A House Divided

Republicans in District 30 set out to decide: Can anyone really replace Randy Graf?

The defining issue of this year's legislative session was the battle over the state budget, with Gov. Janet Napolitano seeking to spend $7.2 billion, and conservatives, particularly in the House of Representatives, looking to hold a tight rein on state spending.

In the end, the impasse was broken when a group of GOP moderates broke with House leaders and teamed up with Democrats to pass a $7.3 billion budget that gave Napolitano just about everything she wanted.

The budget battle left bruised feelings on both sides, particularly among conservatives who vowed vengeance against the Republicans who had rolled their leadership.

That split is on display in Legislative District 30, which includes eastern Tucson, the Tanque Verde area, Green Valley and Sierra Vista. The district is now represented by two Republicans: Randy Graf, leadership's majority whip, and Marian McClure, who was one of the legislators who broke rank and forged a coalition with Democrats.

McClure, 62, is seeking re-election to a third term, while Graf is giving up his post to challenge Congressman Jim Kolbe in District 8, leaving the only open legislative office in the Pima County region.

The Republicans joining McClure in the race for the two House seats are Jonathan Paton, a local political consultant; Doug Sposito, a Sonoita-area homebuilder; and David Gowan, a Sierra Vista magazine distributor. The two top voter-getters in the Sept. 7 primary will face a lone Democrat, Esther Sharif, in the Nov. 2 general election.

McClure has heard from constituents who are upset by her decision to vote for the $7.3 billion budget, but she says she only decided to join the revolt against leadership when she realized negotiations "were going nowhere.

"How in the world could I come back to Tucson and tell the UA alumni that I thought it was quite OK that ASU was getting a million dollars more than they had requested, while the UA was (getting) slightly less than half?" McClure asks.

Although she's faced criticism from conservatives in her district, she suggests they don't have as much political muscle as they imagine.

"There is a small segment in our Republican Party who, if you don't agree with them 100 percent, they call you a RINO (Republican In Name Only)," McClure says. "I know they exist, but I do not believe they exist in the number that they believe they exist."

As the incumbent, McClure boasts a long list of endorsements, including the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, the National Rifle Association, the Arizona Education Association, the Arizona Medical Association and the Arizona Highway Patrolmen of Arizona.

McClure's legislative achievements include sponsoring bills that protect privacy by restricting the use of Social Security numbers and making it possible for police officers to rescue animals that have been left in cars on hot afternoons by thoughtless owners.

Of the three other candidates in the race, Paton, 33, has the most experience around the Legislature and on the campaign trail. He first worked at the Capitol in the mid-'90s as an intern through a UA program, and has already unsuccessfully run twice for a House seat.

He's worked as a legislative lobbyist for various clients, including the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association and For Our Grandchildren, a Social Security reform organization. He's also been involved in a number of local campaigns, including independent expenditure efforts that supported Republican candidates in city elections.

Given his background, it's not surprising to see that Paton has landed the support of the business community, including endorsements from his allies at SAHBA, the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business and the Tucson Association of Realtors. He's also been endorsed by the Professional Firefighters of Arizona and Arizona Right to Life.

Paton has focused his campaign on protecting Southern Arizona from predatory lawmakers in Maricopa County.

"For far too long, Phoenix politicians have turned their backs on Southern Arizona taxpayers," Paton says. "I will make sure our issues are front and center in the Legislature."

Paton says he would have pushed for more negotiations during this year's budget battle. He would have preferred to see the House go along with a Senate proposal, which spent less than the plan finally passed by the House.

"I would have wanted to work with my fellow Republicans," Paton says, "but there's no way I would have let Phoenix give more money to ASU than to the UA or hit taxpayers with a $25 million tax increase."

The other two candidates are first-time office seekers. Homebuilder Doug Sposito, 42, says he's in the race because of an interest in "community service."

"I've always looked at it as something I wanted to participate in," he says.

Sposito says he was "furious at both sides" over this year's budget battle and worries that the state is set to spend more than it will take in.

"I was really frustrated by the hard-line refusal to negotiate that the House leadership took up there and that ultimately was the obstacle that caused the 15 or 17 Republicans to defect and side with the governor on her budget," Sposito says.

Sposito has been endorsed by the precinct committeemen of District 30, the Arizona Farm Bureau and the state Chamber of Commerce, although the Tucson Chamber declined to endorse him.

"When I started out on this, endorsements weren't my big thing," Sposito says. "This was meant to be a grassroots campaign."

Sposito favors abortion rights and opposes recent efforts to force a woman to wait 24 hours to get an abortion. "It seems like an arbitrary amount of time," he says.

The final candidate, David Gowan, is the closest philosophically to Graf, although the outgoing incumbent isn't endorsing anyone in the race.

"I like our liberties and freedoms," Gowan says. "I'd like to protect those."

A leader of the Cochise County Young Republicans League, Gowan, 34, has focused on border issues in his race, even though he admits it's mostly a federal issue. "The feds aren't doing much about it," he says. A staunch supporter of the PAN initiative, Gowan launched a mailer this week attacking McClure over her failure to secure the border.

Gowan is also upset by the way McClure and other Republicans teamed up with Democrats to pass the budget. "I was upset about them crossing leadership," he says.

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