By Ethan McSweeney
Chris Sarappo doesn’t expect to win his race for state representative in Legislative District 11 – he just wants to give voters another option on the ballot.
The Maricopa resident and personal trainer at Copper Sky Recreation Center is mounting an independent, write-in campaign primarily on one issue: marijuana legalization.
“You can legalize, take it out of the drug dealers’ hands, control it like alcohol and create a huge tax base for the Arizona schools,” Sarappo said.
Sarappo, a former behavioral technician in the Maricopa Unified School District, said he knows how little money schools have at their disposal in the state. Taxing marijuana would allow the state to better invest in its schools, he said.
“I look at it as you’re either for the drug dealers or you’re for the schools,” Sarappo said.
A marijuana legalization measure may be on the ballot in Arizona this fall, as organizers for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol say they have gathered enough signatures to qualify.
Sarappo hails from outside Philadelphia, and he lived in North Carolina for several years. He said the high cost of living in North Carolina led him to search for another place to live.
He saw the prices in Maricopa and “couldn’t pass it up,” he said. He moved to the city six years ago.
In addition to personal training and his previous job at MUSD, Sarappo has worked as a day trader, a computer programmer and a baseball coach, has written a children’s book and received a real estate license.
Sarappo doesn’t have a background in politics, but he said he’s always followed politics closely.
He said he now sees a change coming in the political landscape of the country.
“I think that people are tired of the status quo, people are tired of the blatant corruption,” Sarappo said. “They’re seeing that there are two sets of laws in America, now: one for you and me, and there’s a separate one for those who have money or are connected.”
This change he sees has motivated him to make the jump into politics, electing to join the race for Legislative District 11, which spans from Maricopa down through Arizona City to the northern suburbs of Tucson.
Sarappo said he doesn’t know who he’s running against for the post and he doesn’t care.
“I’m not trying to beat these guys,” he said. “I want to speak, reach people and change minds with logic, common sense and facts. I think we’ve gotten away from that in America.”
For the record, incumbent state Reps. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, and Vince Leach, R-Saddlebrooke, are running again for their seats in the district against Democrats Corin Hammond and Barry McCain. Voters elect two representatives for each legislative district.
On the issues, Sarappo is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. “I’m for doing what you please as long as it’s not affecting others and costing them money,” he said.
The main issue he wants to focus his campaign on is legalizing marijuana to raise extra funding for the state’s schools.
Sarappo said many of Arizona’s teachers are being driven away to other states or other professions because of how little money is available for them. From his experience at MUSD, he said he knows that the lack of money is burden on school employees.
“There comes to a point with the money that you have to survive,” he said. “You love what you’re doing, you love helping people, but you have to feed yourself.”
Besides marijuana legalization, Sarappo said his other major cause is the “fair tax,” which would replace current federal taxes with a national consumption tax.
When it comes to the presidential election, Sarappo said he would support the Libertarian Party candidate, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. If he had to choose between real estate mogul Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, though, he would choose Trump.
The presidential election, though, is part of the reason he’s running, Sarappo said, because it shows that the country has run out of options.
His distaste for that current two-party system made his choice to run as an independent obvious. Having a write-in campaign means Sarappo doesn’t need to reach a threshold of signatures to qualify on the ballot, and it also adds the physical act of writing a name, which he said is exactly what he wants.
“I would rather have someone write my name in, even if it’s just two people, because it means something, rather than going into a booth and just pushing a lever,” Sarappo said.