(Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been paraphrased for clarity and brevity.)
Darin Mitchell, was elected to Arizona’s House of Representatives in November 2012, in his first try for public office. His candidacy was a bit controversial as his residency status was challenged by some fellow Republicans with the courts finally ruling he was eligible to run close to the general election.
Where did you grow up and attend school?
I was born in Alma, Michigan, but we moved to Arizona when I was 15. My father was a contractor and frankly there was more work in Arizona than there was in Michigan which is why we moved.
I graduated from Mesa High School and then went on to Arizona State University where I got my degree in political science.
Your college education seems to indicate that you had an interest in politics from a young age. Was it your goal to run for public office eventually?
It really wasn’t. When I first entered college, it was my goal to be an architect. But about that time I started working on John McCain’s campaign when he first ran for Congress. That was my first experience with campaigns and I enjoyed it and it led to me changing my major but I wasn’t thinking of a career in politics. In fact, I was thinking of going to law school but that never happened. The first time I ever really used my political science degree is when I ran for office last year.
Take us through your career choices after college?
I started down two tracks at the same time. I was involved in residential real estate and my dad was involved in apartment building and so I also got involved in construction. In fact I was involved in designing and building custom homes. I did that until the economy went south and then I went back into real estate. Eventually I got involved in home inspection and opened up my own company, which is what I do today.
What got you interested in public office?
Occasionally I got involved in campaigns over the years, but I wouldn’t say I was ever deeply involved in politics. But several years ago I was really angry about the direction our country was going and about the economy and how much government was interfering in our lives. So I started to get more involved and decided that what we need was new blood involved in politics, so I threw my hat in the ring and decided to run for office. It was that simple.
You had a difficult campaign as some challenged your residency. Did that experience sour the experience at all?
It really did. I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anybody. As I say I still live in the same house I always did so that whole process was unnecessary. Time has healed wounds. I have been in meetings with those that were challenging me and I have moved on. I have to say everyone in Phoenix has treated me well so I have gotten beyond it.
You have talked about a “citizen legislature” and your belief that ordinary citizens who are non-career politicians should be running things. Do you still believe that now that you are in office?
I do believe that. I hear that people think that with term limits we lose some institutional knowledge, but that isn’t my belief. I still believe in term limits and I believe in a part time legislature. I think people should keep their day jobs and just come up here (to Phoenix) for our 100 day session and then go back and do what they were doing. I see this as community service, not a fulltime career. Early in this session, some member of my own party wanted to raise the per diem for legislators but a few of us were against that. Everyone knew what they were getting when they signed up. This isn’t a high paying job and it shouldn’t be. You shouldn’t be able to live on this salary.
Has it worked for you to be both a legislator and continue running your business?
It has worked but being a legislator has taken a lot more time than I was told. It really is more than a part time job but I have been managing. Today I did a home inspection this morning. Came to the office and put on my suit for the Legislature and this afternoon at the end of the day I have another home inspection scheduled. That’s the way I think it should be.
Now that you have an inside look at being a legislator, any early thoughts?
It is harder than I thought. Trying to get all the legislators to work together is like picking up Jello…it isn’t easy.
What are your top legislative priorities?
My top priority is the economy and how we are spending the taxpayers’ money. I want to keep government off our backs and keep taxes as low as possible. Philosophically I think government should operate as minimally as possible.
Agriculture is a big part of your district. Are you well versed in the subject?
I did not know a lot about Arizona agriculture but I am learning. Until I started to run for office, I didn’t know how important Yuma was to the winter vegetable deal. Virtually all of our winter vegetables come from Yuma. I didn’t know that. But I have a good relationship with agriculture and with the cattleman’s association and I am working on some important issues. We were able to kill that water bill (that Western Growers opposed) earlier this session and I am helping to write the next one. It is not going to be an easy task but we are trying to get consensus and take care of the needs of agriculture as well as the areas where there needs to be growth.
Immigration reform is a big issue for agriculture. Where do you stand on that issue?
It is a big problem and I haven’t been closely watching what the federal government is doing right now (as the issue was being discussed behind closed doors in Washington D.C.) but we need to do something to secure our borders and also allow for an immigrant workforce. I was in construction which relies on immigrant workers just like agriculture does. We need a true guest worker program. We need to make it easier to get workers, but we need to know who they are. Years ago when I was in construction, we had lots of workers who came up from Mexico and then went back and helped in their family businesses. Today that isn’t the case. Workers don’t go back to Mexico because it is difficult to get back into the United States. The environment is so charged right now, but we do need a guest worker program.
You say you have been studying the agricultural issues. Any quick thoughts?
Agriculture is a huge part of our economy especially in my district. It’s been an eye opener for me to realize just how much produce comes out of my district. I have been going down to Yuma every week and it’s amazing. But it’s not only the products that agriculture makes, it’s the lifestyle and the ag values that we have to preserve.
Our members and your constituents grow some of the best produce in the world. Are you a consumer of our products and do you have a favorite fruit or vegetable?
I can’t say I have a favorite but I can say that I consume a heck of a lot of Yuma lettuce. In fact, every time I see someone up here (in Phoenix) eating a salad, I remind them that they are eating Yuma lettuce. I have always been somewhat of a health freak and so I eat a lot of smoothies and slushies which include a lot of fruits and vegetables. I eat a lot Romaine lettuce and I have some citrus trees in my backyard so I eat a lot of oranges as well.
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