Two candidates who’ve held elected office are running for the Senate seat in Legislative District 9. The more moderate candidate, Jim Love, has been on the Flowing Wells School District Governing Board for 18 years. And his opponent, Victoria Steele, a staunch feminist and progressive, has twice held an LD 9 House seat.
With no Republican opponent, whoever wins the primary will likely be the next LD 9 senator. The district is home to a mix of Republicans, Democrats and independent voters who live in central Tucson, the Catalina Foothills and the Casas Adobes area.
Love doesn’t care about party lines.
“I don’t like partisanship,” he says. “I like working with people to try to get something good and positive done.”
A governing board member of the Flowing Wells School District and respiratory therapist, he advocates for public education and healthcare issues in state and federal government.
Love saw Flowing Wells was pulling money from traditional classrooms to cover kids with special needs. The state’s funding formula ends up benefiting schools with the least number of students with special needs. So Love asked Sen. Steve Farley to write a bill that would have funded a study to see which special education areas needed more funding.
Love took the bill to Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen, who was the the education committee chairperson. Love says Allen drove down from Snowflake, Arizona, and toured the Flowing Wells School District to see what he was talking about. Flowing Wells was just an example of a statewide issue.
“We got to talking about everything and talking about our lives,” he says about working with Allen. “And isn’t it funny when you get rid of the bipartisanship and you get rid of the parties and you start talking about the humanistic approach to two human beings looking at each other saying, ‘What do we have in common?’ what you can get accomplished.”
Together, they worked on a bill that would have required an updated state audit of special education costs. It passed the Senate but stalled in the House due to a lack of funding.
Public education is Love’s number one issue. He nearly choked on his coffee when Tucson Weekly asked him what he thought about the Empowerment Scholarship Account expansion, which would award 30,000 children state money to go to private school if voters approve it in November. He proceeded to dictate how the quote should read: “Just put in there, ‘When I mentioned it, Jim wanted to vomit.'”
Like most Democrats running for office, Love says Ducey’s additional education spending following the Red for Ed walkouts is nowhere near enough to bring the state up to the national average.
“Why did it take 50,000 red shirts, on an election year, to get the Republicans’ attention that we were fully underfunded in this state on teacher pay and public education?” Love asks.
He says the reauthorization of Prop. 301, the voter-approved 0.6-cent sales tax for education funding, should have gone up to a penny to provide more money for at-risk kids in public school. The idea of raising the sales tax puts him at odds with some Democrats, who would prefer to see a tax aimed at high earners rather than a regressive sales tax.
He’s for the Invest in Ed initiative but thinks the state needs to find more reliable funding sources for education, like taxing electricity that Arizona electric companies sell to other states. He also suggests asking the the Federal Bureau of Land Management to give the state some of its public land (outside of national forests), so it can be sold to developers, with proceeds going to education.
Love says state subsidies for daycare and preschool should only happen with proper oversight so people don’t “cheat the system.” He recalled people taking advantage of a daycare subsidy during the Lyndon Johnson era.
“People are always wanting to cheat the system instead of wanting to do it right,” he says. “I’m all for helping somebody help themselves. I think that the mom that’s working two jobs because the guy is a flake and not helping her out or he’s in prison or whatever, and she’s got two little kids and she’s working two jobs—I think something needs to be done to help her.”
In the 1990s, the federal government started a match-funding program to subsidize daycare for low-income families. Arizona participated in the program until GOP state lawmakers and then-Gov. Jan Brewer passed a budget in 2010 that cut the state’s portion from $82 million annually to zero. An independent state agency stepped up to provide some matching dollars, but the program remains underfunded.
As far as funding for community colleges and universities, Love thinks the state should do more, such as working with companies to help people who are already employed gain additional training to help them advance in their careers, ensure schools have the right job training and that the employee gets in-state tuition.
Love accuses his opponent Steele of being too partisan. He says he was already at the capital, doing bipartisan work to get bills passed.
“I’m already up there working with those folks,” he said about working with lawmakers. “I’m already getting bills written and passed. I couldn’t put my name on any of the bills because I wasn’t an elected official. But I could tell you, with the bipartisan relationships that I have, I could get that.”
Steele moved to Tucson for a career in journalism.
She thought she’d be doing news radio, but when she arrived in the desert, she found out she would be in charge of ski reports.
Her career, which did shift to covering news, took her all over the country and in the process, strengthened her feminist outlook. At her first radio news job, before her superior would hand over the clunky, early-’80s, Motorola tape recorder she needed to do her job, he leaned over and asked for a kiss, in front of the whole newsroom.
This was just the first of several similar encounters. When Steele took it to his superior, demanding the sexual harassment stop, she was fired. It wasn’t the last time Steele faced unfair treatment in a job because of her gender.
“I thought, ‘This is sexual harassment and discrimination and it’s not OK,'” she says. “So, I think I popped out of the womb being a feminist.”
She tried to hire a lawyer after the firing. The lawyer told Steele that she had no chance of winning and that her career and reputation would be ruined in the process. So instead, Steele got a better job with a competitor.
Today, Steele is a mental health counselor, a life coach and—yes—a life-long feminist. She gives talks on ridding sexual harassment form the workplace. Right after the 2016 election, she started a Tucson chapter of the National Organization for Women and says 115 people showed up to the first meeting.
Steele has been in the state House twice and left her seat to run in the 2016 Congressional District 2 Democratic primary. She lost to Matt Heinz, who lost to Rep. Martha McSally in the general.
In 2014, Steele introduced legislation to ratify the Equal Rights Amendments. So far, 36 states have passed an ERA. If two more states pass one, it could become an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees equal rights under the law to men and women. A couple of female Republican lawmakers co-sponsored the bill, but committee chairs never let it get to a hearing. Since then, Democrats have continued to try to pass an ERA ratification, with meager, wavering Republican support.
Like Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, who has also tried to pass an ERA, Steel thinks the Democrats have a chance to take control of the state House or Senate in the midterms.
“I think young people, I think women, I think minorities are going to lead the way,” Steele says. “Things are changing. And I really do believe that a lot of what we’re seeing right now is the last dying, desperate gasp of a group that is losing power, and it terrifies them.”
Equality, common-sense gun legislation, the environment and education are important issues to Steele.
She was first elected right after the Sandy Hook shooting. She knew a bill that had to do with gun regulation wouldn’t go anywhere, so she wrote a bill to appropriate funding for Mental Health First Aid, a national program that trains people to help those who are a danger to themselves or others.
She realized as a Democrat, a freshman and a woman, it would be near impossible for her to get something passed, so she called up her Republican seatmate Ethan Orr. He agreed to work with her on the bill, and in the process they became friends. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate. But then they were able to convince then-Gov. Jan Brewer to put it in as $250,000 line item on the 2014 fiscal budget.
A survivor of domestic violence, Steele says gun legislation is a woman’s issue. When there’s a gun in the home and incidents of domestic violence a woman is 500 percent more likely to be a victim of homicide, according to the American Journal of Public Health.
Closing the “stalker loophole” and “boyfriend loophole” is also important to her. Federal law generally prohibits convicted domestic abusers who are married to their victims from possessing a firearm. This prohibition doesn’t apply for other types of romantic relationships. As well, people with a felony stalking conviction are prohibited from possessing a firearm but not those with a misdemeanor stalking conviction.
Steele has also pushed legislation that protects children from firearms. She wrote a bill that would have compelled gun owners living with a child to store their guns in a locked container, saying that if a gun owner has a child living in the house, guns must be locked up. The bill would have held the gun owner responsible if a child were to access the gun and hurt or kill someone. The bill never got a hearing.
As far as the environment, Steele says the state needs to invest in rooftop solar energy rather than continue investing in coal. She says her father and grandfather were coal miners, and so she saw firsthand how harmful coal can be.
To fund education, she doesn’t think Ducey’s 20 percent raises for teachers by 2020 is ever going to happen. So she supports the Invest in Ed initiative, which would tax the state’s top 1 percent earners to raise money for education.
“I really wish that we didn’t have to increase anybody’s taxes for this,” she said. “In a perfect world, we would not have to. What’s been happening is since 1990, the Republican-controlled legislature has been giving away tax giveaways like they are throwing out candy at a Fourth of July parade.”
She says the state legislature needs to prioritize the budget to reflect Arizonans’ values—spending money on education rather than private prisons and tax giveaways for the wealthy. She’s not opposed to all tax incentives or cuts but says people “should pay their fair share in taxes,” which would eliminate the need to raise taxes on anyone.
“Our budget is a sacred document; it says this is what we care about,” Steele says. “You have to pass a budget that is compassionate and fair and that meets the needs of the people… If you look at what our budget has been saying for decades, it’s that we don’t care very much about children.”