Primary Contenders

Education, health care, the budget top concerns of those running for the Arizona House.

E-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n and h-e-a-l-t-h-c-a-r-e are the top issues spelled out by most local candidates running for Arizona House seats in contested primary races. $tate budget concerns rank third. But the proposals for addressing these persistent problems and other key topics are as diverse as the politicians themselves.

Along with a slew of candidates, voters must also contend with the realities of redistricting. Boundary lines have been altered, new district numbers assigned, and Tucsonans will have to pay close attention to what district they now reside in. Here's who's running for what and where:

DISTRICT 26 REPUBLICANS. Because of redistricting, three incumbents and one political newcomer are competing in this northside, heavily Republican area. Even though the primary is a winner-take-all contest, so far the candidates are conducting a nice campaign.

Pete Hershberger

Bio: 53, almost a native, administrator for Open Inn.

Political experience: Two-year incumbent from District 12.

Priorities: Tax reform and restructuring the board of directors of the community college system.

Positions: Take a comprehensive look at tax structure including credits and breaks now given. Distribute taxes fairly, which could result in a shift from businesses onto residents. Legislature took away oversight of community college system but state gives $135 million in aid. To balance the budget, reduce spending again. There are no pools of money to access so will take harsh cuts that impact citizens. Looking at two more years like this.

Campaign: Will spend up to $35,000.

Carol Somers

Bio: 57, in Tucson since 1979, until 2000 owned a human resources company.

Political experience: One-term incumbent representing District 13.

Priorities: The budget along with affordable health care.

Positions: We didn't make tough choices with the budget [during the last session]. We should keep spending down and revenues will creep up some. We need to discuss the restructuring of revenue raising in a fair way, and take a hard look at tax credits. Our over-reliance on property taxes is driving people out of business. If I was governor, my number-one goal would be stamping out illiteracy. We must get people excited about it.

Campaign: Spending over $45,000.

Stuart Watkins

Bio: 62, Five years in Tucson, retired school teacher.

Political experience: None.

Priorities: Education and health care.

Positions: The educational situation bothers me a lot. We need full funding of public schools. Those in power haven't given education enough attention. School districts could team up to provide health care and lower costs. Kids not going to college not taken care of now. Absolutely opposed to the AIMS test. We wasted millions of dollars on it. It's a mad-cow disease that should be put to sleep. Put money instead into reading, writing and arithmetic.

Campaign: Running as a Clean Elections candidate and hopes to spend $16,500.

Steve Huffman

Bio: 33, moved here at age 7, real estate agent.

Political experience: Four-year incumbent from District 12.

Priorities: Budget and reforming the "Students First" school construction program.

Positions: We need to protect education and health care. We can't survive as a state with only 25 percent of high school graduates going to college. Need to finance school construction partially from local property taxes and then equalize [expenditures] between districts. Tobacco tax revenues will help [keep trauma care centers open], but we need to sit down and figure out solutions to create a statewide system.

Campaign: Plans to spend $40,000, some on a joint effort with Pete Hershberger.

All four candidates are walking door-to-door and hear that education funding along with re-opening Catalina State Park (set to occur Friday) are important issues to the voters in the district.

DISTRICT 27 DEMOCRATS. Stretching from the University campus west toward Three Points, more than half the registered voters in this district are Democrats. With no opposition in November for the two open seats, this is another winner-take-all primary.

Jesse George

Bio: 61, Seven years in Tucson, receives Social Security disability because, as he says, "I've got a good mind but no hips."

Political experience: Served two terms in the Texas House from 1963 to 1967, former chair of Pima County Democratic Party.

Priorities: Tax reform and children's welfare.

Positions: The 200+ sales tax exemptions need to be looked at. Broaden our tax base to bring in more revenue. We're losing $138 million a year in Internet sales that by law consumers are supposed to pay. [Improving children's welfare] can't be accomplished without major tax overhaul.

Sally Ann Gonzales

Bio: 44, 16-year resident, division director for education for the Pascua Yaqui tribe.

Political experience: Tribal council, four years in legislature from District 10, ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2000.

Priorities: Education and health care.

Positions: Public education is the equalizer for everyone but it's just in a shambles. It needs more funding and accountability. Didn't favor AIMS because we don't need another test. About budget problems, first we must stop mismanagement. Was one of only seven legislators to vote against the alternative fuels bill. We should also revisit tax credits.

Olivia Cajero Bedford

Bio: 63, native of Tucson, hotel director of sales.

Political experience: Worked with parents while both served in the legislature.

Priorities: Education and tax credit for nursing home care.

Positions: Increase vocational education. Let's prepare high school students for a job. Vocational education funding hasn't increased, even for inflation, in 10 years. Things are different now. These jobs have high wages. I'm very passionate about this issue. We need to look at all tax credits that have outlived their usefulness. Stimulate tourism--it's a clean revenue generator--while protecting university budgets. I'm pro-choice.

Val Romero

Bio: 31, native of Tucson, salesman and owns DJ company.

Political experience: Unsuccessful Independent City Council candidate in 1999 and Democratic candidate for District 11 in 2000.

Priorities: Education, health care, seniors.

Positions: Explore state purchasing of bulk materials for schools and put savings back into districts. Make health care accessible for all by working with providers. In the upcoming budget, everyone will have to suck up a little bit, including education. Raising taxes isn't the answer, the other option is to better use existing revenues.

Phil Lopes

Bio: 61, 33 years in Tucson, health services consultant.

Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully from District 11 in 1992.

Priorities: Resources for public education and more accessibility to health care.

Positions: Not a question of what to do [for education] but lack of political will to do it. Remove exemptions from sales taxes but not for food and basic medical care. Must also look at whole tax structure. Big nasty part of health care is people not eligible for any assistance and many are undocumented. Use some of the proposed cigarette tax money to serve uninsured people.

Peter Hormel

Bio: 33, 11 years in Tucson, attorney for Legal Defender's office.

Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully in 2000 as a Green Party member for County Attorney.

Priorities: Education, environment, working people.

Positions: Our funding system is in a shambles. We're simply not educating our kids. Review revenue structure beginning with sales tax exemptions and income tax. The wealthy need to be better citizens at this point. Do something about sprawl. Look at a gas tax increase and statewide impact fees. I'm a supporter of peoples' right to organize so they can do something about their working conditions.

Except for Romero, all of these candidates are running under the Clean Elections program, which means they can spend almost $16,500 if they qualify. Gonzales admits she probably won't and will have about $6,000. Romero calls the program a waste of taxpayers money that would be better spent on health care or other issues and will spend $2,000 on the race.

DISTRICT 28 DEMOCRATS. Most of those running from this district also hope to qualify as Clean Elections candidates. Bruce Friedemann, however, will use about $5,000 of his own money.

Joe Pyritz

Bio: 39, born in San Manuel, resigned as public relations officer for Pinal County to run for office.

Political experience: None.

Priorities: Education and health care.

Positions: Must hold the budgetary line with education because it's been ransacked. Don't find money for education on backs of [college] students with tuition increases. Stop passing unfunded state mandates onto cities and counties to free up some of their money. Go after duplication of services and cut back some agency budgets. We need to insure broadening the tax base by getting rid of loopholes. Form a coalition with rural counties to address the brick wall of Maricopa County legislators.

David Bradley

Bio: 49, 26 year resident, director of La Paloma Family Services

Political experience: Unsuccessful races in 1992 from District 13 and in 2000 from District 9, former chair of Pima County Democratic Party

Priorities: Children and health care.

Positions: Children in Arizona have fared so poorly for so long. We need to stop our shortsighted approach to taxes. During the next session it will be a knockdown struggle [over the budget] but we must stay ahead of our problems. Mandatory jail sentences are nutty and unnecessary. We should use discretion and trust judges while using more creative sentencing that focuses on rehabilitation and restitution.

Sam Ramirez

Bio: 40, native of Tucson, owns the Bratwursthaus restaurant.

Political experience: In 1998 ran unsuccessfully as a Republican from District 14.

Priorities: Environment and juvenile crime.

Positions: Increase the gas tax up to 35 cents per gallon for road improvements in Pima County. I support growth boundaries and think if voters were given a fair representation of them, they would also. Must fund juvenile criminal programs better to teach skills. Now it clogs the system and costs taxpayers $25,000 a year [per juvenile]. We are in a hell of a mess with the state budget. Close loopholes and increase the tobacco tax.

Bruce Friedemann

Bio: 46, in Tucson since 1980, real estate investor.

Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully for constable in 1988.

Priorities: Budget and quality of life issues.

Positions: Need to secure better revenue through taxing [professional] services. Broaden the tax base, then lower taxes for all. Be realistic, you can't cut the budget and provide services. Will make big issue in campaign out of JFK assassination and CIA involvement in it. Look at the way country is going, we have a rotten foreign policy. Israel doing worse than South Africa did and we're paying for it. I say what I feel. If people don't vote for me, fine.

Ted Downing

Bio: 59, here since 1971, UA professor and owns small software company.

Political experience: Unsuccessful run for House seat from district 13 in 2000

Priorities: Senior rights and "Need before Greed."

Positions: We need a selective moratorium on tax credits, exemptions and a whole string of giveaways in order to broaden the tax base while reducing the state sales tax rate. But don't touch the education sales tax. We can solve half of our budget problem by taxing commercial leases and the interstate transfer of energy sales. It is time for those interests in Arizona that don't pay taxes to do their patriotic duty to help the state.

At a recent, very sparsely attended forum, most of these candidates generally agreed on many issues. Ed Poelstra, the incumbent Republican running for re-election, also agreed with them. The two winners of the primary will face-off against Poelstra in the November general election to represent this central city district.

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