Double Down

Democrats try to keep one House seat--and perhaps take a second--in Legislative District 26

State Rep. Nancy Young Wright got her first glimpse of politics when she was just 12 years old, when the state of New Mexico tried to shut down her small elementary school.

"My principal had our parents load us in the car real early in the morning for a five-hour drive to the Capitol, and when it came time to close or not close our school, they couldn't do it looking right at our faces," Wright remembers. "I saw the power of organization. I learned that when people stick together and work hard, they can make a difference."

Wright is now trying to make a big difference in Arizona as she pursues a House seat in Legislative District 26, which includes the Catalina Foothills, Oro Valley and Pinal County's SaddleBrooke community. The district is a vital part of a plan by Arizona Democrats to seize control of the Arizona House of Representatives. Right now, Democrats hold 27 of the House's 60 seats, so they need to hold on to all of their gains in 2006 and win four more seats in the Nov. 4 general election.

One of those gains in 2006 came in District 26, where roughly 37,300 Democrats are outnumbered by 46,100 Republicans. Wright and fellow Democrat Don Jorgensen hope that they can take a second seat by winning over many of the 29,000 independents and moderate Republicans in their campaign against GOP candidates Vic Williams and Marilyn Zerull.

A familiar name in the district after serving for a decade on the Amphitheater School Board, Wright spent her first session at the Legislature this year after being appointed by the Pima County Board of Supervisors to replace Democrat Lena Saradnik, who resigned after she suffered a stroke.

Wright is no stranger to beating long odds. Before her first term on the Amphi School Board was completed, she had uncovered so much corruption that most of her colleagues were recalled in a special election.

"I dealt with some Mickey Mouse intimidation efforts back then, but it wasn't enough to make me want to roll up my tent and go home," Wright says. "I'm a hard worker, and I don't give up easily."

Wright says she wants to concentrate on educational, environmental, health-care and budget issues if she returns to the Capitol next year.

"Businesses have said they're not coming here because there is something wrong with the way we value education," Wright said. "They don't want to ask their employees to put their children in our schools."

Jorgensen, a Democrat who is making his first run for public office, says he's focusing on the economy, education, environment, clean energy and health care.

Most of his experience is in the latter field. Jorgensen moved to Tucson 30 years ago to attend the UA. After graduate school, he formed the nonprofit Alcoholism Council of Tucson, and pushed for a law requiring restaurants to post signs warning that drinking alcohol could be harmful during pregnancy.

"I've always been interested in politics," Jorgensen says. "This process got me familiar with the state Legislature."

Jorgensen started his own company, Jorgensen Healthcare Associates, in 1991, specializing in providing counseling for drug and alcohol addictions.

The GOP candidates are also political newcomers, although they hail from different ends of the Republican Party.

Vic Williams, who made enough money to retire by selling a warehouse-supply company he built in California, has taken up politics since moving to Pima County. He's served as treasurer for the county party and organized the party's cigar club.

Williams is a business-friendly Republican. Despite Arizona's growing budget shortfall, he has called for property-tax cuts. He says he'll cut government spending, but he remains sketchy on the details, although he says he'd protect education programs.

"We need to balance the budget by cutting spending across the board," says Williams. "If you take a look at our state, we've had a 70 percent increase in our budget in the last seven to 10 years, and anytime you have that kind of increase in expenditures, I am sure that there are overlapping overheads, redundancies and wasteful spending."

Williams is one of the few Republicans running for office this year who opposes a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would limit marriage to being between one man and one woman.

Fellow Republican Marilyn Zerull, who narrowly edged out Trent Humphries for second place by 50 votes in the September GOP primary, is firmly inside the GOP's social-conservative wing.

Zerull wants the state to do more to stop illegal immigration and is the only candidate in the LD26 House race who supports the proposed marriage amendment.

She supports more property-tax cuts and opposes the maneuvers that lawmakers used to balance this year's budget, such as borrowing for school construction. She'd prefer to see deeper cuts to social services, such as subsidized day care.

"I'm not familiar with all parts of the budget, but I do know that the government can be run like a household," says Zerull, a homemaker who has worked as a secretary at a carpet-cleaning company. "When the family gets hit with a crisis, the family has to cut back."

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