Voters in Mesa’s Legislative District 18 will have four new faces to consider before casting their vote in the Sept. 2 Republican primary race for the Arizona House of Representatives.
Steve Court, Ron Middlebrook, Cecil Ash and Kanani Henderson are vying for two open spots to replace two high-profile personalities at the Legislature — Russell Pearce and Mark Anderson.
Pearce is termed out after serving in the House for the last eight years. He’s running for a Senate seat this time. Anderson is running for Congress.
The Democratic primary race is uncontested, with Tammie Pursley, who’s run for the House before, vying against the Republican primary winners. Pursley fell about 2,000 votes short of Pearce’s total in the 2006 general election for the House seat.
The general election this year is Nov. 4.
Traditionally, the district, comprising central and west Mesa, is a Republican stronghold.
Tackling illegal immigration, the state budget and economic growth broadly topped the candidates’ concerns.
Ash calls himself a frustrated lawyer who hated the contentious atmosphere in practicing the profession. But he found his calling in other ways.
He’s served as a legal adviser in the state Department of Public Safety, witnessed more lows than highs in the real estate market, got involved in a family business, worked for the Maricopa County Public Defender’s Office and then worked for a charitable foundation. He delved actively into politics, particularly former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign.
That range of experiences should help him in the Legislature, he says.
Ash feels the economy is the most pressing issue facing the state right now. He believes the state has to make some spending cuts.
But he says illegal immigration and the struggling state budget may be tied together in voters’ minds.
The perception is illegal immigrants are using public services and are not paying their share of taxes, Ash said.
A longtime party precinct committeeman, Ash said he wants the border sealed and laws enforced. He supports legal immigration.
“We are a society of laws and part of that is not to allow people to come here just to have a baby to become a U.S. citizen and to abuse our health care system,” Ash said.
He also realizes that many business owners are against the state’s employer sanctions laws which they feel are too harsh on employers.
“If so, we need to change them,” Ash said. “I just want to do what’s best for Arizona and strike the right balance between enforcement and what’s best for business.”
At 25, Henderson is the youngest candidate in the race. She became politically active when she was 8, thanks to her politically active mother. Home schooled for two years, she would often go to the state Capitol to gather signatures and help out stapling papers on an initiative against abortion.
“It failed, but it really built the foundation for me,” said Henderson, now an administration director for the Arizona Scholarship Fund, a state tuition organization.
She says her experience at the Legislature, by being involved in measures such as tuition tax credit, means she’s ready to serve as a House leader.
Henderson cites the state of the budget as the biggest issue facing legislators.
“We need to rein in state spending,” Henderson said.
She hopes to do a 10 percent spending cut across all agencies or roll the funding back to 2007 levels. “That way no individual programs are cut, but you spread it out evenly to maintain services and balance the budget,” Henderson said.
She credits her experience in using technology to develop virtual offices and online systems as a special skill she would bring to the Legislature. She would like to put the budget online to build transparency.
Henderson advocates securing the border and continuing employer sanctions, but she supports simplifying the system for those who want to enter the country legally.
Middlebrook likes to call himself a conservative first and Republican second. He said he got into the race at the urging of his good friend Russell Pearce.
Middlebrook believes in the vision of the Founding Fathers, calling for limited government.
He also believes the federal government “has no business” being involved in the oil industry. He blames federal intervention for states not being able to drill or refine oil in their area.
“That results in high gas prices,” Middlebrook said, adding that the energy issue is a strong drag on the economy.
In general, he’s concerned about federal overreach in state issues.
Middlebrook, an active Republican precinct committeeman, also has pledged to oppose all tax increases. Instead, he believes the budget can be fixed by trimming spending.
Arizona reached its state of budget crisis because of “(Gov. Janet) Napolitano’s goal in life” to raise taxes and having the budget not being in the control of the Legislature, he said.
The way the budget is set, he said, some areas need to maintain funding levels, which leaves little wiggle room when it comes time to cut back.
Middlebrook strongly backs the employer sanctions law. He’s against a guest worker program “until the border is sealed and everyone here illegally has gone home.”
Concern about the state’s economy and the ballooning budget deficit prompted Court to enter the race for the Legislature. Court would like to make Arizona business friendly and increase education levels.
He believes lowering Arizona’s high corporate tax rate, compared to surrounding states, would help attract businesses. Also, he would work to reduce regulations that make it hard for businesses to move to Arizona.
“Getting the initial approval for submitting business plans can take one to two years – that’s not right,” Court said.
Court has run a carpet cleaning franchise, but also has an accounting background, both of which he believes are his strong suit. “I’ve had to deal with state regulations and I know how frustrating it can be,” he said.
He feels 2004 was the last year that the budget progressed reasonably. The state government has grown much more than population plus inflation growth across the board, he says, and it needs to be pulled back.
Court does not believe in financing through bonds.
On illegal immigration, Court said he would like states to work with the federal government to control the border and initiate a guest worker program.
“Some people don’t want to deal with immigrants at all, others feel the country has been founded on immigrants,” said Court, a longtime Mesa resident.
Pursley is running unopposed in the primary as the lone Democrat candidate. A teacher at Mesa Junior High School, Pursley said she learned from her previous campaign that people are aching for someone to listen to their concerns.
She said when she started in 2006, she was told that she would learn a lot but won’t win. She didn’t win. But she came closer than many thought possible.
“We are finding that a lot of Republicans and independents want change,” Pursley said.
So she’s positioning herself as a candidate for change.
Given her professional background, Pursley said she especially understands the importance of education.
“I’m out there in the frontlines, and people are fed up on Arizona being at the bottom of the list,” Pursley said.
She’s all for smaller class sizes to give better attention to students and for making sure schools have the money they need to teach students and retain good teachers.
On the economy, Pursley feels the state should have invested the money when it had a surplus.
“Now we’re hit with $2.2 billion shortage and it’s hard to raise taxes back,” she said.
Pursley said while she’s not a proponent of taxes, a certain amount is necessary to build streets, highways and schools.
“It makes my life here in Mesa enjoyable,” she said.
Pursley said illegal immigration issue should be dealt with at the federal level.