The Arizona Legislature was designed as a gathering of citizen lawmakers – people from all walks of life who come together a few months each year to do the state’s business.
Its effectivness in the modern age of special interests and political power consolidation can be argued, but two candidates in Legislative District 11 offer compelling reasons why electing people with a wide variety of backgrounds makes sense.
The Star endorses Ralph Atchue for state Senate and Corin Hammond in the House. Both are running for their first term, and both are Democrats.
Atchue faces incumbent Republican Steve Smith.
Hammond is running against Vince Leach and Mark Finchem, both incumbent Republicans who have shown themselves to be overtly motivated by their personal religious and far-right-wing political positions.
The Arizona House needs fewer ideologues and more members who are motivated by a desire to solve problems for Arizona residents.
We believe Atchue and Hammond meet that criteria.
Atchue, who lives in Eloy, is an Air Force veteran who spent 33 years in the United States Postal Service, including as a postmaster.
He has negotiated labor contracts, representing, at different times in his career, the administration and the union. The ability to work with competing factions and improve life for all residents is sorely needed in the Arizona Legislature.
“Isn’t there a way we can find common ground and build on that?” he said. “I see myself as a facilitator.”
Atchue is worried that the Legislature is damaging Arizona’s national reputation.
“They’re making it much more difficult for working-class people,” Atchue said. He cited low funding for public education, a lack of accountability, use of private prisons and an ideology that demands tax cuts no matter what to underscore his point.
“Our state Legislature no longer has the voters’ best interest in mind,” he said.
Hammond lives in Marana and is a doctoral student in soil and water chemistry. She studies the reclamation of mine waste — an expertise she can put to good use in the Legislature.
Hammond identified public education and increasing teacher salaries as a primary focus. She laments that after voters narrowly passed Proposition 123 in May, people think that school funding problems are fixed because it allocates more state land trust money to K-12 schools for the next decade.
“Prop. 123 does not change that Arizona teachers are paid far lower wages” she said. “It does not fix the fact that schools are crumbling.”
Both Atchue and Hammond opposed Prop. 123.
School funding in Arizona is among the lowest in the nation and, Hammond said, “it’s hurting our state brand.”
It’s a compounding problem that can only be remedied when Arizona can “offer nationally competitive salaries for teachers, and reduce class size,” she said.
District 11 includes rural areas, which Hammond sees as ripe for, and in need of, economic development. “We should be developing our tech businesses and industry,” she said.
One of the things that most impressed us about Atchue and Hammond is how they answered the question, “How did you prepare for this race, and to serve?”
Both studied legislation, boned up on policy positions, the state budget and how the Legislature has kept gas tax money that should go to the cities and counties for road repair. They did their homework.
But Atchue said it best.
“What’s prepared us more than anything is talking to people,” he said. “I’ve knocked on over 6,000 doors. People want to talk about education, jobs, why can’t Tucson and other cities pass local ordinances?”
That last concern refers to the Republican majority’s passage of laws that keep cities and towns from passing their own ordinances that involve guns, which is specifically aimed at Tucson.
“There is no better source than the voters,” Atchue said.
Hammond said she’s spoken with thousands of voters, and agrees with Atchue that many people feel disenfranchised and aren’t engaged in the political process — an apathy both aim to change.
“People are surprised that somebody cared enough to come to the door,” Atchue said. “And that’s enough to have hope.”