LD4 Democratic hopefuls differ on abortion, gay marriage

(For the AZ Daily Star, June 27, 2014, click here for a link to the Star article)

State legislative candidate Jose Leonardo Suarez said he’s proud to be a Democrat, but his party is flat out wrong on the abortion and gay marriage issues.

Suarez said he opposes gay marriage because “two males wouldn’t be able to procreate,” and “the family is something that is created between a man and a woman.”

Charlene Fernandez, who is also seeking one of the two House seats in the district, said she supports people’s right to marry, regardless of gender.

Their comments came at a Clean Elections-sponsored debate for Legislative District 4 primary candidates last week in Yuma.

Incumbent Lisa Otondo did not attend the debate, choosing instead to attend a family reunion. Juan Carlos Escamilla, the second incumbent now representing the district, is not seeking re-election.

The two Democratic primary winners will face Republican Richard Hopkins, in the November general election.

Abortion and a woman’s right to choose was another area where Suarez and Fernandez disagreed.

Fernandez stated, “Our party represents social justice. I believe in social justice. Our party believes in a woman’s right to choose reproductive rights and I totally believe in that.”

Although Suarez asserted his pride in being a Democrat, he disagreed with the party regarding abortion, stating he only supports abortion in the case of birth defects of the child or when the pregnancy presents danger to the mother’s life.

During the nearly hourlong event, Fernandez and Suarez also discussed a range of other issues, including education and economic growth.

Both candidates agreed there is need for high quality, well-funded public education in Arizona.

Fernandez highlighted her eight years of experience as a school board member in Yuma and stressed the need for improving high school graduation rates. Suarez focused on the need for well-funded schools which will prepare students entering the job market.

Candidates emphatically agreed veterans’ benefits need to be improved, and that the minimum wage in Arizona should be increased.

On the topic of immigration, important to District 4 due to its extensive Mexican border, Fernandez pointed out immigration reform is a federal issue. She encouraged voters to reach out to state congressmen, and to voice their support for comprehensive immigration reform.

Suarez said he would support legislation allowing undocumented people in Arizona to get driver’s licenses.

“We want those people to come out of the shadows,” he said, pointing out that undocumented people already drive and travel, so it would be safer if they had identification.

Both candidates expressed strong ties to their district, which extends from Yuma to Tucson’s western suburbs, and the state of Arizona, promising to listen to constituents’ needs and work hard to achieve their goals.

(Christa Elise Reynolds is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star.)

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