(Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been paraphrased for clarity and brevity)
Where did you grow up and what was your early life like?
I was born in Virginia but we moved to Maryland when I was two. I lived a majority of my life in rural Montgomery County in the Damascus area. My dad was in the computer business and my mom stayed at home. A very big part of my childhood was showing registered quarter horses with my dad. It was something we shared all of those years. My mom loved the babies, but my dad and I loved everything about it. At our height, we had 19 to 22 horses. We had lots of mares and lots of babies.
We would show horses every weekend and every holiday. We were very successful with lots of top finishes at the world shows and nationals. We would go to the World Championship at Tulsa every year and the American Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus Ohio. I won first place in the Quarter Horse Congress one year with my horse Irish Moonshine when he was 12 years old. He is still alive today at 35 years old. I still love horses. I never saw it as a career but it was a great thing to share with my dad.
How did you end up in Arizona?
One year we were in Maryland during a particularly cold and snow-filled winter and we were watching the Rose Bowl. It was 72 degrees there and we were knee-deep in snow. That summer my parents visited Arizona in August and even though it was hot, it was a dry heat and not the muggy heat that Maryland has. The next February, while I was a freshman in my dorm room at the University of Maryland, my parents called me and told me they were moving to Arizona and invited me to join them. I was excited about the opportunity and the chance to come west. Arizona was renowned for its equine community. I transferred to Arizona State University and joined my parents.
At that point were you pointing toward a specific career?
My undergraduate degree at ASU was in communications with an emphasis in rhetoric. While I was in college and the first couple of years after college, I was in the sports information field. I worked for the Arizona Cardinals and the Phoenix Suns. I then went into pharmaceuticals sales for a year and a half, but then the drug I was selling was pulled from the market by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration.)
At that point I assessed what I wanted to do and decided I wanted to be a teacher and in real estate and that’s what I did.
How did you get involved in the political world?
I was always active and involved in student government in both high school and college. In fact, at ASU, I was student body president for my college. Actually, I first learned about politics at the horse shows. It is subjective and very political.
I never pursued politics professionally until I looked at what was going on in 2010 and decided to run for one of the two open House seats. I thought our state was in dire straits and I wanted to make a difference. I have a daughter and I wanted to make Arizona a better place for her to live.
I had no experience in local politics and sometimes I think it is better that you don’t know what you don’t know. I put my name in the hat, tried to organize a campaign and I was successful the first time out of the gate. There are many paths people take to office and I took a little different one.
Did you go into office with an agenda or a particular issue that you were concerned about?
There wasn’t one single issue that drove me to politics, but my personal experiences led me to two different issues that I cared very deeply about once I was elected: education and health care. Those two items take about two-thirds of our state budget and are very important to our state.
I am also a very strong supporter of the agricultural community, which is very important to our economy. In that regard, water is a very big issue and we need to help that pocket of our economy and do what we can to ensure that agriculture survives.
I must say when I ran for office I wasn’t aware of some of the big issues that we face. I am very much concerned about over-reaching federal mandates and I am a champion of states’ rights.
With that in mind, what is your take on the Affordable Care Act?
As far as the ACA is concerned, it is poorly written, overly complicated and implementation has proven to be a big mess. But my role as a legislator is to help protect the people of Arizona. We need to be fiscally responsible as well as create a healthy population. Proposition 204 (which limited access to Medicaid) has created a huge crisis. We already have a billion dollar lawsuit (with regard to education); we can’t afford another one. Unfortunately, too many people put ideology ahead of solving the problem.
I supported the governor’s plan as the only concrete way to solve the problem. What is really frustrating is that others were against it, but it was the only feasible plan put forth.
What is your take on Arizona and agriculture?
Arizona is an ag-friendly state. It is a very important part of our economy, but some people don’t see how important it is. In the five C’s of Arizona, three of them involve agriculture: cattle, cotton and citrus. Our agricultural community is very diversified and we need to do everything we can as a state legislature to keep the agricultural industry competitive. We are leaders in many different areas and it is a vital part of our economy.
When I first ran for office, Robert Shuler (WG Arizona lobbyist) must have thought, “What does this urban legislator know about agriculture.” But I have become a champion for agriculture. The very first bill I offered was one to change how property taxes are assessed on farmland. All the assessors were against it, but we got it passed in one session. After it passed, I was introduced at one meeting as having introduced the most significant change to agricultural property tax in 30 years. I worked relentlessly to get that first bill passed…I’ll never forget, HB2552. I am very proud of that. It taught me how to be a successful legislator.
What is the next issue on your agenda?
Right now I am trying to get re-elected. I am taking a two-fold approach. Hopefully I have proven that I have the skills and the experience from my body of work to get the job done. But I am also talking about new ideas.
Right now the number one issue facing Arizona is the state budget. We have a $1 billion lawsuit that we have to solve. We can’t just kick it down the road.
One of the issues that I see is that we have to focus our priorities on the big issue and can’t get sucked into the weeds arguing about issues that aren’t going to improve Arizona. Water is a big issue that we can’t keep ignoring. We have to consider the vibrant trade we have with Mexico and focus on our ports of entry. It is also very important to focus on education in our rural communities.
What is very frustrating is that this year we spent more time debating about chickens in the backyard than on water issues.
Our members and your constituents produce some of the best fruits, vegetables and nuts in the world. Are you a consumer and do you have a favorite?
Absolutely I am a consumer. My two favorite days at the Capitol is one where we take a tour of all the great research work being done in agriculture. And we also have an Ag Day luncheon where it is just fascinating to talk to the farmers in this state.
Personally I have many skills and talents, but working in the kitchen is not one of them. I have many, many different favorite foods. My favorite food story happened three years ago during the Ag Day at the Capitol. I took home a head of cauliflower and cooked it and my family is still talking about it. Just this past Sunday night we were talking about how good that cauliflower was.
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