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Six candidates vie for two seats in the predominantly rural House District 25

Like an enormous necklace, Legislative District 25 wraps around metropolitan Tucson, stretching from west of Ajo all the way to the New Mexico border.

The six candidates running for the district's Arizona House seats in the Sept. 7 primary are as diverse as the area they hope to represent. The two incumbents and four challengers range across the political spectrum, offering a variety of viewpoints.

Democrat Manny Alvarez--a retired Department of Economic Security employee and current manager of a pistachio orchard--is seeking a second term. He points to constituent service as one of his accomplishments, along with a health care bill he sponsored that's intended to help rural hospitals save money.

Among the priorities that 63-year-old Alvarez lists is providing a voice for rural people at the state capitol. "Lawmakers need to recognize that rural areas are part of Maricopa and Pima counties," the Elfrida resident says. "(The district) is rural Arizona, and it needs a piece of the pie."

Alvarez would like to see the pay of both teachers and state prison guards increased, and believes the Department of Corrections must be a top priority of the Legislature. Voters should support him, he says, because he has done a good job. "I know the culture and needs of rural areas," he adds.

Former Howard Dean campaign staffer Monica Perez agrees that Alvarez has done a good job. But the 26-year-old Douglas resident is running for a Democratic spot on the November ballot because she feels people under 40 aren't well represented in the Legislature.

Improving rural health care and raising teacher pay are Perez's top priorities. She points out that Arizona is about $5,000 below the national average salary for teachers, and says the state should be at the forefront in trying to change that situation, while recognizing that individual school districts make the final decision about their employees' pay.

Perez would also like to see the state return to the political direction that she believes existed 25 years ago.

"The Legislature then could look past party affiliation to get the job done," she says. "Now, moderates are under attack; everyone's labeled and worried about party loyalty. They're not concentrating on getting done what needs to get done."

Louis Johnson, 53, says his two top priorities are improving education and rural health care, and adds that a dialogue between urban and rural areas must be established to address them. He also wants to focus on environmental issues.

"Arizona's population is growing, and the ever-increasing demand for natural resources, e.g. land for development, clean water, clean air, etc., continues to grow as well," Johnson says in his campaign material. "My concern is to balance the economic needs of Arizona's citizens with the need to protect the environment and to consider what is best for future generations."

The Sells-area Democrat, who is a school resource assistant, says there's another reason voters should back him.

"One of my attributes is to listen," he says. "That's what I tend to do. I like to listen to people with ideas and opinions. That's part of problem solving."

Three Republicans are also on the primary ballot: Freshman legislator Jennifer Burns of Avra Valley is competing against two Sierra Vista residents, Mary Ann Black and David Stevens.

Black, a 51-year-old rancher and real estate broker, says border security and changing the funding formula for education will be her top priorities if elected. She believes rural school districts don't get their fair share of state tax dollars, and says the existing formula favors city districts instead.

Because Arizona's economy is growing so well, Black thinks taxes should not be raised. Instead, she favors reducing them for businesses, and thinks this would encourage more companies to locate in the state.

Her experience in Cochise County on water issues as an elected member of a Conservation District Board, along with her successful lobbying efforts at the state capitol, are two reasons Black gives for why Republicans should vote for her. Another, she says, is her knowledge of rural issues in general.

Stevens, a 43-year-old who works as a defense contractor at Fort Huachuca, says the state budget and border security are his main concerns. He narrowly lost in the general election for this same seat two years ago, and calls both current officeholders "tax-and-spend liberals."

Stevens says Arizona's budget this year was balanced by taking money away from important programs like school construction, and that he has a better idea. He proposes eliminating both the personal income and corporate taxes while reducing the sales tax from 5.6 to 3 percent. The result, he believes, would create 100,000 new jobs, increase economic growth and bring in more state tax revenue.

Stevens says that Washington, D.C., hasn't secured Arizona's international border and that the state government should augment those efforts. He stresses that the cost of illegal immigration in Arizona includes $400 million for health care and $100 million for prison expenditures.

Despite the large registration advantage of Democrats in District 25, the 33-year-old Burns, a self-described full-time legislator, is completing her first stint in Phoenix.

She points to her work on the current state budget as her major accomplishment. A member of the moderate Republican group which helped pass the spending plan over their leadership's objections, Burns is openly critical of some of their positions.

"They wanted to cut (funding for) community colleges and hospitals while giving less to the University of Arizona than to ASU," she says. "I wasn't willing to do that."

If re-elected, Burns has three priorities: continuing work on preserving Arizona's military bases; insuring the use of the state's entire allocation of Central Arizona Project water; and boosting health care.

"I'm a hard worker and read the bills (we're voting on), plus I know what I'm doing on the budget to represent the district and Southern Arizona," Burns says. "I've done that for two years and can build on it."

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