Soldier Serves in Arizona's State Legislature Weeks before last fall's election, Jonathan Paton shipped off to Iraq, to serve in an Army Intelligence Unit. He was re-elected as an Arizona state representative in absentia. He found out he won while in the middle of a mortar attack. He finished his tour and just came back home, safe and sound. Yesterday, he was sworn into office on the floor of the House of Representatives, even though the session is almost two months old.
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Soldier Serves in Arizona's State Legislature

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Soldier Serves in Arizona's State Legislature

Soldier Serves in Arizona's State Legislature

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Last fall on this program, we told you about Jonathan Paton. He's a Republican state legislator in Arizona who went to serve in Iraq right in the middle of his campaign for reelection. Paton held on to his seat. And just a few days ago, he returned home from Iraq. As NPR's Ted Robbins reports, he's come back a changed man.

TED ROBBINS: Last November 7th, most candidates were in a hotel ballroom waiting anxiously for election results. Jonathan Paton was anxious, too. He was in the middle of a mortar attack in Baghdad.

State Representative JONATHAN PATON (Republican, Arizona): And I get a call from home, like, to let me know that I had won. And I'm trying to like, you know, focus on that for just a moment. It was a surreal, odd experience.

ROBBINS: Paton served as an Army lieutenant, training soldiers how to better analyze intelligence. His home base is Fort Huachuca, Army Intelligence Headquarters. It also happens to be in his southern Arizona legislative district. In fact, his district has more active military and retirees than any other in the state.

State Rep. PATON: And to be able to see what they go through on a daily basis and how their families, you know, how they struggle, I think I'm going be exactly the person that needs to be representing that district because I understand exactly what they're going through.

ROBBINS: Now, he's going through the readjustment process all soldiers go through when they come home - only his is a bit more public.

Unidentified Man: So help me God.

State Rep. PATON: So help me God.

(Soundbite of applause)

ROBBINS: Paton was greeted warmly yesterday as he took his oath of office almost two months after the Arizona legislative session began in Phoenix. But he's worried. After making daily life and death decisions, will he have the patience to deal with the laborious compromises of the law-making process?

State Rep. PATON: Yes. That's exactly what I'm worried about. I think every soldier's worried about that, whether it's patience with their family, patience with their friends.

ROBBINS: His GOP colleagues are delighted to have his vote again. His friends, like State Senator Tim Bee, are just happy to see him.

State Senator TIM BEE (Republican, Arizona): It's nice to have him back. I've noticed he's lost a lot of weight, but we're looking forward to his service for the rest of the session and spending time with him.

ROBBINS: Paton lost about 20 pounds in Iraq. Not great chow, he says. But the tall 35-year-old turned what he has into muscle. And with his buzz cut, he looks a lot more like a soldier than a politician. He still supports the war, but he agrees with critics who say the U.S. did not send enough troops to maintain the peace. But he believes pulling out now would be a bigger mistake.

State Rep. PATON: From what I've seen over there, it would be a bloodbath if we were to leave.

ROBBINS: Paton fears a Shia genocide of the Sunni in Iraq. He says he is willing to go back if he's needed. But for now, he wants to work on legislation for new schools in his fast-growing district. State legislators don't control the war, of course. That's up to the president and Congress, but Paton is now keenly aware of the consequences of any lawmaker's actions.

State Rep. PATON: There are real people that live with the decisions that politicians make. Maybe that was the best gift that I was given.

ROBBINS: Paton says he knew that in his head before he went to Iraq. Now he knows it in his gut. Speaking of which, his immediate goal has nothing to do with either the military or the legislature.

State Rep. PATON: I'm just focused on getting through the next week and doing a good job of roasting up that pig on Saturday. That's kind of where I'm at at the moment.

ROBBINS: The pig will be on the menu at Paton's homecoming party. He's been thinking about what it'll taste like for the last six months. Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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