October 25, 2006 - Underdog Democratic candidate Pat Fleming needs to fight for a seat in the District 25 House of Representatives, being the opponent of two incumbents and another candidate with experience in the Legislature.
Fleming came to a recent debate in Marana with prepared statements and notes. She spoke clearly, giving concise answers where others sometimes stumbled over words or failed to truly address the question asked of them.
When District 25 senate candidate May Ann Black suggested erecting tent cities for inmates and illegal immigrants charged with a crime, Fleming gasped.
"Prevention," she said. "I think we can prevent people being in the prisons by giving them good educations. Not putting up tent cities. I think that is beyond belief."
She believes in "simple, common sense solutions," she said. "I will not be voting for any special interest."
Fleming will stand her ground, no matter the issue, she said.
"If you want someone who will operate like many politicians and support only those who supported them, then I ask that you vote for someone else," she said.
Fleming grew up in a military family, the daughter of an Army officer. As a child, she lived in a variety of places, including her birthplace Missouri. Her father's service took the family to Puerto Rico, Belgium and Texas, though her voice somehow carries the nasal aura of upper Midwest.
Fleming has lived in Arizona for almost 40 years. She retired last year after 22 years as a manpower and budget analyst for the Army.
The Sierra Vista resident maintains an Internet blog to give herself more visibility. In a blog she posted in January, she vowed to investigate different healthcare policies and what she could do to make them better.
A reader of the blog responded curtly: "So far your blog is only rhetoric and does not mention anything about solutions. Why should employers have to provide insurance for workers? What are you going to do for us that the current legislators aren't already doing?"
Fleming provided a diplomatic response.
"I will bring, and give, new perspectives," she wrote, adding that a bill introduced this year would go a long way toward bringing healthcare benefits to everyone, regardless of age, employment or health status. The state health plan bill - HB2752 - received its first reading in February.
"We need to follow this one very closely," Fleming wrote.
Unfortunately for Fleming, the bill never made it out of this past session.
Last week, the candidate's mother died. Fleming took a few days to collect her emotions. While she failed to return a phone call for this story by the paper's deadline, she vowed in an e-mail to get "back on the campaign trail! Full force!"
Fleming always has followed politics and continues to familiarize herself with the Legislative process. Despite being the "unknown," she stands a good chance at winning a seat in the house, Cochise County Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Covey said.
"She's very much a political person," Covey said. "Once she got her feet on the ground, she's actually doing pretty good."
Recently, Fleming turned her attention to the increasingly dangerous border town of Nogales.
"Pat has recognized that Nogales is a key part of the district," Covey said. "There's people there that want change. She's not going there to convince them to vote Democrat, but just to vote."
Apathy continues to give candidates problems throughout District 25, especially in Marana and rural Pima County, according to pundits.
"I do not see a single political sticker or bumper sticker in Continental Ranch," Pima County Democratic Party District 25 Chair Jeff Lawrence said.
Lawrence has put up flyers - "Apathy lives here" - in the Marana neighborhoods, which prompted a few nasty responses from Republicans, he said.
Sixty percent of voters in Continental Ranch voted for President George W. Bush in 2004, though Democrats hold the slight majority overall in District 25. Of the roughly 83,000 registered voters in the district, 35,750 call themselves Democrats. Almost 26,000 have registered as Republicans.
Cochise County voters dominate the wide-ranging district, which also covers the southern portion of Santa Cruz County, a small part of Pinal County and Gila Bend in Maricopa County.
"It's a real challenge getting rural people's participation," Lawrence said. "It's hard to find active clusters out there, though there is a weird cluster on the western edge of the Tohono O'Odham reservation."
Fleming has visited the reservation and seems to have garnered a lot of support from the Indians. The candidate's personality has attracted a lot of voters, Lawrence added.
"She's friendly, outgoing. Everyone likes her," he said. "She's the best (Democratic) candidate we've had in the last three election cycles."
Monica Perez knows first-hand about being the underdog. The Democrat ran for the house in 2004, a political science student fresh from Arizona State University. She has worked with Fleming in Cochise County political organizations and programs.
Fleming's heavy involvement in the 2004 race gave people hints that she would run in 2006. With no name recognition, though, Fleming's chances seem slim, according to pundits.
"The incumbents will all get re-elected, I think," said Perez, who has her eyes set on another run in 2008. "It takes more than one election to get that name recognition in a district this size. I tried to concentrate on talking to Republicans and people I would be uncomfortable talking to, because I can talk to Democrats all the time. I relied a lot on endorsements. But, I learned by losing."
Fleming has held the Democratic Party line as far as most issues go. She wants immigration reform, but people won't see her straddling the border fence with a rifle in hand. She favors fines for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants and vows to enforce laws to stop human and drug smuggling.
Fleming wants smaller class sizes, better teachers and well-rounded students. She wants the minimum wage increased, a measure that will appear on the ballot.
"I believe we have to figure out what needs to be done, how to get it done and then get that done," Fleming said. "It takes real leadership to find real solutions to real problems."
Some have criticized the first-time candidate for not offering those specific solutions.
"I have a lot to learn, but I'm ready to take it on," Fleming said. "I can be very strong."