Date: Jan 08, 2014
Magazine:
January 2014: New Seed Variety Issue

Editor’s Note: Both the questions and answers have been paraphrased for brevity and clarity.

 

 

Rep. Brenda Barton was first elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2010 to represent Arizona’s Sixth Legislative District and has quickly moved up in leadership.  She is currently the Chairman of the House Committee for Agriculture and Water.

 

Where were you raised and where did you go to school?

I was born in Stafford, Arizona, in Graham County, in a little hamlet area south of town called Artesia, where a lot of the farmland is.  My dad worked as surveyor for the Arizona Department of Transportation, but it was a temporary position, so when that ended, we moved to California.  While in California, we lived wherever my dad’s work took us, including in Paso Robles and also in Lompoc, when he worked in the missile silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base.  Eventually we ended up in Orange County where I went to high school and enjoyed going to the beach.  Later on, I was working in real estate and at that time, the market was good, but I returned to Arizona around 1978.  I wanted to come home.  It was calling me — cowboy hats, boots and jeans.  I went from the beach to the boots and that was ok with me.

 

How did living in a rural community and being part of a fifth-generation Arizona family shape your political thinking?

Although most of my school years were spent in California, I always had a connection to Arizona and the land.  The land was always in my heart.  Freedom and liberty were important too.  I was raised on freedom and liberty and the land is part of that.  If you don’t have the land, you don’t have freedom and you don’t have liberty.  The use of the land and land ownership means a lot to me as well.  The images of cotton and alfalfa growing along Highway 70 throughout Graham County are strong memories.  I can still smell the freshly cut alfalfa in the air.

 

How did you get involved in politics?

My connection to the land paved the way.  I have always been involved in different local groups, including the county Republican women’s group, and a group called People for the West, which was part of the Sage Brush Rebellion.  As they do now, people were using the Endangered Species Act to take over the land to save the spotted owl.  The ruling was — even if the species weren’t present, if they wanted to live there, it was a perfect place for them to live.  We had to set aside the habitat.  I watched a lot of that happen and we weren’t able to turn it around at the time.  We lost our timber industry in Arizona and other areas because of that.  And that has really hurt rural Arizona.  The timber jobs and revenue made all the difference to the local communities especially for our schools and roads.  But most importantly, people had jobs.  There was economic growth and people could take care of their homes, mortgages and kids.  It was really horrifying when they started shutting down the mills.  It destroyed the economy and many of them have not recovered until this day.  I wanted to go out and continue the fight.  I wanted our land back.

 

What made you decide to run for office?

I was retiring from my day job and was trying to figure what I was going to do next in my life.  Because the Arizona Legislature has term limits, there was an open seat in the district where I lived.  Friends from the Republican women’s club, people with whom I had previously worked, and even my husband and family urged me to run.  They said I had a mission about the land and that I enjoyed serving people and getting things done.  At first I was like, “No, I’m not going to the legislature.  That’s a big deal.”  But I prayed hard and people encouraged me and helped me make the decision — so I did it. I am enjoying it.  I am doing what I love and I think I can make a difference.

 

When you are not wearing your legislator’s hat, and now that you are retired, what do you like to do in your spare time?

Even though the Arizona Legislature is a part-time position, I still spend a lot of time traveling to different parts of the state to learn about what people and communities are interested in.  Just last summer, the Agriculture and Water Committee held meetings in five different areas of the state.  It was fabulous to go into other communities and hear what was in their hearts and on their minds.  Yuma was outstanding.  We had the largest turnout of the road meetings there.  Three hundred people showed up.  Water was a big issue.  The Speaker’s Water Augmentation Bill was a driving force for participation.  It was important to find out what the communities were thinking about.  After all, it is a citizens’ government.  In reality, I only represent Legislative District 6, but the laws we pass affect the people in the entire state.

 

You have recently been recommended to become the next Sub-Committee Chairman for Agriculture on the ALEC Energy, Environment & Agriculture Task Force.  Can you tell us more about ALEC, the selection process and what your agenda would be if/when you assume the position?

ALEC is a national, non-partisan, free-market orientated organization of state legislators.  I have been recommended to chair that subcommittee and as of now, it’s pretty much a done deal.  For me this is a great honor to be able to promote the importance of agriculture in Arizona and across the nation.  Historically, we have been self-sufficient with all our food products and now in part because of more regulations we are importing food — it’s the regulation nation at work.  Importers, of course, like that idea because it improves their economic condition, but we can do this for ourselves.  Which begs the question, “Why aren’t we?”  We need to grow our own food and raise enough cattle to take care of business.  Reducing burdensome government regulations is certainly something I would love to do in this new role.

 

The Arizona Legislature will begin its second regular legislative session in 2014.  What issues do you believe will be at the forefront during the session?  What issues do you expect to be dealing with in your role as Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Water?

As with ALEC, one of the things that we are going to try to work on in the legislature this year is helping both big and small businesses with Arizona regulations that are negatively impacting them.  We have begun asking them and requesting that they send us information on the regulations that are causing them grief so we can amend, adjust or repeal them to help your industry.  If we can roll back those types of regulations, then hallelujah.  Of course, any federal stuff we are locked out on.  I am also interested in some of the work that Yavapai College is doing in viticulture — producing and promoting Arizona wines.  Recently, an Arizona wine grower even received a plus 90 rating in Wine Spectator.  They are moving and shaking in the wine industry and you know what, that’s agriculture!

 

There has been much talk lately about Arizona drifting from a “Red” state to a “Purple” state.  Do you feel this is occurring?  If so, what do you think is causing this and what can Republicans do to alter that trend?

Actually I think Arizona is kind of purple already.  It’s sad to say.  When the last session ended, we were surprised when we had some Republicans split from the party on Medicaid expansion and the budget.  We didn’t really have a say on changing any of it.  The Governor called a special session and we were there until 4 am and couldn’t offer any amendments to her proposals.  As far as what Republicans need to do, we need to adhere to the core values of the party.  Less government.  Less regulation.  More freedom.  When we start to get offline, we just need to re-direct ourselves.

 

What do you consider the highlight of your legislative career thus far?  What would you still like to accomplish?

To some, especially in the agriculture community, holding up and essentially killing the water augmentation bill was certainly a victory.  Beyond that, I was just really proud to be named the Chairman of theCommittee on Agriculture and Water.  That is a big deal in Arizona.  It (agriculture) is a big part of our economy — whether its grapes, cotton or romaine hearts in Yuma.  It is a big deal and I want to make sure it stays a big deal.

 

Do you have any mentors you look up to in Arizona politics?

One person would be the late Senator Jake Flake. He was from my district in Navajo County and was in the legislature for many years, serving as Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Water and was also Speaker of the House.  He was a rancher and a good guy.  And now I’m chairman of his committee.  I knew Jake.  He was my representative at one time.  He always returned your phone calls.  He was the kind of guy who showed up, went to meetings and made himself available and I want do the same thing.

Additionally, I’d have to also say Russ Jones, who was also chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Water.  He’s from Yuma and he’s a great guy too.  He helped get me started on the committee, helping to lay things out.  He’s one of the good guys down there.  I really appreciated the efforts he shared with me about committee chairman Dos and Don’ts.

 

What are your future political ambitions?

For now, anything beyond the legislature is to yet be determined.  I just want to be the best ag and water chair that I can be and do what’s good for Arizona.  Ag is a major component of our economy and I don’t’ want that to change.  I want that to grow.

 

What do you feel are the biggest issues facing Arizona farmers in the near future and in the long-term?

Part A would be water.  And Part B would refer to Part A.  Water is a big deal.  We’re going to have to look at a lot of different options.  We need to lay out some big plans and projects for Arizona water.  Many have talked about a big desalination plant that would process water and make it available from Baja California.  I don’t know how possible it is because I’m not an engineer, I’m just a dreamer.  I know we have a lot of expertise right here in Arizona about how to move water.  I think there are people who are capable of taking this dream and moving forward.  One of Arizona’s own mining companies, Freeport McMoRan, has expertise in building large scale plants too.  I think we have answers to many of these questions; we just need to find out what the cost is and what is really doable.

 

According to your bio, your guiding principle is, “Do no harm.”  You demonstrated your commitment to that principle last year when you stood up for agriculture and chose to hold the Speaker’s Regional Water Augmentation Authorities bill, H.B. 2338, in committee because neither the ag community nor Western Growers was consulted on the bill.  Would you like to tell us more about that scenario?

Sure.  As I mentioned earlier, the meetings I held throughout the state last summer were done partly as a result of the introduction of the Speaker’s Water Augmentation Bill and the need to hear what Arizona communities were thinking about in terms of water issues.  The fantastic turnout at our five meetings, and especially the one in Yuma, was directly related to the issues people had with that legislation.  It was that little guiding principle about ‘do no harm’ that kept me focused.  When you don’t have everyone involved and when everyone doesn’t understand the issue and a lot of people disagree on something, it’s not good to keep pushing things forward.

That bill is now dead and I can tell you for quite a while, the Speaker really didn’t talk to me much.  It was his bill, and it’s understandable; I get it, but nonetheless, it was the right thing to do.  As far as the future of this bill, I’m not going to say that the Speaker isn’t working on something else.  I don’t know that for sure, but right now he has decided to run for Congress.  Also during the off-session, if legislators are working on something, it’s not known what those things might be until the opening of the next session.  That’s when we’ll know, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

 

Our members produce the finest fruits and vegetables in the world.  Are you a consumer of our products?  Do you have some favorites?

Of course I have!  The watermelons out of Yuma are some of the sweetest I’ve ever had.  They compete with my grandpa’s watermelons.  I also love the romaine hearts for Caesar salads, my favorite.  Nothing — nothing can compete with the romaine hearts for Caesar salads.  I just love it.

WG Staff Contact

Jeff Janas
Manager, Communications
949-885-2318

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