Paul Babbitt wants to be our Congressman.
Babbitt, a Democrat and resident of the region since he was 3, is running against Rick Renzi for the 1st District seat in the House of Representatives, which includes Payson and most of rural Arizona.
Babbitt grew up in Flagstaff and attended Flagstaff High School. From there he attended college at Seattle University, received a degree in history and went into the Army. After his time in the service, he returned to Flagstaff to work in the family business.
"My home is Flagstaff," he said. "I've been in public service since 1976."
Babbitt has served on the Flagstaff City Council, was elected mayor of Flagstaff for two terms and then went on to the Coconino Board of County Supervisors.
He has never lost an election.
"I'm committed to the small towns across Arizona," he said. "I think my experience will serve us all well. I've lived and worked and served in small-town Arizona."
At a recent event in Prescott, Babbitt outlined his policy on national forests. His views echo those of Sen. John Kerry, who mandates more funding to small communities near the forests and better management of the forest areas.
Babbitt added that forest fire prevention is really at the heart of the issue.
"As we all know, over the past 80 years the forest has changed and been degraded by policies," he said. "One way to prevent fires is to thin the forests, and do so economically."
Kerry's plan suggests pushing more money to businesses that cater to "small-diameter" trees, which typically have little economic value.
Babbitt said there's no single answer to thinning the forests, but great care must be taken with how the government treats the forest and how it funds that treatment.
"It's so expensive, and there are so many millions of acres," he said.
Other issues in Babbitt's campaign include job creation in rural areas, education and the cost of health care.
"In my experience, to attract jobs and the employers to small towns, we need to be sure the infrastructure is in good shape," he said. "That includes transportation, road network, telecommunication, waste systems and water systems."
He added that education is tied to the creation of jobs, as employers look for an employee base that is educated.
"We simply have to have our children educated for the 21st century," he said.
Babbitt describes Renzi's educational and other efforts as pure politics.
"The government's business is building roads and bridges," he said. "My reaction to that is, ‘Gee, that's all well and good but I don't know that any single Congressman can take credit for the general business of the government'."
Babbitt pointed out that Renzi lives in Virginia.
"I'm from here, and have obviously a lot of experience in dealing with small towns," he said.