Three candidates are seeking two House seats in next week's Democratic primary in Legislative District 10: State Rep. Stefanie Mach is working to hang onto her seat and two political newcomers, law professor Kirsten Engel and campaign strategist Courtney Frogge, have jumped into the race following state Rep. Bruce Wheeler's decision to retire rather than seek another term.
The competitive district encompasses eastern and much of central Tucson has been represented by Democrats in the Legislature, although the voter-registration counts make it competitive in November. The two winners of the primary will face Republican Todd Clodfelter, who has run previously in the district.
Frogge has joined a slate with Mach and state Sen. Dave Bradley, while Engel has landed an endorsement from the outgoing Wheeler.
The candidates don't have big differences on the issues: All support more funding for education, slowing the ongoing business tax cuts that are draining the state's budget and protecting abortion rights.
Mach has represented Tucsonans since voters elected her to the seat in 2012. Since then, she has never missed a single vote. Her legislative priorities have focused on improving education in K-12 and at UA and supporting reform within the child welfare system.
"I have built relationships that have resulted in success, legislatively," she said. "I have learned the system, I know the issues and ultimately I have shown up 100 percent of the time.
Her campaign platform largely focuses on her plans to generate jobs and improve small business opportunities in southern Arizona. Mach also stresses mindful use of taxpayer dollars and ensuring the state is respectful of local issues.
Mach's journey to the seat is characterized with adversity after she challenged herself to seek seemingly unattainable opportunities after a traumatic car accident changed her life in high school.
Afterwards she became the first member of her family to go to college, majoring in international relations and affairs at the University of Wisconsin and receiving a master's in public policy from Brown University.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Mach joined the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, where she worked for various non-profits and government agencies. Her experience inspired her to work in the non-profit sector as the CEO of a consulting company since 2010.
Frogge was born Tucson and raised in Phoenix. She comes from a long line of Arizonans, as her ancestors were homesteaders in 1869. As such, she says she has a deep understanding of the community's roots and character and hopes to represent those ideals in the legislature.
"I want to ensure that current and future generations are afforded the same opportunities that have been afforded to me and those who have come before me," she said. "That's why I'm running."
Frogge stands for developing better educational and economic opportunities for Arizonans through better funding for schools, which she believes will attract quality, high-paying jobs.
She completed her undergraduate degrees in philosophy and communications at the University of San Francisco and studied abroad at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, where she earned a master's in violence, conflict and development.
Her education poised her for conflict resolution in developing countries, but upon returning to Arizona to care for her grandmother, she dedicated her skills and efforts to the community of Tucson.
She has immersed herself in regional leadership as the Southern Arizona director for the Center for Neighborhood Leadership and political director for Arizona List. She also sits on the board of directors for Las Adelitas, serves on the Pima County Tucson Women's Commissions and is a member of the Arizona Women's Political Caucus and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.
Engel has had a long history of government experience, representing the EPA as a staff attorney and working as an assistant attorney general in Massachusetts, specializing in environmental law. She's also held a position litigating for the Sierra Club at their Washington, D.C. office.
Engel intends to focus on solar energy and water conservation, women's rights, funding for K-12 as well as community colleges and universities and reforming the Department of Child Safety—all areas which she sees are underfunded by the state's current administration.
Engel moved to Tucson in 2005 when she took a position as a co-director of the UA's Environmental Law Program. Between 2012 and 2015 she was the law college's Association Dean for Academic Affairs, a position in which she implemented innovations for law students.
Prior to teaching at the UA, Engel also taught at Tulane, Vanderbilt and Harvard. She earned her environmental law degree from Northwestern University after earning her bachelor's at Brown.
"What we've seen since we came here is cut after cut to public education at all levels," she said. "I feel like I'm stepping up right now because I think this just has to stop. It's really affecting a whole generation of students and it's really affecting our economy."