Both Cunningham and Nichols had House seats in District 13, which stretches from north-central Tucson into the northeastern Catalina Foothills. The then-incumbent senator, Republican Patti Noland, had decided to step down and Cunningham and Nichols both wanted a promotion to the upper chamber.
So they came to an understanding. Cunningham would run in 1996, but he would serve only two terms. Then Nichols, who would by then have hit his term limit in the House, would have his shot at the Senate.
That time has now come. Cunningham is leaving the legislature to run for Congressman Jim Kolbe's District 5 seat. Before he gets to face Kolbe, however, Cunningham has a primary challenge from Mary Judge Ryan, a chief deputy for County Attorney Barbara LaWall.
Even with Cunningham out of the way, however, Nichols is facing a tough run for the state Senate seat against his District 13 House colleague, Republican Kathleen Dunbar, who was elected to the legislature in 1998.
The Senate race may be the toughest legislative contest in Arizona. District 13 is one of Arizona's few swing districts, with a nearly even balance between Republicans (26,869) and Democrats (26,338), along with a little more than 11,000 voters who aren't affiliated with either major party.
Both Nichols and Dunbar are raising a lot of money for the campaign. Nichols leads that race, with $30,390 as of August 24; Dunbar had raked in a little more than $21,000.
The candidates are both counting on help from the state parties, while independent campaign committees are rumored to be forming. Deeper in the shadows, the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee are quietly providing campaign support.
Why all the fuss over a tiny legislative district in Southern Arizona? Republicans currently hold a narrow 16-14 majority in the state Senate. By taking the seat from the Democrats, the GOP would solidify its hold on the legislature. Democrats, meanwhile, hold out a slim hope of gaining control of the Senate; to do that, the party has to maintain its ground in District 13.
The race even has national implications. Unless voters strip them of the power by passing Prop 106 on the November ballot, the next legislature will draw political boundary lines across the state. With Arizona possibly gaining two new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, both national parties want control of that process.
The Nichols-Dunbar race has left two open House seats in 13. The Republicans have two candidates, Jonathan Paton and Carol Somers.
The Democratic nominees will be decided next Tuesday, September 8, when voters go to the polls to choose among three candidates:
· Ted Downing, a UA anthropology professor with a résumé that includes extensive world travel;
· Gabrielle Giffords, a Gen-X Democrat who runs her own commercial property management company; and
· Howard Shore, a child psychologist who is currently an administrator with Catalina Behavioral Health.
A fourth candidate, real-estate broker Colette Barajas, dropped out of the race late last week, although her name will still appear on the ballot.
"I absolutely hated being a politician," Barajas says. "When I actually got in there and saw what it was like, I kept telling myself it would be OK, and I kept saying, it'll get better. And you know what? It didn't. I loved the people, but what you had to do to win was not me. It just ate me up."
Barajas says her plans to adopt a young girl were also being delayed by the campaign.
"I should have made this decision six months ago," Barajas says. "But I kept hoping it would change."
There's been little acrimony between the remaining candidates, who don't disagree on a whole lot. They all stress their support for better education, better access to health care and economic development.
They all support the ballot prop boosting education spending by increasing the sales tax by .6 cents. They want to see higher salaries for teachers and smaller class sizes for students.
They're all firmly pro-choice and all support the Healthy Arizona prop. (Shore is supporting both health-care initiatives.) They all support Prop 106, which would transfer the power to draw legislative and congressional districts from lawmakers to an independent commission.
With relatively little daylight between the candidates' positions, the race may come down to two factors: personality and campaign savvy. Come September 12, two candidates will be survivors; one will be voted off the island.
TED DOWNING GREW up outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he remembers watching lawyers take away the farms of family and friends. By his own admission, he was a mediocre student: "I wasn't college material."
That changed, the 57-year-old Downing says, with the launch of Sputnik in 1957. As the U.S. entered a space race with the Soviet Union, Downing picked up a scholarship and headed for Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he failed five of his 15 units his first semester.
With some "good tutoring," he turned his academic career around and earned a degree in anthropology in 1965. He considered medical school, but one summer working in a hospital convinced him medicine wasn't his field.
Instead, in between jobs in Latin America, Downing continued his academic work in anthropology. He picked up his master's degree at Stanford in 1966. Following some work on the social impact of irrigation, Downing got a job with the UA hydrology and water resources department. "They wanted somebody who understood the social policy side of water," says Downing, who earned his Ph.D. in anthropology in 1973.
In the ensuing 27 years, his career has taken him around the world, from Asia to South America. Though the '80s and '90s, he helped develop social policy at the World Bank, where he says his aim has been to forge lending rules that keep the World Bank from "stepping on people."
Locally, Downing has been active in neighborhood politics. He lives with his wife, Carmen Garcia, in Richland Heights West, a midtown neighborhood north of Fort Lowell Road and west of Campbell Avenue that still has natural desert lots and dirt roads. In 1998, he worked with the neighborhood association to block a charter school from opening in one the homes. The experience has convinced him that charter schools need more oversight.
Downing says he decided to run because "If a guy like me who focuses on innovative solutions to problems wants to act, the arena that he should try is not international, it's not national, it's local," he says. "The economy of this state--cattle, copper, the old industry--is now right at this point where it's going to flip over and become a joke."
He's thrown himself into the campaign. He was the first candidate in Southern Arizona to qualify for public financing by collecting more than 200 $5 contributions from residents of District 13, which made him eligible for $10,000 in funding for the primary and an additional $15,000 in the general. Downing sees publicly funded campaigns as part of a larger model of government reform that includes the term limits proposition passed by voters in 1992. He's also supporting the redistricting initiative on the November ballot.
Downing is the only candidate who is supporting the Citizens Growth Management Initiative. He dismisses the notion that the initiative will torpedo the state's economy as "Chicken Little" stories. "There have been growth boundaries in Europe," Downing says. "They have greenbelts around every major European city. Europe hasn't collapsed economically."
Downing envisions Tucson becoming a Mecca for the arts, environment and education--a sort of Boulder to Phoenix's Denver. He'd like the state license plate to read "Land of Lifetime Learners."
GABRIELLE GIFFORDS IS the only native Tucsonan in the race. Born here on June 8, 1970, she grew up on the east side. She attended Emily Gray Junior High and University High School, TUSD's honors magnet. She left town to attend college, earning her undergrad degree in 1993 from Scripps College, an all-women campus in California. After graduating, she landed a Fulbright Scholarship and was off to Chihuahua, Mexico, to work with Old Colony Mennonites, a group of German expatriates who are even more conservative than Mesa Republicans.
In 1994, she began working on a master's in urban planning at Cornell University. As part of her studies, she moved to San Diego to study immigration patterns along the U.S./Mexico border.
After earning the master's degree, she worked for PriceWaterhouse for a summer in New York City before returning home in 1995 to take over the family business, El Campo Tires, a local automotive chain that had been founded by her grandfather. Last summer, she oversaw the sale of the company to Goodyear Tire. In today's economy, she now says, local businesses face steep competition from national outfits. Giffords invested her share of the profits in a commercial real estate property management business.
Giffords has built quite a résumé since returning to Tucson. She's served on a number of local boards, including the Arizona Friends of Small Business, Tohono Chul Park, YMCA of Metropolitan Tucson, Tucson Regional Water Council, Tucson Arts District Partnership, Southern Arizona Minutemen Committee (Arizona Air National Guard) and Pima County Drug Court Community Resources.
"I'm fairly dissatisfied with what the legislature is doing," she says. "I don't think the legislature is listening to its constituents. Not all legislators, but certainly many of them. I think that they're ignoring small businesspeople and the average citizen, particularly in the area of education and workforce development."
She says she's seen the effect of Arizona's educational system firsthand, in applicants at El Campo. Some couldn't fill out job applications; others lacked the basic math skills the job required.
Her tours of classrooms during the campaign have revealed schools in disrepair. "It sounds kind of silly," she adds, "but there are not enough textbooks in classrooms for kids anymore. They can't take textbooks home at night because there's not enough to go around."
Giffords is the only Democrat who is not taking advantage of the state's new publicly financed campaign system. As of September 1, she had raised a little more than $24,000 and spent about $10,800.
She says the decision to run outside the Clean Elections system came as a result of the court challenge that left the system in limbo until mid-June.
"We were getting to the point where we were just three months away from the primary," Gifford says. "I thought, 'I can't afford to risk my election on waiting.' We had no idea when they were going to rule."
HOWARD SHORE WAS born in the Bronx on August 3, 1948. While he was still in grade school, his family moved to Long Island, where he graduated from high school in 1966. He attended college in Montreal, earned a master's degree in New Mexico, and did clinical work for his Ph.D. in Des Moines, Iowa. During a visit with his retired parents in Tucson in 1983, he remembered how much he enjoyed the southwest, and within a year had found a fellowship at the University of Arizona. About a year later, he began working as a child psychologist at Thomas-Davis Medical Center. Over the next decade, he would eventually become head of the clinic's behavioral health department.
In 1988, Shore married Virginia Yrun, who was then CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona. Shore got a taste of campaigning when Yrun unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1991's special election to replace Congressman Mo Udall.
For the last five years, Shore has worked at Catalina Behavioral Health Services. In the last year, he's given up treating patients to work as the facility's clinical director.
Given his background, it's no surprise that Shore talks a lot about caring for the mentally ill. It's a problem lawmakers have neglected for years.
As an insider in the healthcare industry, Shore sees both positive and negative aspects to HMOs. Ultimately, he says, "I think we'll have to end up with some kind of single-payer system." Shore is supporting both healthcare propositions on the November ballot. "There's just too much pressure on the system and no moral or ethical way of denying that everyone should have access to it. I think it's going to move there, but I don't think it's going to be one big jump."
With the help of Yrun and PR woman Nina Trasoff, Shore has been reaching out to voters mostly through house parties. He says he's done some door-to-door campaigning, but believes it's not the best strategy.
"I feel more effective in a small group where people get to sit down and ask questions than knocking on doors," he says. "The problem with walking neighborhoods is one of your goals has to be making the encounter as brief as possible, because you want to knock on as many doors as possible, and I don't always find those encounters to be the best way of letting people know who I am."
Like the other candidates, Shore expresses concern about the state of education, which he says has been "chronically underfunded for the last decade."
Along with supporting higher teacher pay and smaller class sizes, Shore would like to revisit the AIMS test that students are required to pass to graduate. He suggests issuing different diplomas based on the results students achieve on the test and in the classroom. "If you have a child who isn't performing well in public school on the AIMS test and you have the resources, you're going to pull the child out and put him in a private school," Shore says. "And not be very happy about it. So not only are you undermining the financial flow into public schools by not having a child there, you're also setting up a lot of resentment, and even more resentment if you can't pull your child out. So you wind up with people who are upset about the finances, you end up with people who are upset about the schools' inability to allow their child to progress and graduate."
Shore echoes the other candidates when he says he jumped into the race because he saw qualified lawmakers leaving the Capitol.
"One of the things that motivated me to do this is that term limits have eliminated both Hershella Horton and Andy Nichols from the House of Representatives," Shore says. "They at least brought some background in health care. Then I got to thinking about why would I do this? And then I thought, well, why wouldn't I do this? There isn't anything more important I could do over the next two years than serve in the House of Representatives."
Learn more about the candidates at their websites:
Ted Downing: http://www.votedowning.com
Gabrielle Giffords: http://www.gabriellegiffords.com
Howard Shore: http://hometown.aol.com/shorefor13/myhomepage/business.html