Full House

Four Candidates Run A Tight Race In District 13.

THE FOUR CANDIDATES running for the two open House seats in District 13 can sometimes sound a lot alike.

The Republicans, Jonathan Paton and Carol Somers, and the Democrats, Gabrielle Giffords and Ted Downing, all say they want to increase funding for Arizona's abysmal educational system. They want to do a better job of providing health care for the poor. They want to encourage economic development and bring more tax dollars back to Tucson.

"We've got great candidates on both sides of the aisle," says Somers.

Given D13's close voter registration--there are 27,781 Republicans, 27,600 Democrats and a little more than 13,335 swing voters--the race remains up for grabs. So the candidates are attending forums, walking neighborhoods, making calls and reaching out to every voter they possibly can.

Yet while they may agree on many of the basics, the candidates have very different styles.

Downing, a UA anthropology professor, talks a lot about government reform. He says government should live by the rules he calls TAPS: Transparency, Accountability, Participation and Sustainability. By that, he means the working of government should be visible and accountable to the people, who should be involved in creating policy that leads to a sustainable community. Downing developed the TAPS concept while doing Third World consulting work for the World Bank.

His career has carried him a long way from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he grew up in a struggling farming community. By his own admission, he "wasn't college material," but he landed a scholarship to Beloit, Wis., in the early days of the space race. Downing earned a degree in anthropology in 1965 and began to travel to Latin America while continuing his academic work at Stanford, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1973. In the ensuing quarter-century, his career has taken him around the world, from Asia to South America.

Downing was the first candidate in Southern Arizona to qualify for public financing by collecting more than 200 $5 contributions from residents of District 13, which made him eligible for public funds. Although he would normally be eligible for $10,000 in funding for the primary and an additional $15,000 in the general, a matching fund provision in the law has resulted in his receiving more than $50,000 for his campaign--which puts him well ahead of his opponents' latest reports.

"I would have been happy to run with the $25,000," says Downing, but he's not turning down the additional money.

By comparison, according to the most recent reports posted on the Secretary of State website, Somers has raised $41,715 and spent $25,744; Giffords has raised $38,514 and spent $37,785; and Paton has raised $38,101 and spent $25,731.

Downing sees publicly funded campaigns as part of a larger model of government reform that includes the term limits proposition passed by voters in 1992. As part of that reform, he's supporting Proposition 106, which would strip the power of drawing congressional and legislative districts from lawmakers and give it to an appointed five-member committee. Giffords also supports Prop 106, while both Paton and Somers oppose it.

Downing is the only candidate who is supporting Prop 202, the Citizens Growth Management Initiative.

Giffords, Downing's fellow Democrat, says she opposes Prop 202 because it's "highly, highly restrictive."

"Tourism is our No. 1 industry," says Giffords. "People want to come to Arizona because we have an absolutely beautiful state, but unfortunately, we're a very low-income state, and I want to see us work as hard as we can to bring in new employers, to have our people trained so we can set up our own companies, and develop our people so they, too, can make a decent living."

Giffords fears the initiative would hamper economic development. A Tucson native, the 30-year-old Giffords has a master's degree in urban planning from Cornell University. She's also a Fulbright scholar who has worked both along the Mexican border and in New York City during her college years.

After she earned her master's, Giffords returned to Tucson in 1995 to take over the family business, El Campo Tires, a local automotive chain that had been founded by her grandfather. Last summer, unable to compete with national corporations, she sold the company to Goodyear Tire and sank her share of the profits into a commercial real estate property management business.

Giffords has built quite a résumé since returning to Tucson. She's served on a number of local boards, including the Arizona Friends of Small Business, Tohono Chul Park, YMCA of Metropolitan Tucson, Tucson Regional Water Council, Tucson Arts District Partnership, Southern Arizona Minutemen Committee (Arizona Air National Guard) and Pima County Drug Court Community Resources.

Her tours of schools during the campaign have revealed classrooms lacking basic supplies and schools in disrepair. She not only wants to fix the buildings, but she'd also like to see an increase in teacher salaries. "I don't know when teachers got to be the bad guys," she says.

Republican Paton has also been in local classrooms recently as a substitute teacher. He's dismayed by the educational level of students.

Paton is the only pro-life candidate in the House race, supporting both parental consent and a ban on third-trimester abortions.

Although he's the youngest candidate in the race at age 29, Paton has more experience than his opponents in running a campaign. Paton made an unsuccessful House run two years ago in the GOP primary in District 9. He's also familiar with the Byzantine twists and turns of state government, having worked in the legislature as an intern in 1994. He had the responsibility of researching and explaining bills to lawmakers, but he also learned about the intrigue that goes on behind the scenes.

"I got the chance to live the session and it gave me a lot of experience in what it's like," says Paton, who has had the political bug since he voted in the Weekly Reader poll when he was five years old.

After the session wrapped up, Paton landed an internship in then-Gov. Fife Symington's administration, where he saw hardball politics at play. He remembers getting into trouble for calling the attorney general's office while Symington was feuding with Attorney General Grant Woods. "It was like the world came crashing down on top of me," he laughs. "The Grant Woods/Symington Spy-vs.-Spy routine was going on over there. I felt like I was calling the Soviet embassy."

Like Downing and Giffords, Paton has accumulated some frequent-flier miles. In the early '90s, he interned for the U.S. State Department in Kazakhstan and studied at the University of Munich. After finishing his legislative internship, Paton went into a German graduate program at the UA and taught language classes before launching his House campaign in 1998.

After his loss, Paton joined the Army Reserves and earned a Soldier of the Year award. "It was one of the best things I ever did," he says. "I really enjoyed it."

Paton genuinely enjoys both the campaign and legislative process. "This is something I've always wanted to do," he says, "and when I started, it was better than I thought it was going to be."

His fellow Republican, Carol Somers, has her own experience with the legislative process, having been involved in lobbying efforts for the last decade.

Born in Atlantic City, the 55-year-old Somers grew up in Phoenix, attending Central High. Her mother died when Somers was 16, leaving her with the task of helping raise her three younger sisters. Somers says it was "responsibility at a very young age."

Somers graduated from ASU with a liberal arts degree. She taught in the suburbs of Chicago for two years. During the summers, she worked as a blackjack dealer at Lake Tahoe, where she met her husband of 30 years, Mike Somers.

With some stops in California and Phoenix, the couple eventually ended up in Tucson in 1979. Along the way, Somers had moved out of teaching and into doing personnel work for different corporations. She drew upon that human resources experience to launch her own temp company, Norrell Staffing Services, in 1987. Three years later, she was elected president of the Society of Human Resource Management, a professional organization representing employers in Southern Arizona. She was soon lobbying at the federal and local level and working with the Chamber of Commerce "over and above what you might normally think was a reasonable participation," she says.

"I can point to lots of little accomplishments and you wake up one day and say, I love this, I do everything but vote, why am I not there," Somers says. So she decided to sell her company and run for the District 13 House seat.

Somers says her experience with local business leaders has prepared her to serve in the House of Representatives.

"When I say I bring experience, I have walked that walk for a long time," she says. "The voters have to decide."

Contact Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel at nintzel@aol.com. Nintzel appears every Friday at 6:30 p.m. during the Reporter's Roundtable segment on KUAT-TV's Arizona Illustrated. He's also a regular panelist on Emil Franzi's Inside Track radio show each Wednesday at 1 p.m.