Lawyer, Reporter And Former Lawmaker All Like Their Chances

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The race for the Democratic nomination in the vast first congressional district, which includes Rim Country, pits a well-funded former state lawmaker against an environmental attorney and a former TV news reporter and publisher.

Although the district has a narrow registration advantage for Democrats, the last time the party held, the seat was Sam Coppersmith's single term between 1993 and 1995. President Bush got 54 percent of the vote here in 2004.

However, this time the seat has been targeted by the national party and the Democrats have raised far more money than the Republicans. Although the district is larger than Pennsylvania, the voters are mostly clustered around Flagstaff. Rim Country accounts for about 10 percent of the district's population.

All have long connections to the region, but distinct differences have emerged on key policy issues. Here are the three serious Democratic candidates.

Mary Kim Titla

Born and raised on the San Carlos Apache Reservation to teenaged parents, Titla lived in a two-room house without plumbing or electricity. She attended Bylas Lutheran Mission and Fort Thomas Elementary School, and graduated from a boarding school on the White Mountain Apache Reservation -- where she was active in student government, cheerleading, choir and sports. While in high school, she earned a national service award.

She attended Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher and then transferred to the University of Oklahoma, where she earned a journalism degree. As a student, she won the title of Miss National Congress of American Indians and met and married John Mosley, of the Assiniboine/Paiute Tribes. She later earned a masters in communications from Arizona State University.

She landed a job as a receptionist at a Phoenix TV station, where she later became a production assistant. In 1987, she became the first Native American TV reporter in Tucson and later moved to KPNX TV. She quit TV news in 2005 to launch Native Youth Magazine online.

Money Raised: $246,000 ($2,300 self funded)

Age: 47

Education: Master's, ASU, Bachelor's University of Oklahoma

Family: Husband, three children.

Top issues: Energy independence, water, economy.

Surprising positions: Supports ban on abortion except to save mother's life, a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and making Bush tax cuts permanent.

Chances: Limited funds and finding that her presumed advantage on the reservations is blunted by the other candidates' strong ties to the tribe. But Titla says a poll shows her neck and neck with Kirkpatrick. Conservative positions on social issues and taxes might make Titla stronger in the general election.

Howard Shanker

The Flagstaff attorney has spent years fighting for environmental causes, often representing tribal governments. He and his wife own The Shanker Law Firm, with offices in Flagstaff and Tempe. He is also an adjunct professor at the ASU law school, a former presidential appointee to the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council and the attorney for the Navajo Nation and the White Mountain Apache, Yavapai-Apache and Havasupai tribes, in addition to the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The son of a college professor and grandson of Russian refugees, Shanker earned his BA and MA from Pace University in history, captained the soccer team and then earned an MA in public administration. He attended Georgetown University law school, worked for the Department of Justice and moved to Arizona in 1993. He has been involved in numerous lawsuits protecting tribal rights and endangered species and in representing disabled veterans. His wife has specialized in representing abused and neglected children.

Money Raised: $192,000 ($28,000 self funded)

Age: 48

Education: Georgetown University law degree, MA public administration, BA History

Family: Wife, one child.

Top issues: Economy, immigration, health care.

Surprising positions: Supports reduction in military spending, release of oil from strategic reserve to lower gas prices, government-sponsored health care.

Chances: Behind both of his competitors in fund-raising, easily tagged as an environmental activist, which could backfire in the general. His strength with tribes is blunted by the connections of the other candidates. Definitely the dark horse in the race.

Ann Kirkpatrick

The former prosecutor and state lawmaker has blown the doors off the fund-raising bandwagon, with a total of $1.1 million -- with a whopping $400,000 still on hand for the final stretch of the general election. She has run a Flagstaff-centered race, betting on her 25-year connection to the area with the most votes in the district.

Born in McNary on the White Mountain Apache Nation, she actually started out speaking Apache. She said she was surprised when she learned from other kids after she started school that she wasn't actually Apache. She gradated from Blue Ridge High School in the White Mountains, the University of Arizona and the University of Arizona law school. She worked as Coconino County's first woman deputy county attorney. She also worked as the Sedona city attorney, before she started teaching business law and ethics at Coconino Community College.

She was elected to the state house in 2002 representing district two, which includes Flagstaff and the Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai and Navajo reservations. She worked on many education-related issues in the legislature.

In the community, she is former president of the United Way and the Flagstaff Symphony Association and has served on other charity boards.

Money Raised: $1.1 million ($20,000 self-financed)

Age: 58

Education: U of A law degree and BA.

Family: Husband, two grown daughters.

Top issues: Gas prices, health care, training/equipment for military.

Surprising positions: Opposes timetable to leave Iraq, opposes government-sponsored universal healthcare.

Chances: Broad political contacts and experience in the district, a host of high-powered endorsements, broad political experience and a bulging campaign war chest make her the candidate to beat. Has run a careful and polished campaign that has nonetheless avoided taking strong positions on key, controversial issues.

Candidate Questions

Editor's note: Each candidate was asked to answer the following five questions about issues that affect the Rim Country in 200 words or less.

1) Payson needs to raise $30 million to build a pipeline to deliver water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir that will provide enough water to supply a build-out population of 38,000. Do you know of any source of federal funding to help cover that cost? Would you push for earmark money to fund it if necessary?

Shanker: As long as Congress is using a system of earmarks to designate money for District use, I'll work hard within that system to bring money back to Arizona, including building the necessary pipeline to deliver water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir to Payson. This is, of course, an important issue, and will allow Payson to be one of the only rural areas in Arizona with a secure water source for all projected development.

Titla: Yes, we must fight for our fair share of tax dollars in Washington for infrastructure projects such as the Blue Ridge pipeline. We must do our part to ensure Gila County has an adequate and quality water supply to meet its growing needs. I am also concerned how much groundwater has been depleted over the last 20 years. One report indicated area states such as Pennsylvania get millions upon millions of dollars disproportionately paid for by Arizona taxpayers. I will fight to change this formula in Congress.

2) Do you consider wildfire a serious threat to Rim Country communities a serious problem and, if so, what specific measures do you favor to reduce that threat?

Shanker: I do consider wildfires to be a serious threat to Rim Country communities. I think an important part of combating that threat is calling on federal agencies to work with local fire departments. I know that the Payson Fire Department already coordinates with the U.S. Forest Service, and I believe that that coordination is crucial to successfully dealing with this issue. As the First District congressman, I will support the designation of federal resources to protecting Rim Country from wildfires.

Titla: Yes, we have 140 years of fuels buildup, since the natural cycle of fire was interrupted by the early settlements of the west. The curtailment of logging in the 1980s accelerated the buildup of small trees and dead fuels. Studies show that Arizona's mountains should contain between 25-60 pine trees per acre, yet average about 700 trees per acre, with some areas exceeding 2000 trees per acre. Unless we begin to treat these acres, on both private and federal lands, we are in for some severe fires in the future that will rival the Rodeo-Chediski and the Aspen Fire that burned Mt. Lemmon and the town of Summerhaven.

Kirkpatrick: We have all seen the devastating economic and environmental impact of wildfires in Arizona's communities. Investing in strategic forest thinning minimizes the risk of catastrophic wildfires in the future.

3) Most Rim communities are surrounded by Forest Service land and most are seeking federal land trades for various public purposes and economic expansion. What, if anything, would you do to support land exchanges?

Shanker: It depends on what the purpose of the land exchange is; every land exchange would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis. In the case of a land exchange that is legitimately in the public interest, I would do whatever it took to support it.

Titla: The Land Exchange process has many checks and balances that make it slow and cumbersome. Let's streamline the process for communities that are landlocked. Also, the Forest Service cannot sell land like the Bureau of Land Management is able to do. I would consider legislation that would enable the Forest Service to sell land under certain conditions.

Kirkpatrick: Land exchanges can be an important tool for land management when accompanied with appropriate oversight and safeguards. Unfortunately, there have been exchanges in the past that have benefited developers while placing undue burdens on Arizona's taxpayers. As a result, many people are justifiably skeptical and cautious about land exchanges. I would support carefully crafted land exchange proposals that include stringent appraisal requirements and adequate reviews to ensure that the exchange benefits both our communities and our resources.

4) Do you think that Rep. Renzi violated the public trust in his handling of the federal land trades for which he has been indicted? Should laws on land exchanges be changed?

Shanker: It certainly appears that Rep. Renzi violated our trust (though he has not been convicted yet). It's not clear that his activities are a reason to change the laws surrounding land exchanges. We do, however, need to elect honest and ethical leaders who will not break the laws as they stand now.

Titla: Yes. Mistakes have been made and we need to learn from those mistakes. I'm a firm believer in the need for more transparency in government. We have laws in place that work, and a legal system designed to bring justice to those who break the law.

Kirkpatrick: Rep. Rick Renzi's conduct in Washington was very disappointing. Our elected representatives have an obligation to maintain the highest ethical standards while serving in public office.

5) Studies suggest that Rim Country forests have 10-20 times as many trees per acre as they did 200 years ago, as a result of Forest Service management and fire suppression. Yet the timber industry has been virtually shut down as a result of lawsuits, restrictions and the lack of big trees. What would you do to restore forest health and what role should the timber industry and industry play?

Shanker: Forest management has to be determined based on scientific research and best management practices; this should not be a political question. If the timber industry can play a role that's consistent with best management practices, then it should certainly play that role.

Titla: The Forest Service and accompanying agencies need to prepare and offer timber for sale. The 2003 Healthy Forest Restoration Act made it possible to facilitate sales preparation and get them through the environmental maze of studies. Yet, resources in the Forest Service budget for timber preparation and sale administration have been severely cut. The Forest Service needs adequate funding in order to carry out fuels reduction projects. Currently, much of the funding is siphoned off by overhead in Washington and its nine regional offices. Revenues must go to Forests and Districts with targets to get the sales accomplished.

Kirkpatrick: Unfortunately, many of Arizona's forests are not healthy, requiring proactive steps to restore them. I support projects like the White Mountains Stewardship contract, which was developed through a collaborative process in order to make forest products accessible to support locally-owned wood product businesses. All in all, it's essential that the long-term health of our forests be the overall management goal, thereby creating critical opportunities to grow and diversify our wood products industries in a sustainable manner. We need an industry that will be here for decades and will play a significant role in restoring our forests, bringing back economic development, and ensuring that our forests remain a vital part of our communities.

6) The most important approach to reducing the $450 billion budget deficit is:

Shanker: Cut spending, cut borrowing, cut taxes to working Americans, put back into place taxes on the wealthiest Americans, cut corporate loopholes.

Titla: It would be extremely easy to suggest we eliminate earmark spending and subsidies and other similar types of spending that pundits argue is wasteful. The federal budget is enormous and complicated and will require thorough study. Streamlining agencies and reducing bureaucratic red tape would be the first step in providing an efficient government. I plan to work to ensure responsible government spending by pushing for a pay as you go system as a means of bringing deficit spending under control.

Kirkpatrick: Our government should not saddle future generations with the crushing weight of today's debts. I believe in fiscal responsibility and balancing the budget every year. We can begin to do this by reversing many of President Bush's harmful economic policies. I will end taxpayer giveaways to Big Oil, end tax loopholes for companies that send American jobs overseas, and end the $280 million we spend every day in Iraq.

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