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ASU grad seeks state House seat

Come Election Day Nov. 2, voters will have the option to put another Sun Devil in a political office.

Michelle Ugenti, a 2004 ASU graduate, is running as a Republican for an open seat in the Arizona House of Representatives in the 8th Legislative District, an area that covers Fountain Hills and Scottsdale.

Ugenti received more than 9,500 votes in the primary election and will face Democrat John Kriekard, who went unchallenged in the primary. Both are running to fill the seat of Republican Michele Reagan, who is running for the Senate.

Ugenti said she isn’t a party insider and doesn’t have a family history in politics; she just started from scratch.

“I always wanted to get into politics my entire life, but I didn’t know in what capacity and at what time,” Ugenti said. “I really wanted to get into a deeper part of the political arena, and I wanted to run for office.”

She said she attended her first Tea Party rally in September last year and realized it was something she wanted to learn about and get involved in.

“[The Tea Party] is Conservative and respects the Constitution,” Ugenti said. “Within one sentence, that articulates my views.”

From there, she said she filed her paperwork to be eligible for the Republican Party nomination for the upcoming election and began her homemade campaign.

“It’s really grassroots, I don’t have a huge political machine behind me,” Ugenti said. “I wasn’t hanging around the party for years beforehand. I just started from scratch.”

Members of her family, including her younger brother, ASU urban planning junior Nick Rita, help support Ugenti’s campaigning efforts.

Rita said their father, Ray Rita, uses his marketing background to assist with Ugenti’s campaign, and Nick helps out the best he can.

“Saturday and Sunday mornings I help her post signs, and I do her signature work,” Nick said. “My speech writing skills aren’t the greatest, so it’s pretty much all manual labor.”

Ugenti, who met her husband through playing rugby at ASU, has two kids and is seven months pregnant with their third child, who may be an Election Day baby.

“She does her best to balance a husband, three kids and politics,” Rita said.

While campaigning for her party’s nomination, Ugenti said she branded herself as “the immigration candidate,” speaking twice at the U.S.-Mexico border and earning an endorsement from state senator and Senate Bill 1070 architect Russell Pearce.

She secured a nomination from the Republican Party by more than 3,500 votes, and she said she attributed her success to her past.

“Those skill sets I learned from ASU and commercial real estate, even a gift shop I worked at for seven years in high school and college, they all helped,” Ugenti said. “It was a very smooth transition for me, just a different topic. It was like an interview that lasted for eight months.”

She said her business administration bachelor’s degree from ASU and business experience has helped her along the way.

“Coming from the business world where sales is all I know, it was really a wonderful transition into politics,” Ugenti said. “It’s really the ultimate sale — you’re selling yourself.”

Until the Nov. 2 election, she said she is keeping her campaign simple, yet effective.

“I didn’t meet with a bunch of lobbyists outside of my district because they aren’t relevant; I stick to voters within my district,” Ugenti said. “I don’t care about constantly working within the party, I want to get out to the masses.”

She said she will continue posting signs, sending mailers and making phone calls, and will show up anywhere she’s invited to speak.

“It’s not a complicated strategy,” Ugenti said. “It’s one that’s time-tested and I’m sticking to.”

If elected, Ugenti would join several other Sun Devils in Arizona government positions, including Arizona’s Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Arizona Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard, and U.S. Representatives Harry Mitchell and Ed Pastor, among others.

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