Mesa Elections Roundup

Tuesday proved to settle a few scores in the City of Mesa elections.

In districts one, two and three, candidates won with the necessary 50% plus one margins to avoid run off elections. In district one, community activist, Dave Richins beat small businessman, Matt Tolman 54% to 46% (3,534 to 2967). District two also earned another newcomer in Alex Finter who beat Manny Cortez 4,143 to 1,591 votes (72% to 28%). Dennis Kavanaugh secured another spot on the council by beating Mark Yarbrough in district three 2,337 to 1,567 (60% to 40%).

However runoffs are guaranteed in northeast district five and the Mayor’s race. In what was a major surprise, Dina Higgins out ran both Phil Austin and Vern Mathern to garnish 44% of the vote (4,000 to 2,617 to 2,462 respectively). Higgins’ campaign consisted primarily of walking, small yard signs and last minute phoning.

Not a surprise, was the outcome of the Mesa Mayor’s race in which the vote was split three ways. Developer/attorney/CPA, Scott Smith, gathered the most votes followed by small businessman, Rex Griswold, and finally in third place was Vice Mayor and community activist, Claudia Walters. The vote breakdown was Smith – 16,229 (38%); Griswold – 14,198 (34%); and Walters – 11,890 (28%). The outcome puts Walters as “odd woman out” with Smith and Griswold heading into a runoff.

Much speculation went into the expected outcome of the Mayor’s race bringing into play the issue of faith, gender, experience and change. Both Smith and Walters are Mormons while Griswold identifies as an evangelical (he is a founder and elder at Red Mountain Community Church). This factor may have split the vote down denominational lines. Gender may have also played somewhat of a role with Walters running as the only woman. Experience probably played a bigger factor than expected because both Griswold and Walters have served on the council which would have divided the vote between these two most experienced candidates. At the same time, those voters who cast their vote based on a desire for change, cast their political weight behind Smith.

With Walters now out of the race, the gender factor now becomes moot. Both Smith and Griswold will be seeking ways to differentiate themselves from each other – Smith on the issue of change and Griswold on experience.

Underlying these factors will be each candidate’s personal faith. In an earlier article, The East Valley Tribune made mention of what may become a race between a Mormon and an Evangelical. For years, LDS members have controlled the political landscape in the East Valley. The majority of state legislators are members of the Mormon Church. Whether that continues or carries over into the mayoral race is up for debate. (Mayor Keno Hawker is not a member of any particular faith.)

Griswold will assert experience in both government and business. Smith will assert leadership in the private sector but will place more emphasis on changing the composition of the council. With three newly elected council members and another on the way, Smith will attempt to make the case that he too should lead a majority of newcomers.

Of course, the race for Mayor will come to a conclusion on May 20th along with the race for district five between Dina Higgins and Phil Austin. With ten weeks to go, don’t look for any of the campaign signs to disappear quite yet.

Mesa voters also gave approval to Question 1 which extends home rule and Proposition 300 which amended city code on a special zoning case.

Unofficial election results are available at the City of Mesa Clerk’s website.


  1. Novangelus says

    DSW: You seem to be implying that this election is about religion. Give me a break. Its about an incumbent versus the candidate of change. If Mesa elections were about religion why does the council only have two Mormons elected to the council? Voters, DSW, don’t care nearly as much about religion as you apparently do.

  2. Novangelus,

    Relax, you seem awfully sensitive about Smith’s religion. I read the same post and did not come away with anything of the sort. Reporting what the local press has said about the race does not imply that the author shares those views. At the end of the day, it is what it is. I read the article mentioned by the author and at no point in the article did it have any evangelicals saying they would not vote for a Mormon. On the flip side, you did have at least one Mormon voter say flat out, that she was voting based on religion. That’s unfortunate.

  3. The unfortunate part is the Tribune trying to create a controversy right before the election. The Mormon vote was obviously not split since Smith took a solid first place. I hope it stays above the pettiness of bringing religion into it and is about the issues. This will very much be an outsider vs. incumbent.

  4. Mesa Mom says

    The fact of the matter is that people vote for politicians who reflect their values. I know lots of Mormons who voted for Claudia and Scott for one reason only and that was because they were Mormons.

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