Former MCC student Lorena Austin is in the running against opponent Kathy Pearce to represent District 9 in the State House. The general election will take place on November 8, 2022 as voters will determine which of these candidates will be elected to office.
Austin works as the student government advisor on campus, while Pearce is the current president of AZ Heroes to Hometowns, an organization that aids veterans who have sustained injuries while on duty.
Austin was involved in a variety of clubs and organizations prior to her graduation from MCC in 2018 and believes these experiences deepened her desire to become involved in local government.
“I got really involved in student government,” she said. “[It helped] me work with our local council members, [the] mayor … and stay on top of policies that affect not just students.”
Initially, a student at the college in 2006, Austin decided that she was not ready for life on campus at the time.
“I dropped out of MCC probably about five times in 2006 and then I didn’t come back until 2015,” she said.
After she enrolled again in 2015, Austin felt a positive shift in her life as a student.
“Things were different,” she said. “I had matured [and] I just felt better prepared.”
Austin admits her return to MCC came as a result of the aid she received from Kris Bliss, the college’s current director of Student Life and Leadership. Bliss met the candidate at a community event where Austin had been a speaker.
“She literally dragged me to the enrollment center and made me take a placement test and then she gave me a job in student leadership,” Austin recalled. “That changed my entire experience.”
While Austin looks back at her experience as a student on campus positively, she notes that improvements can still be made.
“I think we could do a better job of reaching out to students who don’t fit the 18 year old recent high school graduate mold,” and “figuring out how we can really reach those students to help retain them.”
Austin has made education an important element of her political campaign as well, and argues that the lack of funding for educators has proven to be a major issue.
“We’re tired of having to fight for funding every single year and we ask our teachers to do so much,” she stated. “A lot of [teachers] have multiple jobs. They don’t have the resources they need.”
Pearce however, sees the issue of funding as one perpetuated by Democrats in the House.
“I’ve watched Democrats campaign on education while voting, often unanimously, against increases in school funding,” Pearce states on her campaign website.
Austin however does not believe this to be the case with the most recent budget vote.
“That was unfortunate because, in a way, Democrats kind of had to vote on it because we wouldn’t have our base funding for education,” Austin stated. “So it’s kind of like damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
The Mesa Legend reached out to Kathy Pearce for comment, but no response was given. Individuals eligible to vote in the upcoming November election can register here. For more information on nearby voting locations as well as Maricopa county’s new “vote anywhere” Vote Centers, look here.
The headline for this story was edited on 9/21 to correct a clerical error.