by Kyle Mittan
Southern Arizona's Legislative District 9 is one of the most competitive in the state. Although it leans slightly Democratic, the district—which includes the Catalina Foothills, north-central Tucson and the Casas Adobes area—is now represented by Republican Ethan Orr and Democrat Victoria Steele in the Arizona House of Representatives.
But Democrats hope to knock Orr out with challenger Randall Friese, a trauma doc best known for his work on saving lives as the victims of the Jan. 8, 2011, mass shooting arrived at University Medical Center.
“Orr ran a good race last time, but folks didn’t really know his positions on anything,” Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Don Jorgensen said at the post-primary party last week. “Now that he’s been exposed as someone who’s essentially pro-gun and anti-women’s rights, folks who voted for him, even Democrats two years ago, realize that’s not representative of that district.”
At a Clean Elections forum last night, Orr and Friese debated the issues of gun safety, Medicaid expansion, improvements to K-12 education and abortion. Democratic incumbent Victoria Steele did not attend the debate.
“We’ve created a very divisive conversation of pro-life, pro-choice,” Orr said, adding that he worked closely with Planned Parenthood and Democratic colleagues on the issue when he took office in 2012. “Every single person in this state wants to see the number of abortions go down. And I think the way that you start is with medically accurate, sex education in the high schools.”
The debate over gun regulation was also a talking point on Wednesday. Friese touted his daily contact with gunshot victims to address the issue.
Friese added that laws like one passed last year that prevents police from destroying a gun turned in by its owner are not representative of the district’s constituency.
“I think that those pieces of legislation were bad for Arizona, bad for our district and bad for our country,” Friese said. “I will stand up to the NRA.”
Several questions also brought up access to public education, an issue at the heart of Friese’s campaign. He criticized the state’s unwillingness to provide funding to teachers.
“The most important thing that we can do in our state is of course fund our schools,” Friese said. “Our teachers need to be funded appropriately and they need to be reimbursed appropriately. Our teachers are leaving our state to other states because we cannot pay them the salaries that they require.”
Orr kept bipartisanship at the center of his narrative throughout the evening, adding after the debate that as a Republican, he would have more influence in the majority caucus in the House of Representatives.
“If two Dems go up for LD9, we lose our seat at the majority table, which is where the budget is set, where the bills are passed, and where the influence is made,” he said. “It is extraordinarily important as a Tucsonan that we have a seat at that table.”