October 25, 2006 - Pete Hershberger, in his fourth bid for one of two Legislative District 26 House seats, seems to have the formula down pat.

With about $22,000 on hand from a previous campaign, he's raised an additional $41,000 to spend on this election. His signs were out early, and he spends afternoons and weekends walking door-to-door reminding voters who is he and why they should continue to trust him with two more years in the state House of Representatives.

His experience shows at candidate forums. Hershberger is one of three candidates vying for two seats in the House, and the only one with any political experience. He speaks in specifics when discussing how to solve problems, a luxury some without experience in the Legislature sometimes don't have.

But in the primary race Hershberger said he was confident in the power of incumbency to deliver him back to the capitol. And although he finished on top in the crowded, four-candidate Republican primary, David Jorgenson was close behind.

Jorgenson, with no political experience and a late start campaigning, managed to collect 8,825 votes, just 60 votes shy of Hershberger, whose family has been representing Southern Arizona for 40 years.

"I've run my campaign consistently," Hershberger said in mid-October. "I did do well in the primary, and I will do even better in the general."

Not long after the primary, Al Melvin, Jorgenson's running mate, was telling voters to "straight shot Jorgenson," meaning only vote for one Republican candidate in the general election. He told one supporter at a Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast that they needed to get the "RINOS," Republicans In Name Only, out of office.

Melvin and Jorgenson called Hershberger a liberal throughout the primary, saying he doesn't vote with the Republican leadership. But Hershberger said he votes against leadership from Maricopa County on bills like the budget in order to bring back money for Tucson and the rest of Southern Arizona.

"He hasn't affected my campaign," Hershberger said. "Melvin's an extremist."

Hershberger said he usually votes with the majority - sometimes it's the Democrats and sometimes it's the Republicans. In 2005, he said he voted for more Republican sponsored bills than two-thirds of the Republican caucus.

Hershberger said Melvin bashes everyone that's not extreme like him. They did a good job getting their base out, but their base doesn't grow, Hershberger said.

So Hershberger is sticking with his tried and true formula to winning elections. He defends his voting record and said he will continue to battle Maricopa County Republicans for Southern Arizona.

His top issues are immigration reform, healthcare and education.

On immigration Hershberger said the state needs a comprehensive plan, including a guest worker program. The plan must include increased border enforcement, higher technology for radar and communication, and verifiable identification cards.

At the Nanini debate, the moderator asked candidates how citizen children born in the United States to illegal immigrants should be handled. Hershberger said the state couldn't deport the parents and let the children stay.

He said all children born to either before or after immigrants must be dealt with carefully.

"We must approach issues with immigrant children with extra care because they are not in this country of their own choosing," he said.

Hershberger said fencing is a part of the strategy to curb illegal immigration, but he doesn't support a fence from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas.

"It's hugely expensive and you know a 20-foot fence is going to create a 21-foot ladder," he said.

On healthcare, Hershberger said he would like to see state healthcare, which currently now just covers low-income residents, expanded to include small businesses.

Expanding KidsCare, the state's health insurance for children, also is particularly good because it's gets federal matching dollars, he said.

"But we need to do outreach," Hershberger said. The Legislature has prevented itself from advertising in an effort to keep the enrollement down, he said.

"Pete is a big advocate for children and families," said Republican state Representative Bill Konopnicki. "He works hard, passionate about children's issues. He listens to the people in his district."

When not in the Legislature, Hershberger is an administrator at the Open Inn, Inc., a non-profit that provides services and shelters for at-risk or homeless children.

Hershberger opposes vouchers as a means to improve public schools. He said America's public education system is what makes it great.

"What gives access to the American dream is a good quality public education system," he said. "We need to make our public education system the best it can be."

Investing in all-day kindergarten and early childhood education are crucial. A child's development from infant to three affects him or her for the rest of their lives, Hershberger said.

"We spend our money as they get into high school," he said. "We need to move our resources up front."

Hershberger said the state must to do a better job serving at-risk families through programming and teaching English, as an effort to curb the drop out rate.

Denise Hullwig, president of the Oro Valley Republican Women Club, said although she usually votes for more conservative candidates, she will vote for Hershberger.

"The way I see it, if Republicans do not vote for Republicans, then that is a vote for the opposing party," Hullwig said.

Calling himself a moderate, Hershberger is against a higher minimum wage, supports abortion rights and wants to increase funding for counseling and shelters for domestic violence victims.

Although he has been criticized and even punished - stripped of his committee chairmanship for not supporting Republican leadership - in the past, Hershberger insists good policy is made in the center. Hershberger said he prides himself on being a compromiser.

"One of the things that everyone knows about Pete is that he stands up for what he believes," said Jennifer Burns, Republican, District 25 State Representative, who is also running for re-election.

Burns said she and Hershberger, as representatives not from Maricopa County, worked "very closely" together in the legislature to fight for resources and programs for Tucson and Southern Arizona's rural areas.

"He doesn't compromise on his principals," Burns said. "Whether it's for children or families, or Rio Nuevo, he stands up for Southern Arizona."

He also has been a leader in keeping government control of programs in the hands of the locals, where the programs are implemented, Burns said.

"We often call him the heart and the conscience of the Legislature," Burns said.

Stephen Tully, House Republican majority leader from Phoenix, said he wasn't in leadership when Hershberger was stripped of his committee chairmanship. But he said there are two parties, and no one expects anyone to agree with his party on every issue.

"I think Pete probably disagrees with party position on quite a few issues," Tully said. "Pete on the budget is not fiscally conservative. That's always a tough vote to get him on."

Tully also said Hershberger is probably more socially liberal than most Republicans.

"But I never had the sense he was working against me in leadership. Maybe that's naive, but I never thought that," Tully said. "He's a nice enough guy."

Hershberger is not married and has a master's degree in education from the University of Arizona.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.