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Arizona Lawmaker Headed for Iraq on Guard Duty

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Arizona Lawmaker Headed for Iraq on Guard Duty

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Arizona Lawmaker Headed for Iraq on Guard Duty

Arizona Lawmaker Headed for Iraq on Guard Duty

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Jonathan Paton, a Republican state legislator in Arizona, is up for re-election. He's also an Army National Guard officer on his way to Iraq. How does he run while on active duty... and how does anyone run against him?

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

A National Guard lieutenant from Arizona is preparing to go to Iraq, but there's something different about this solider. He's already in the middle of another fight, a political one. Thirty-five-year-old Jonathan Paton is a representative in the Arizona state legislature and he's trying to figure out how to win the battle for re-election while he's on the other side of the world fighting a war.

From Tucson, NPR's Ted Robbins reports.

TED ROBBINS: When Jonathan Paton was a boy, he loved to visit state capitals on vacation with his family. He grew up dreaming of serving in public office. So imagine the thrill when two years ago he was elected to the Arizona state legislature as a Republican representative.

JONATHAN PATON: You know when you dream about something when you're a little kid and you're able to do it and then you find out it is actually better than what you dreamed it would be. It's an awesome job.

ROBBINS: At least for six months a year. Arizona has a part-time legislature. Paton found himself wanting to serve his country the rest of the year, so he enlisted in the Army National Guard. Last summer, he went to Fort Benning, Georgia, for training. One day, he says he heard instructors ticking off his fellow soldiers' assignments. Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan.

PATON: Then I heard them mention my name and they said, well, he's an elected official, he'll never have to go anywhere. And that really bothered me that people would believe that.

ROBBINS: So when Paton heard the Army was sorely in need of his specialty in Iraq - he's an intelligence officer - he volunteered. The problem is, he's scheduled to ship out a few weeks before his September 12th primary election. He's not scheduled to return until a few weeks after the legislative session begins in January.

PATON: Jonathan Paton and I was born and raised here in southern Arizona. I grew up in Tucson.

ROBBINS: Until he leaves, Paton is campaigning. Here, at a recent debate at the library at Green Valley, a retirement community south of Tucson. He didn't mention his deployment at the appearance, and afterward, his two challengers Dave Gowan and Frank Callegari had only praise for his actions.

DAVID GOWAN: All I can say is best of luck to him and I'll pray for him.

FRANK CALLEGARI: Well certainly I'd wish him well. I think it's an honorable thing to serve your country.

ROBBINS: Jonathan Paton's district is heavily Republican. Whoever wins the Republican primary is likely to win the general election. Two House seats are up for grabs and four Republicans are running in the primary. Paton's fellow incumbent candidate, Marian McClure, doubts his absence will become an issue in the campaign.

MARIAN MCCLURE: If it does, I think it's not going to be the smartest thing anyone has ever done.

ROBBINS: Indeed, his military service may work in Paton's favor. Voter Phyllis Griggs says she's already made up her mind to vote for Paton, but if she hadn't -

PHYLLIS GRIGGS: It would make a big difference that he was willing to go over there and serve six months in the military.

ROBBINS: So for you it's a positive. You're nodding your head, yes.

GRIGGS: Yes, yes.

ROBBINS: Once he's on active duty, military rules forbid Paton from campaigning. So he's asked friends, family and fellow legislators to appear for him and he's spending the remaining few weeks mapping out his absentee campaign strategy. He's philosophical about his chances.

PATON: Bottom line is this election is important to me, but if I don't win because I'm not there because I'm doing something I feel is morally right, then that's how it has to be.

ROBBINS: And if he does win, Jonathan Paton plans on returning before the legislature takes up most of its important business.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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