Musical Chairs

Six District 10 Democrats Contend For Two Empty House Seats.

WITH BOTH incumbent stepping down to run for the state Senate, the District 10 Democratic primary House race has become a game of musical chairs for the six candidates seeking to replace them. When the music stops on September 12, only two of the six will be seated.

One of the candidates, Victor Soltero, is the present state senator from District 10. He is running for a House seat now because of term limitations.

Soltero's joining the House race has raised complaints from some of his opponents. Betty Liggins says, "It wasn't the intention of term limits to play ping-pong back and forth between seats. The position should be a public service, not a career." Candidate Jesse Lugo adds, "I, personally, wouldn't step back from the Senate to the House."

Soltero defends his decision to run for a House seat, saying it takes years to understand the legislative process and to become effective. That, combined with his enjoyment of the job, led him to join the race.

This isn't the only controversy for Soltero. Earlier this year, he was a critical vote in approving the industry-sponsored legislation that weakened Tucson's local regulations directed at removing illegal billboards.

"Billboards are not such a big problem. The parties should sit down and negotiate a settlement," Soltero says in explaining his vote. Besides, he points out, the billboard company is located within his district and he was concerned about the jobs it provides.

Expecting to spend between $5,000 and $10,000 on the race, the retired 62-year-old Soltero, a graduate of Pueblo High School, lists education and health care as his two top issues. He wants to see increased funding for both, and would support using general fund and tobacco tax monies to improve health care services.

Soltero is especially proud of his role in obtaining an annual $250,000 state allocation for the southside TCE clinic. He pushed for the funds when first elected to the Senate in 1992, and finally got them approved two years later.

Overcoming Soltero's higher name recognition will be the task of his five opponents. Jesse Lugo, a 1973 graduate of Cholla High School and the owner of a Tucson service station for 28 years, intends to spend $32,000 on the race. He sees providing affordable housing, health care, prescription drugs for seniors, and additional funding for public schools as four top priorities.

To increase funding for schools Lugo suggests using some of the $21 million of lottery monies that now go into the state's general fund. Concerning prescription drugs, Lugo favors providing a state-sponsored tax credit or voucher to seniors. He would also like to see an investigation into why drugs for animals are cheaper than they are for humans.

Betty Liggins, a 68-year-old nurse practitioner with a graduate degree from the University of Arizona, has previously run unsuccessfully for the House. Using materials and experience from those races, she expects to spend only a few hundred dollars on this year's campaign.

Supporting schools, improving health care and creating jobs are the three top issues for Liggins. She points out the difference between the minimum wage and a housing wage, or the income needed to buy a home. Not enough families can afford to do this, she believes, and Liggins wants more state investment in training programs and vocational schools. She also proposes a tax break for senior citizens if they would do volunteer work in schools.

Ralph Ellinwood has been a practicing attorney in Tucson for almost 20 years and anticipates spending about $4,000 on his campaign. A graduate of the University of Arizona, the 56-year-old Ellinwood lists the attack on the public school system as his biggest concern. To combat what he calls a school crisis, in addition to backing the proposed rise in the sales tax for education, Ellinwood would reallocate state general fund money, starting with savings obtained by changing existing mandatory-sentence requirements for some crimes.

Other issues important to Ellinwood are economic growth, crime prevention and water. About the latter, he believes there has been no serious long-range water planning for the state and wants to see that change.

Fifty-one-year-old Linda Lopez has been a member of the Sunnyside School Board for 14 years. A graduate of the University of Arizona and currently a supervisor at La Frontera, Lopez says she is running for the House as an extension of her past advocacy for children and families.

Lopez believes that funding for public education must be increased, pointing out that Arizona is last in the nation in funding per pupil. She also supports more money for health care, especially mental health services.

Lopez, who plans to spend about $12,000 on the race, is the only candidate to list the growth issue as one of her top priorities. While opposing the Citizens Growth Management Initiative, she says that developers must play a bigger role in providing public infrastructure.

The five candidates are split on the growth initiative. Ellinwood and Soltero will vote for it, while the others oppose it, fearing it will reduce the amount of affordable housing.

Lopez, Ellinwood, Liggins, Lugo and Soltero all, however, favor increasing the sales tax to support schools, and they all oppose the proposal to eliminate bilingual education from the classroom. They also all support the ballot measure that would freeze property taxes on homes owned by some people over 65 years old.

Knowing that if elected he or she will belong to the minority party in the state House, each of the candidates takes a slightly different approach to getting things done.

Linda Lopez says she believes in collaboration and bringing people together. "It may sound pie-in-the-sky," she admits, "but it works."

Ralph Ellinwood thinks he has special skills in this area. "I spend my day in legal negotiations," he says, "and I can work with the Republican majority to the extent they can be reasonable."

"That's not a real problem for me," Victor Soltero says. "I am very cordial with my colleagues from both parties and have a good working relationship with all of them."

Betty Liggins calls herself a "team player," and says she will work with other silver-haired legislators to get things accomplished. Jesse Lugo, on the other hand, touts his experience as a lobbyist and believes it will help. Plus, he adds, "In order to get something, you must give something."

Another District 10 House candidate, Emmett Alvarez, couldn't be reached for comment. But he has written that quality education for everyone, quality jobs and affordable health care are some of his top priorities.

The two primary winners will face Republican Judy Bennett and Green Party candidate Jack Strasburg in the November general election. However, given the overwhelming Democratic Party registration advantage in the district, the race is likely to be decided by the September 12 primary.

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