Legislative District 30 candidate Andrea Dalessandro looks to Lena Saradnik as her political inspiration.
That's because two years ago Saradnik, a Democrat, caused an upset in predominantly Republican Legislative District 26 on Tucson's northwest side when she accomplished the politically unthinkable: winning a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives.
Now Dalessandro, the only Democrat running in predominantly Republican District 30, hopes to repeat Saradnik's feat by winning one of the two open seats in the Arizona House of Representatives.
District 30 is one of the key seats that Arizona Democrats are targeting in their effort to win four more seats and take control of the House of Representatives, but Dalessandro has a much tougher job in winning the district, which is home to 13,000 more Republicans than Democrats.
Dalessandro takes some encouragement from the fact that the most conservative Republican candidates, Frank Antenori and David Gowan, emerged from the GOP primary in District 30, which includes Tucson's east side, Green Valley and the Sonoita area. Both candidates support deeper cuts in state spending, want to privatize state highways and oppose abortion rights.
Dalessandro says she hopes that moderate Republicans and independents will join Democrats in supporting her on Election Day.
"I know how to reach across the aisle," Dalessandro said. "In order to be successful in the Legislature you have to know how to do that."
Dalessandro, who moved to Sahuarita from New Jersey four years ago, is a former accountant and teacher who believes that her background has prepared her to handle the tricky job of balancing the state's budget in an economic downturn.
"I'd like to do a whole tax reform on the state," says Dalessandro.
On one key issue, Dalessandro disagrees with her Republican opponents about providing more property-tax cuts.
"I think it would be fiscally irresponsible to do it in a time when we are in such a budget shortfall," says Dalessandro.
Antenori and Gowan say they'd both eliminate the state's property tax, which brought in about $250 million a year before it was temporarily suspended during a budget surplus a few years ago. Gowan says the state would make up the difference if lawmakers would "stop the frivolous spending," while Antenori says getting rid of the tax would result in an economic boom that would make up for the lost revenue through more sales and income taxes.
A former Green Beret who now works as a project manager for Raytheon Missile Systems, Antenori says he'd like to see the property-tax burden shifted away from businesses and onto homeowners. He says it's unfair that businesses now pay a higher property tax than homeowners.
Antenori, who made his political debut with an unsuccessful campaign in the Republican primary for Congressional District 8 two years ago, supports reducing the scope of government.
"I believe that the bigger government gets, the less freedom you have," Antenori says. "I despise expansion of government into people's lives."
Gowan, a magazine salesman and martial-arts teacher from Sierra Vista, also favors smaller government, although he's not as outspoken as Antenori. Gowan opposes any tax increases and would like to see sales taxes take the place of property and income taxes.
Dalessandro says she'd focus on improving education if she were elected to the House. As a former math teacher, she says that she understands the anxiety that students face before taking high-stakes standardized tests, like the AIMS test. She says the AIMS test shouldn't be a requirement for graduation.
"The (AIMS) augmentation that they passed at the end of this session was a good thing," Dalessandro said. "I think we need to look at a broader view of students and their achievements."
Gowan agrees that the public school system needs repair.
"I heard from (the) Goldwater (Institute) that this is the first time in history that our students now won't know as much as their parents did," Gowan said. "That's kind of spooky."
Gowan, who is making his third attempt at a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives, favors giving more public dollars to private schools, saying competition is good for public schools.
"When you allow the free market to blossom, you have better situations," said Gowan. "If I'm a parent and I pay my taxes and the school is performing well--whether it's a private, public or charter school--I want my child in that school."
Antenori says education is vital to the state's future and supports vouchers for private schools, as long as they don't go to religious schools.
"I fear them being abused," Antenori says. "You open the door to ... all these crazy schools. You open the door to all these schools like that one sect of Mormons. ... And you just get nervous."
Gowan, who has run unsuccessfully for the House in 2004 and 2006, continues to focus on what he sees as the root of the state's problems: illegal immigration.
"My problem is that the federal government is failing in its duties to secure the border and it's costing our state over $1.5 billion a year in education, hospitals and incarceration," Gowan said. "I think it behooves us to secure our border."