Verkamp cites commitment to education in bid for Senate seat

Editor's Note: The Kingman Daily Miner will print a series of stories on opposed candidates for county and statewide office prior to the Sept.

12 primary.

The Miner today is running the first of two stories on the Republican candidates for the District 2 Senate seat being vacated by Sen.

John Wettaw, R-Flagstaff, who is retiring.

Following eight years serving District 2 in the House of Representatives, state Rep.

Joe Hart, R-Kingman, and John Verkamp, R-Flagstaff, are running for the Senate seat because of term limits.

The top vote-getter of the two will face Democrat Rita Johnson, a former Flagstaff City Council member, in the Nov.

7 general election.

The job pays $24,000 a year.

The district covers a wide swath of land from Bullhead City east to the Hopi Reservation, and includes the communities of Kingman, Williams, Flagstaff, Sedona and Strawberry.

Verkamp is profiled below.

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State Rep.

John Verkamp, R-Flagstaff, considered education his top priority during eight years in the House of Representatives, and plans to continue that commitment if elected to the District 2 Senate seat.

"To me, the biggest issue will always be improving our educational system and providing access to affordable health care to all people in Arizona," Verkamp said.

"I think education is the only way to ensure every child has an opportunity to gain success.

We give them an opportunity.

It's not a guarantee."

Verkamp, 60, said he has fought over the past eight years to maintain inflation-rate raises for public school teachers in grades K-12.

"I haven't always been successful in getting that done," he said.

"It is putting us further and further behind.

It has caused serious damage to our school system to not be able to pay higher salaries."

Verkamp, who served as Coconino County attorney from 1980 to 1992, said he joined the Mushroom Coalition of moderates in 1999 in its successful battle against cutting educational funding by $20 million.

"We ended up with an $80 million increase instead of a $20 million cut," Verkamp said.

Total funding came to about $3 million, half of the state budget.

Verkamp said he also supported efforts by Mohave Community College to increase funding for maintenance and operations - which includes teacher pay - and to expand course offerings.

He also worked hard to expand the "2 + 2" program, in which MCC students can take their first two years of college locally and finish their undergraduate degrees by taking interactive courses offered by Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

Participating students attend classes with interactive hookups at the MCC campuses.

The program enables Mohave County residents to earn bachelor's degrees without moving to Flagstaff or Phoenix, Verkamp said.

Verkamp said he also considers health care important throughout the district and state, noting that 1 million Arizona residents lack health insurance, about one-fourth of the population statewide.

The issue also became critical for seniors in Mohave County and other rural areas because Premier Health Care of Arizona collapsed in late 1999, leaving thousands of seniors without Medicare health maintenance organization plans, according to Verkamp.

Many retirees pay more for health care than they do for house payments.

Verkamp said he responded to the health care crisis this year by introducing and helping to enact a bill, HB 2050, to set up a statewide health care pool for businesses, individuals and seniors to make it affordable.

He cited other legislative efforts that specifically benefited Mohave County residents: securing $1.4 million in funding for building the juvenile detention center, which opened in October 1999; and working to get funding to improve State Route 68 between Kingman and Bullhead City.

Verkamp co-chaired the Joint Juvenile Justice Committee in 1997 when it awarded one-third of its available funds for the county detention center.

While Verkamp said he has introduced numerous bills during his tenure, he does not regard volume as a success.

"One of my goals is to not introduce too many bills," Verkamp said.

"If you are going to downsize government, you should not introduce 70 to 80 bills."

Verkamp, a third-generation member of a pioneer Arizona family, said he would support conducting a statewide study on water availability, citing the recent drought in Williams and that community's plans to buy water from Flagstaff.

"I think water is absolutely a key issue in the state of Arizona," he said.

"We have a lack of data.

That's why I asked the governor to set up the Arizona Water Commission."

Verkamp said he sees the $3.2 billion tobacco settlement as a windfall, and proposed setting aside 20 percent of the amount for a trust fund.

The remainder would be evenly split for children's health care, taking care of the seriously mentally ill, prescription drug coverage for seniors and for long-term care for the elderly poor.

He regards the Sept.

12 primary as critical in determining the state's future.

"I certainly believe that our (Republican) leadership has failed in a lot of areas," Verkamp said.

"I think we need a more bipartisan approach to government."