Filler Southside Shakeup

The Two Seats In Statehouse District 10 Are Wide Open.
By J.E. Relly

DISTRICT 10 HAS ached for strong legislators ever since statehouse Rep. Phil Hubbard asked Lobbyists to discount liquor at his wedding reception and 23-year veteran Rep. Carmen Cajero was popped on suspicion of shoplifting fruitcake at a southside grocery store.

Both Tucson Democrats are retiring, although Hubbard waited to drop out of the race until he'd filed enough signatures to run for office. His name won't be listed on the primary ballot, according the county election office.

The four candidates running in economically depressed District 10 all seem aware of the needs in this largely Latino southside community, with dilapidated public schools, crowded classrooms and one of the largest environmental Superfund sites in the nation. All the right slogans are on the tips of their tongues: better education, economic prosperity and clean water.

If the race could be won by name recognition and publicized community activism, County Supervisor Dan Eckstrom's special assistant Ramon Valadez and two-time candidate Betty Liggins would win. But newcomer Sally Gonzalez brings her four-year term on the Yaqui Tribal Council to her candidacy, and Marilyn Venne has been meeting constituents by quietly volunteering time in the community.

Since March, the 28-year-old Valadez has lost 25 pounds walking door-to-door in the district. The lifetime District 10 resident calls his campaign "true grassroots"--his last campaign finance report listed $1,020 in cash raised. Valadez's mentor, Sen. Victor Soltero, along with Pima County Supervisor Dan Eckstrom and his daughter, South Tucson City Councilwoman Jennifer Eckstrom, have been promoting Valadez to their considerable contacts in the district. Valadez is also making his rounds at public events.

Image Even though Valadez is a first-time candidate, he's worked on federal, state, and local issues. In addition to a University of Arizona degree in electrical engineering, his resume details work for former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor and gubernatorial nominee Eddie Basha. Through Pastor's office, he's assisted in drafting more than a dozen bills. He considers himself a human rights champion, serving as southside campaign coordinator for the Martin Luther King state holiday, with diverse endorsements ranging from the Arizona Human Rights Fund to the Southern Arizona Labor Council.

Valadez's bilingual skills have taken him to the border, where he's interviewed Pastor and DeConcini constituents about water contamination issues.

Among the candidates, Valadez articulates the strongest grasp of his district's issues. He sees Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan's plan for eliminating property tax and instituting higher sales tax to shoulder the education burden as merely a regressive tax. "We don't want place any more burden on low-income families," he says.

Valadez strongly supports school vocational program funding. He says the $14-million block grant recently awarded for voc education is a start.

As do the other candidates, Valadez sees education, summer youth and job programs as an investment in crime prevention. He insists that funding such programs with successful track records is like investing in a 401K plan for the community's future.

He also proposes a more equitable formula for property taxes, for example, weeding out the so-called rent-a-cow loophole for developers who pay virtually no taxes on land they say is for ranching or farming--up until the moment they put in multi-million-dollar developments.

As far as economic stimuli, Valadez supports tax incentives for clean industries, along with a break for businesses providing day care.

Valadez is also a pro-choice candidate, as are Gonzales and Liggins. Venne supports abortion rights only if the pregnancy results from rape, incest, or if the mother's life is in jeopardy. Since the '92 elections, Liggins has shifted her position to opposing "parental consent." In the past she supported it, providing alternate provisions were in place for children from dysfunctional families.

BUT LIGGINS, WHO worked on Operation Bread Basket with The Rev. Jesse Jackson, and who marched with The Rev. Martin Luther King in the 1960s, is better known in Tucson as an anti-gang crusader.

Image She has more than twice the campaign funds Valadez has accumulated, according to campaign finance reports. After vying for the same seat in 1992 and '94, Liggins has developed her own set of campaign strategies. So far, she has dumped some $2,000 into her own campaign. (In her last campaign, she spent $7,000.) She's mailed out 11,000 absentee ballot request forms and received 300 back. Liggins is spreading her campaign message on Spanish public access TV, targeted mailings and signs.

In addition to her own political endeavors, the 65-year-old Liggins has worked for former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (as a summer intern in Washington, D.C.), and gubernatorial candidates Eddie Basha and Terry Goddard. Her string of endorsements span from DeConcini to the Arizona Women's Political Caucus to the not-surprising Arizona Medical Association.

Liggins is best known for her efforts in mobilizing crime-ridden neighborhoods to take back their turf from gangs. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik sits on her campaign committee. In the early 1990s, Liggins and her neighbors posted a "Drug Trafficking Area" sign in front of an infamous crack house. Liggins received death threats from the Bloods for her gang-chasing efforts in the Mirasol Park neighborhood.

There is no question the 18-year District 10 resident has brought attention and funds to the community. She credits the awarding of the Southside TCE clinic to her testimony at the Pima County Board of Health, where she formerly served as chair.

But critics consider Liggins' "single-handed" efforts self-aggrandizing, and they insist that pursuit of medical services once the underground contamination was discovered was a community effort.

Last year Liggins' grant proposal received $18,500 in city block grant money for a preschool playground. In addition, she volunteered her nursing services for a makeshift clinic at Quincie Douglas Neighborhood Center.

Like all the other candidates, Liggins says the state needs to find a way to equitably fund school construction and repair. She aptly describes the disparity between the "Taj Mahal schools and the Pueblo." Liggins is mystified that the proceeds from the lottery are going toward road maintenance instead of education, as was originally promised.

MORE THAN ANY of the other candidates, education is challenger Sally Gonzales' passion. The 38-year-old Yaqui, with a UA graduate degree in multi-cultural education, has taught in Tucson Unified School District and has helped administer UA research on what causes students to drop-out.

Gonzales considers herself the most experienced in government service of the candidates. During her past four years on the Yaqui Tribal Council, she says she's had daily experience administering monies and program. She's also assisted with developing reservation ordinances.

Gonzales also contributed to writing amendments to the tribal constitution, including imposing staggered terms for tribal council members.

Gonzales is running a low-budget campaign. At the endo fo May, she had less than $250 in her coffers. The 10-year district resident is campaigning hard on the reservation, as well as targeting women and new voters.

In addition to Basha's gubernatorial campaign, Gonzales has campaigned for city council members and the mayor of her hometown, Guadalupe, Arizona. She's also serving on the Governor's Commission on Violence Against Women, and formerly served on the National Indian Health Board.

Gonzales says her district has the lowest standardized test scores in the Tucson Unified School District. She's in favor of councils, which have been piloted in TUSD, that allow individual school administrators, teachers and parents to decide the curricula, book selection and discipline regulations. She believes that economic development along with education work together to abate crime.

In her pitch to voters, Gonzales highlights her experience with tribal economic development. Casino of the Sun has brought the reservation unemployment rate down from 60 to 20 percent in three years, she says.

IF CANDIDATES FOR District 10 could win the primary for human compassion, Marilyn Venne would win. The three-year district resident (20 years in Tucson) says through her work with the homeless and teaching at Our Lady Queen of All Saints, she reaches out to the community and genuinely "feels their pain." Oddly, coming from Venne, this doesn't sound patronizing.

Image Although this is Venne's first run for office, she has worked in the city elections office, and on several campaigns. Her husband ran unsuccessfully for city council and constable on the Republican ticket. Venne says she switched parties for some four years to support him, but became disillusioned with the Republicans and finally convinced her husband to rejoin the Democrats. Of course, given the Democratic voter registration advantage, it's also savvy politics.

Venne has been out beating the pavement since January. Most of her campaign monies come out-of-pocket. With some 15 people working for her campaign, her signs are emerging around the district (with private property owners' approval, she adds).

Winners of the primary in this Democratic stronghold stretching from Wilmot west beyond Three Points will likely carry the general election, since Republican gun enthusiast Bob Motta represents only 23 percent of the voters. TW

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