008 financial crisis better.

Bennett noted he wasn’t president at that time — he served in that role from 2003 to 2007 — and refuted his opponents’ claims that he didn’t deliver a balanced state budget when he was in leadership.

Finchem faced questions about his ties to the district.

Two years ago, he represented a different legislative district in Pima County. Earlier this election cycle, Finchem also requested a candidate packet of information about running for office in Maricopa County.

Finchem claimed Tuesday that he pulled those papers for a friend whose campaign he wanted to manage, not himself.

And he said he’s lived in Yavapai County long enough to represent the community.

“At the end of the day, a year’s worth of living in a community ought to be worth something,” Finchem said.

Finchem touted his endorsement in the race by former President Donald Trump.

As for Zipperman, he highlighted his political newcomer status as a benefit to Yavapai County voters.

“I think that we need to listen to the people a lot more, and honestly I see myself as one of the people. I don’t see myself as anyone special,’ Zipperman said.

Zipperman argued with Finchem and Bennett over their plans for border security. Zipperman said as a lawmaker, he would want to sue the federal government for not doing their duty to secure the border. Zipperman claimed he’s found an attorney who will take the case free of charge to taxpayers.

Zipperman also suggested building another border wall.

On the matter of faith in Arizona’s elections, the candidates’ answers varied greatly.

Bennett promised to accept the results of the primary election.

Zipperman said he doesn’t have a problem with it in theory, but didn’t commit.

Finchem suggested that Yavapai County will likely run a safe election though he has less faith in other counties. He encouraged voters not to vote by mail, claiming it’s less secure.

Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.