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Harris is Lone Democrat for AZ Senate in LD13

Lou Gum

While the focus of the race for state senate in legislative district 13 has been on expelled Yuma politician Don Shooter’s return to the ballot, a lone Democrat awaits the winner of the Republican primary in August.

Michelle Harris is an Air Force veteran who returned to her childhood home of Buckeye after retirement.  She tells KAWC’s Lou Gum that it was a high water bill that brought her to politics…

Air Force veteran Michelle Harris is a Democrat running for the Arizona Senate in Legislative District 13.  LD 13 stretches northeast from Yuma to the towns of Goodyear, Buckeye and west Glendale.

While the focus of the race has been on expelled Yuma politician Don Shooter’s return to the ballot, Harris is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination. 

Harris spent 21 years in the United States Air Force.  Following her retirement she returned to her childhood home of Buckeye.  At the time, Buckeye residents were facing a water bill increase that had been approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission.  Looking to get answers, Harris reached out to her representatives in the Arizona Legislature.

"What I noticed was our elected officials were unreachable. They were inaccessible." - Michelle Harris

“Once I got involved, what I noticed was our elected officials were unreachable, they were inaccessible. I was trying to get them to help my area, my community. I just thought to myself, this is not how it is supposed to be.”

Harris was motivated to do more.  She began exploring Legislative District 13 and was most interested to learn about the Yuma area and the impact of Agriculture in the region and on the state economy.  But as she traveled the district she encountered a similar attitude among residents – a sense that state leaders are focused on the Phoenix area.  She says she hears the phrase, “the great state of Maricopa” often.

“There are rings to the ‘great state of Maricopa’.  People in Buckeye, and even Goodyear, and especially Wickenburg, as well, feel that everything is focused on the Phoenix area, especially the East side.  I really do think it boils down to people don’t feel like they are heard, they don’t feel like they are represented.”

Harris says to ensure that she represents the entire district, and to address that outsider feeling on the part of residents, she has traveled LD 13 extensively since last September.  She says, “Your first job is to show up.  Your first job is to be available.”

As for issues, Harris says education is a top priority.  Harris graduated from Buckeye Union High School in 1988 and she says it is disappointing to think she might be one of the last groups of students to get a quality public education in the state.  Ensuring access and meeting funding needs for schools is a top concerns, she says.

State spending is also of concern. Harris says her nephew, a state prison guard, hasn’t seen a raise in ten years.  A scheduled stipend in the last budget was swept to give teachers a raise. 

"We are pitting groups of people against each other." - Michelle Harris

“This is a problem. We are pitting groups of people against each other and we are not actually satisfying our requirements for funding.”

Harris says responding to drought is also important.  The state has lagged in drafting a drought contingency plan, Harris says she’d like to see the legislature act in a new session with a focus on conservation. 

Harris says she isn’t paying too much attention to the Republican primary.  That race includes expelled Yuma politician Don Shooter, Brent Backus and incumbent Sine Kerr.  Harris has no predictions about who will win and says, “It doesn’t really matter.  I am the better candidate with better ideas.”

Raw audio of Michelle Harris speaking to KAWC's Lou Gum on 7/5/18. A portion of this interview aired on KAWC and can be found above.

Lou grew up in Tucson and has a long family history in the state of Arizona. He began his public radio career in 1988 at KNAU in Flagstaff as a classical music DJ and has been hooked on public radio since, transitioning to news after trying his hand at several other careers in publishing and commercial broadcasting. Lou has a degree in American Studies from Arizona State University and was KAWC's Morning Edition host for two and half years before becoming News and Operations Director.
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