HERSHBERGER EDGES SOMERS IN DIST. 26 - Tucson Local Media: Import

HERSHBERGER EDGES SOMERS IN DIST. 26

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Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2002 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

In the end, name recognition and a familiar constituency won the day for Rep. Pete Hershberger in what was, until the final tally, a too close to call race with fellow Republican incumbent Carol Somers for House Dist. 26.

The final count of more than 6,000 early ballots and another 1,200 needing verification, widened what had been a mere five vote lead for Hershberger to a 100 vote lead, 7,230 to 7,130, re-electing Hershberger to the same seat his father had filled in the 1970s and 1980s and his mother filled for three terms from 1992 to 1998.

Percentage wise, Hershberger captured 28.8 percent of the vote to Somers' 28.4 percent.

Results from the Secretary of State's Office showed Hershberger winning Pima County by 267 votes, 6,921 to 6,654 for Somers, but Somers narrowing that margin in Pinal County, outpolling Hershberger by a 416 to 309 margin, largely due to returns from the retirement community of SaddleBrooke.

Incumbent Steve Huffman, leading a team campaign with Hershberger and Sen. Toni Hellon, was the top vote getter in the district with 8,493 votes, or 33.8 percent of the ballots cast.

Stuart Watkins, a SaddleBrooke resident, sole Clean Elections candidate and the only newcomer in the race, collected 2,239 votes, or 8.9 percent of those cast.

Watkins, a former Realtor and teacher at both the elementary and secondary school level, focused on education, economic development and health care and was especially critical of the Legislature's underfunding of education for nearly the past decade.

Barbara Hein, Republican legislative Dist. 26 chairman, said she wasn't surprised by the closeness of the race between the two incumbents Somers and Hershberger because both worked hard in their campaigns and both were very good candidates.

The name recognition of the Hershberger family and the challenge Somers had to confront of running in a district where 84 percent of registered Republican voters had no opportunity to vote for her in the last election, however, might have been just too much to overcome, Hein said.

Somers once represented Dist. 13, the majority of which became Dist. 30 in a redistricting for the 2002 elections in which Tucson lost a district to Phoenix because of its faster growth.

About 16 percent of the old Dist. 13 where Somers lived was drawn into what is now Dist. 26.

Hein said another deciding factor in the Somers-Hershberger race might have been the difference in their focus on issues.

Somers, who prided herself on the 14 bills she sponsored in her first term which were either signed into law or adopted in the state budget, appeared to focus more on business issues, Hein said, whereas Hershberger's focus was more on education and kids' issues.

Kids and education, keeping budget cuts out of the classroom, dealing with at-risk children either by increased funding or improvements in the juvenile justice system and better health care funding for children, all were stressed in the Hershberger campaign.

All were a natural outgrowth of Hershberger's former business, New Columbus, dealing with the county's juvenile justice system for 22 years to aid delinquent and abused children, and his current role as director of Open Inn, an agency working with homeless children.

That background is reflected in Hershberger's committee work as vice chairman of the House Human Services Committee, co-chair of an ad hoc committee on child support and co-chair of a committee on child protective services.

There was little to distinguish any of the candidates on the issue of the state's budget deficit. All supported a revamping of the state's tax code and in particular equalizing the corporate property tax of 25 percent and the residential property tax rate of 10 percent.

Somers saw herself in a better position to deal with the issue as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, vice chairman of the Commerce and Economic Development Committee and member of the County and Municipality Committee and education and natural resources subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.

Somers, a former high school French teacher and owner of Norrell Staffing Services, also stressed her experience in competing in the private sector rather than a running a business relying on state grants as Hershberger's business does.

Hershberger acknowledged having an edge over Somers because her district basically "just went away," with the redistricting, but saw his victory resulting more from voter concerns about education issues than business issues.

Both Hershberger and Hein saw the contest boiling down to more parents with kids voting than businesses.

In the months ahead, the state's budget deficit will remain the Legislature's top priority with cuts looming that could be "brutal," Hershberger said.

It is a problem the Legislature will have to address from a "common sense" approach, Hershberger said. In doing so, Hershberger said his main objective will be to protect classrooms and kids' programs from those cuts as much as possible.

"It will be a difficult thing to do," he said. "A great many things will have to fall in line."

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