You were born and raised in Oklahoma, but you have lived in Arizona most of your life. Tell us a little bit about how you ended up in Arizona and what it means to be an Arizonan.
I am a Vietnam-era baby and like many other marriages that had a husband who served in the military during that conflict, my parents’ marriage did not last. Following the divorce, I moved with my dad to Arizona where he worked as a purchasing agent at one of the copper mines. Arizona is a lot like Oklahoma, it’s just a little farther west, so the transition was not difficult.
I have always been from the area I now serve. I graduated from Miami High School in 1986 and have lived in Coolidge and Casa Grande in Pinal County and in Globe in Gila County. So the district I represent includes the only two counties that I ever lived in during my entire adult life.
I am proud to be a representative in Arizona because it is a conservative state that has wholesome family values and that’s something I always stand up for. If you are for traditional, family, western values, then I’m your guy.
You have worked in farming and ranching all of your life, married to your wife Diana since 2000, and have two children. Do you anticipate that your children will go into farming and ranching one day? What can we do to encourage children to get involved in agriculture so that they might choose to go into it as a profession?
I’ve got a 50-50 chance that one of my kids will end up in agriculture despite having our ranch here and still running a small family ranch in Oklahoma that my son helps with. To get kids involved, we have to support those early programs like 4-H and FFA—programs I was in—that ingrain the farming tradition, lifestyle and culture in our children and grooms them to enter into agriculture as adults, so we can survive as an industry and feed the nation and the world.
According to the latest information available from the U.S. Census, the number of farmers (particularly those that are female) and farms in the U.S. is declining. What do you attribute the decline to? Why aren’t more people interested in working in an industry that produces food for the rest of us?
What contributes to the decline today is that it’s costly and time consuming to be in this business. Equipment, like tractors, and the implements you need to farm are very expensive and you have to farm such large acreages just to meet the profit margin. That makes it hard on the small farmer or rancher. It’s very difficult to sustain a family by working on or owning a farm, especially a small one. Most people need to have a full-time job and farm on the side or have both parents working to survive on a farm. My family was blessed. My wife got to stay home and I had a job so she could raise our kids. And not to get political, but at the time my wife and I decided I should run for office, our health insurance premiums skyrocketed. So to help pay the premiums, the first thing she had to do was go to town and get a job so we could meet our financial obligations. The bottom line is it’s not an easy living, but it is rewarding.
You have worked in farming and ranching all of your life, going back to your youth where you were active in 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA). Tell us what it means to have someone who is familiar with agriculture as a legislator in Arizona?
Agriculture representation in the legislature is a tradition in Arizona. It’s important to have people in place who understand and defend the needs of the industry. When I was being recruited to run for an open seat for the state legislature in my district, I was presented with an eye-opening fact. I was told, “If you don’t run and win this seat, it will be the first time in Arizona’s history we will not have a real rancher in the state legislature.” My wife and I looked at each other and we decided right there that I would run. And it was good that I did because today I am not just the only rancher in the Arizona legislature today, I am the only agriculture producer, period. I’ve got big shoulders and I can do the work, but we’ve been riding someone else’s coattails too long. We can’t rely on other people to do the work for agriculture. That’s why I am involved in recruiting good candidates to run for office, especially in rural areas, so we can have the representation we need.
Earlier this year, you were the prime sponsor of a bill (HB 2253) that topped Western Growers’ list of legislative priorities in Arizona. HB 2253 provided additional general fund money to the Arizona Department of Agriculture. Tell us about the bill and how you came to agree to sponsor it.
HB 2253 was the first bill I ever introduced. Being a cattleman and ag guy I just thought it was appropriate that I introduced this legislation and saw it through. The original bill dealt with Arizona Department of Ag (ADA) funding for veterinarian positions in the cattle industry and the release of their private info to the feds without their written consent or permission. After the bill was drafted, Western Growers came to me and explained that funding for ag inspections for exports was being cut and the cuts would drastically affect growers’ abilities to ship product out of the country. So I worked with the ADA and the Senate and amended the bill to include that funding. That one bill protects the farmers and ranchers in the state of Arizona. It was satisfying to deliver for both.
How would you describe your political ideology?
I don’t talk about it very often. I feel people use this description for their own benefit too much, but I’m a Reagan-ite. He was the first president that really shaped my thoughts. When I was 18 and had to register for the draft and to vote, I asked myself the question, “What am I?” And the answer was a Republican. So I registered that way and I’ve been that way all my life.
In particular, I fight against government over-regulation. I often pose to government agencies the question, “What are you doing today to ensure the success of agriculture?” Farmers and ranchers face an enormous amount of bureaucracy and red tape. Sometimes it seems the government does its best to regulate us out of business. Regulations should be put in place to make sure those business succeed and flourish, not to make it harder.
Where do you see your political future headed? What are your future ambitions?
I am going to run for re-election for the state house because there is a lot of work that still needs to be finished that we have started for the ag industry in Arizona. I want to serve the rural people of my state, at whatever capacity they feel I should. But whatever we do, I want to make sure we are putting in the most solid foundation to make sure that every ag business in the state—no matter if they are growing pecans, grapes or are raising cattle—has a pathway for success.
Water supply issues are always a top concern among farmers and ranchers in the West. How does the water situation look like in Arizona?
One thing I ran on was water issues. We are not going to let anyone take our water and we are not going to give up any of the water we use for agriculture. I don’t mind sharing water with other stakeholders, but there is a cost to ceding some of those rights. There is a tangible value to that water for agriculture operations and to give it away or have someone just take it from you with no compensation is just wrong.
For years, water working groups created by the legislature have been working to solve some of the state’s water problems, including extinguishment credits for water rights. But nothing was being accomplished. Just recently, I brought them all together and told them to come up with a solution or I would introduce legislation to fix it. So the working group came up with a proposal and the governor’s task force is reviewing it right now. I think it’ll be approved and it will work out well for farmers.
Our Arizona members grow some of the most delicious fresh produce and tree nuts in the world. Do you have any favorites?
I love pistachios. And you can’t beat a cold salad with Ranch dressing. Salads are great because they can have a little bit of everything in them.