Independents, Education And Healthcare.

This week, Democratic Perspective continued our conversation with James Ledbetter, Cottonwood attorney and behind-the-scenes Democratic Party leader.

We began by asking Mr. Ledbetter about the independent voters in Arizona. “Independents are a huge factor, a growing factor,” he said. “Democrats have to figure out this group. Iowa showed they’re affecting the outcomes of elections, and they will for a long time. Candidates race to the middle following the primaries to attract independents.”

When asked if the trend toward independents has to do with the so-called “disgust factor” – the sentiment of “a pox on both parties,” Ledbetter responded, “Elections are about people and candidates. They’re not really about the parties anymore. In Yavapai County, independents are even more important. We have to re-think politics in order to invite these people to the dance.”

Moving away from politics, Mr. Ledbetter addressed the reasons he chose to get involved with the Mingus Union school board. “I have five sons,” he said. We will have 13 consecutive years of kids in high school. Frankly, schools are not valued in Arizona. Some want to cut the fat out of education. But I can tell you there is not fat left to cut. We have cut school administration to bare bones. 80 percent of our budget is people. We are even experimenting with a part-time administrator who has agreed to telecommute when he’s not on site. Given the budget, we didn’t have a choice.”

“During last year’s campaign for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction,” he continued, “John Huppenthal said there are lots of ways to improve education without spending more money. I don’t think that is true,” Ledbetter said. “Arizona is 50th in the nation for funding of education – 51st if you include Washington, DC. We have made all the cuts we can.”

“Starting salaries in Arizona are so low that a new teacher qualifies for AHCCCS (Medicaid) and food stamps,” he stated.

“At the end of the day, the best and the brightest should be in education. But we can’t pay them what they’re worth,” said Ledbetter. “There is a teacher at Mingus Union who has an engineering degree. He has been here for 10 years, but he is offered starting salary money.”

In response to a question about his role on the Governor’s health care task force, Ledbetter said, “People do not understand that AHCCCS is a hidden tax. A hospital cannot pay employees and provide medicine on the amount it’s paid. If you’re 65, you get health care. But if you’re a child who needs a kidney, you don’t.”

As for rationing of health care, he said that it is worse in many other countries. “If you have a tumor and need a CT scan, in the Verde Valley you can get it within a matter of hours,” he said. “But if you live in another country, you may have to wait months to get a CT scan. By that time, your tumor may have grown to be inoperable.”

In addition to serving as an attorney at the law firm he founded, James Ledbetter is President of the Mingus Union School Board and serves on the Boards of Northern Arizona Healthcare, the Verde Valley Medical Center, Flagstaff Medical Center and Sedona Medical Center. He is also active within a number of community agencies throughout Northern Arizona.

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