TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Phoenix is a bad word to some candidates for governor, especially when they're on a podium in Arizona's second largest city.
Candidates took more shots at Arizona's most populous city than each other during a Tuesday evening candidate forum sponsored by the Tucson Citizen and the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank in Phoenix.
"I am from Phoenix, I apologize for that," independent Richard Mahoney said to appreciative titters from the reservation-only audience of 300. "The message is very simple: Phoenix should not rule the state of Arizona."
Democrat Alfredo Gutierrez said state government must be decentralized with agencies relocated to Tucson, Douglas and other communities around Arizona. "Every major decision, every trivial decision is made within three miles of the state Capitol," Gutierrez said. "We're going to take state government out of Phoenix and take it where it belongs to all of the people of Arizona."
Secretary of State Betsey Bayless appeared to go out of her way to avoid mentioning by name where Phoenix is located. Bayless trumpeted her budget-balancing work on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors as "experience with leading a major segment of Arizona government through a period of financial crisis."
Republican front-runner Matt Salmon made only an oblique reference to Phoenix, at one point offering to ship the NFL's Arizona Cardinals southward.
Democratic front-runner Janet Napolitano did not knock her hometown but said she appreciated the cultural and economic differences between Phoenix and Tucson.
"This county elected me attorney general. This county is a county I respect," Napolitano said of traditionally Democratic-leaning Pima County.
On another subject, Salmon pledged to defend religious freedom when questioned about the constitutional doctrine of separation between church and state.
"We have a responsibility to defend everybody's right to believe or not to believe according to their conscience," Salmon said. The former congressman noted that he had met in Tibet with persecuted monks and spoke out on their behalf during meetings with Chinese leaders.
The question posed by a news media representative serving as a panelist for the forum referenced Salmon's recent statement on a Christian television network that this election represents an opportunity to put government back in the name of God.
Democrat Mike Newcomb said Salmon's remark on the television program missed the point. Salmon talks about Christian values but his campaign does not stress poverty or social justice, Newcomb said. "Your rhetoric doesn't match that," Newcomb said.
Other candidates participating in the forum were Republican Carol Springer, Democrat Mark Osterloh - the sole Tucsonan in the race - and Libertarians Barry Hess and Gary Fallon.