October 25, 2006 - Republican Jennifer Burns thinks she can appeal to both Democrats and moderate Republicans.
As the youngest candidate in the District 25 house race, she also reaches out to a contingent of younger voters who other candidates come dangerously close to overlooking.
Voters elected Burns, 35, to the house for the first time in 2002. She will face an independent, a Republican and two Democrats in the November general election.
When Burns joined the Legislature, the state had a $1 billion deficit.
"While we were there and dealing with that, (the Legislature) refused to raise taxes, yet we still reached a balanced budget," Burns recalled.
The Legislature cut other programs and shifted funds, which along with a rebounding economy eventually resulted in a $1 billion surplus. Burns took part in all of it and has proven her capability as a legislator, the candidate said, though she would have preferred allocating more money for border security and public safety.
A native of Tucson, Burns graduated from Marana High School and has a law degree from the University of Arizona. She lives in Avra Valley.
By virtue of her home base, Burns has spent more time in the Tucson metro area of District 25 than the other candidates. She still attends the smaller community events that may not lead to a big vote cache but endears a candidate to a handful.
She recently attended the grand opening of a long-awaited park in northern Marana's Gladden Farms development.
Pundits in local media have stressed her ability to read and understand legislative bills. Burns is widely referred to as one of the smartest legislators in the state. She has worked in U.S. Sen. John Kyl's office and as a legal clerk in both Oro Valley and Yuma County.
She can take complex issues and explain them to other legislators, she said.
"With the legal training I have, I'm able to take and read the bills and understand them and look for problems that are there."
Her voting records shows her at odds with Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, who vetoed a record number of bills this past session - more than 100. Democrats have argued that the governor vetoed so often, because Republicans sent up many "hateful" bills just to embarrass the governor.
"Some … were sent up purely for political reasons," the mild Republican Burns said. Other bills should have been signed by the governor, she added.
Burns thought the governor made a mistake by vetoing a bill that would have prevented the government from taking people's guns and ammunition during an emergency.
"One of the things that's very critical … in Arizona is our Second Amendment rights," Burns said. "That's one of the things that's fundamental in protecting our sovereignty … a people being allowed to have those weapons."
Burns talks fast, sometimes leaving out words while stringing together long-winded lines. At a recent debate in Marana, she made the most out of her 1-minute and 3-minute responses, by saying more than the other District 25 candidates, despite the time constraints.
She kept her cool when responding to the moderator's questions, despite frequent whispers and chuckles from Democratic state Sen. Marsha Arzberger.
When asked about border security, Burns referred to a plan that got shot down this past session. "We already had a plan," she said.
The plan "would have put boots on the ground immediately," Burns explained. It would have set aside money to pay overtime to local law enforcement officers to assist along the border. The plan also called for sanctions on employers who knowingly hired illegal immigrants.
The plan would have cost taxpayers nothing, the representative noted, but the bill died in committee.
Education always weighs heavy on Burns' mind, she said.
"In our district, which is a particularly rural district, we have a one-room schoolhouse … We have another that's a three-room schoolhouse," Burns said. "They don't have another choice. They do rely on that community for public education."
When a school misses the mark and has kids underperforming, Burns recommends bringing in outside experts to fix the problem. Groupthink can set in if schools don't seek another perspective, she said.
"You think everything's good, but either the people themselves aren't as qualified or they just need some assistance from somebody outside to show where the problems are," Burns explained. "We need to make sure our kids are learning how to learn and not just learning how to take a test."
Burns has received better-than-average interest ratings from the independent business world and education associations. Planned Parenthood gives her a failing grade, but the Arizona Cattelmen's Association gives her an A-plus.
Burns never leans too far to the right or left but still manages to uphold the Republican platform. That's the key to her success, said Democrat Monica Perez, who ran in 2004 against Burns.
"I've been following her votes," Perez said. "She's become a little more moderate and has done a lot with education."
Perez once took a group of liberal college students to visit the Legislature. During a luncheon, "Jennifer was the only Republican sitting with us," recalled Perez, who splits her time between her hometown of Douglas and Phoenix, where she works for a political leadership training institute.
"Jennifer has proven she will fight for rural Arizona and stand up to Phoenix to protect our interests," said former Marana Mayor Ora Mae Harn, a Republican.
Burns regularly refers to the "fight" it takes to get Phoenix to pay attention to Southern Arizona. She supported a budget increase for Northern Arizona University to increase its salaries, some of the lowest among state universities.
One urban legislator who voted against the measure referred to Tucson as rural. "There was too much pork in Arizona," Burns recalled the lawmaker saying. "So now Tucson is rural and the universities are pork," Burns said, shaking her head.
It gets more difficult with each year to get rural issues heard in Phoenix, she said, vowing to continue her fight for the rural communities scattered across her far-reaching district.