After 12 years of representing Pima County's northwest side, Republican county Supervisor Ann Day is stepping down.
The race to replace her has brought out four Republican candidates: state lawmaker Vic Williams, longtime GOP insider Mike Hellon, Tea Party activist Ally Miller and conservative Stuart McDaniel.
All four have different but overlapping constituencies they can tap, making this anyone's race in a district that includes the Catalina foothills, Oro Valley, parts of Marana and neighboring unincorporated areas such as Catalina and Casas Adobes.
The candidates are fighting for the hearts and minds of about 50,000 Republicans in District 1 (along with the independents in the district who care enough to request a primary ballot; there are about 43,500 independents). The biggest GOP race in the Aug. 28 primary is for the U.S. Senate nomination, which pits U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake against businessman Wil Cardon. But it remains to be seen how many of those voters will get engaged in the county supervisor race.
The winner of the Republican county-supervisor primary will face Democrat Nancy Young Wright, a former state lawmaker and Amphitheater school-board member.
The GOP nominee will have a big advantage in the November race. Republicans make up roughly 41 percent of district voters, while Democrats make up just 30 percent. However, the remaining 29 percent are independents who can decide an election—and as the community saw in the recent Congressional District 8 election, voters in the area may be willing to cross over and support a centrist Democratic candidate against an extremely conservative Republican.
Young Wright has appeal to Pima County voters. In a head-to-head matchup against Williams in 2010 for a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives, Wright outpolled him by a few hundred votes in the Pima County precincts of a legislative district that covered a lot of District 1. (Wright lost the race because Williams beat her in the GOP precincts of Pinal County.)
On many county issues, the candidates more or less agree. They all support the Rosemont mine and think the county should stop trying to block it from opening (which puts them at odds with Day, who has joined with the Democrats on the board to oppose the proposed open-pit mine in the Santa Rita Mountains).
They all complain that the county's roads have been neglected, and that the county, in general, spends too much. They say that the county hamstrings businesses with too many regulations, yet none of them cite specific regulations they want to do away with.
None of them target specific county programs, other than the public-relations crew that Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has assembled. They don't talk about cutting parks or libraries. None of them are talking about repealing the county's Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which mapped out the county in an effort to preserve sensitive environmental areas. But at the same time, none of them support purchasing more open space for preservation.
With relatively few policy differences, the race will mostly come down to creating an impression in the minds of primary voters—most of whom are just coming off a special congressional election and who are now being distracted by the presidential race. With issues as big as Supreme Court rulings on immigration and health care, it will be tough to get voters to focus on fights over sewer plants and zoning regulations.
If there's an heir to Day's style in the race, it's Mike Hellon. A longtime fixture in the Republican Party, Hellon has the support of two of Day's key staffers, Patrick Cavanaugh and Valerie Samoy. Hellon says that if he wins office in November, he'll retain both of them to run the office's constituent service and other outreach.
However, Hellon also promises to bring "a slightly different approach to certain issues, because I do have some ideas about some things I'd like see done differently."
Hellon made his last run for public office in 2006, when he tried to win a congressional seat after Republican Jim Kolbe retired. Hellon came in third in the GOP primary, behind hard-right conservative Randy Graf and a former lawmaker, Steve Huffman.
Hellon had been doing plenty in politics before that. The only veteran in the race (he won a Bronze Star during his mid-'60s stint in the U.S. Air Force), Hellon has been chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, a Republican national committeeman and co-chair of John McCain's presidential run in Arizona. He learned county regulations by serving on the county Board of Adjustment for District 1 and the county's Merit System Commission, which hears appeals from county employees who believe they've been wrongly dismissed.
He's also worked in the background for the state's courts system on oversight and training committees for the judiciary. Just last week, Hellon was given a distinguished service award from Rebecca White Berch, the chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.
In his race for supervisor, Hellon has the support of dozens of longtime Republicans who run the spectrum from developers to business leaders to conservative activists, including legendary land speculator Don Diamond, attorney and former gubernatorial candidate John Munger, former District 1 supervisor Mike Boyd, former Arizona Board of Regents member Fred Boice, former Pima County Republican Party chairwoman Linda Barber, Tucson Tea Party co-founder Robert Mayer and others.
Hellon says he got into the race "because I have time and can make a difference." He worries that the other candidates don't understand the importance of constituent service for the residents of District 1, and he boasts that he's already gotten something done.
As Hellon launched his campaign, he met with neighborhood associations in the Catalina foothills to form the Save Our Streets coalition to agitate for more spending on residential road maintenance.
"By the time I got down there, Chuck Huckelberry had found $10 million for streets and roads," Hellon says.
Hellon is blunt on a variety of issues facing the county. For example, Hellon thinks Pima County "ought to get the hell out of the way" of Rosemont mine efforts.
Hellon has the deep résumé, but Vic Williams has the advantage of incumbency of a sort: Williams already represents much of the area as a state lawmaker, so voters recognize his name.
Williams says he's seeking a seat on the Board of Supervisors because he has a "passion for northwest Pima County" and would like to see the prosperity in the area "translated to the rest of the county."
Williams came to Pima County in 2003 after selling a warehouse business in California. Williams invested some of his money in local real estate and set about building a career in politics, beginning with a GOP social club. He won election to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2008 and re-election in 2010.
Williams arrived at the Legislature just as the state budget was collapsing. Over the last four years, he has supported deep cuts to state spending in many departments. He says the Legislature faced "tough choices."
Williams was one of the few lawmakers to support a tax increase to help balance the state budget, standing alongside Gov. Jan Brewer in her call for a temporary, one-cent sales-tax increase.
But he also has supported deep cuts to the state budget, including the elimination of the KidsCare program that provided health insurance for children; cutting back on health insurance for low-income adults; and reducing funding for universities, state parks and regulatory agencies such as the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Water Resources.
As part of those budget-balancing moves, Williams voted for budgets that swept transportation funds from the counties—which meant that Pima County has lost out on $34 million in road dollars since 2007.
Hellon says the Legislature balanced the budget "on the back of Pima County taxpayers."
"They call it sweeps," Hellon says. "I call it stealing."
Hellon says the funding sweeps haven't just been in the transportation arena. He says they've also taken away money from the courts and the universities.
"They've crammed down costs that the state has traditionally picked up," Hellon says. "It's not just a matter of sweeping funds. It's a matter of pushing costs down on cities and counties. And last year, Pima County had to cough up a $6 million check. That's how the state balanced its budget."
Williams downplays the importance of the money that the county lost to the state, saying that it was minor compared to the county's needs.
"I believe that Pima County normally receives about $43 million from HURF (the Highway User Revenue Fund)," Williams says. "Last year, it received $35 million. So if anyone is trying to make the correlation ... that a couple of years of HURF sweeps of $7 million are in direct correlation to the standards of the roads, that person is not dealing in reality."
Williams defends those fund sweeps, because lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have traditionally dipped into them when state budgets are tight. Also, last year, he spoke up against them. He says he thinks that lawmakers ought to find a way to block themselves from taking money in the future.
"Yeah, there were HURF funds that I took," Williams says. "Ultimately, what I think needs to be done on the HURF is a constitutional amendment (mandating) that the state Legislature does not have the authority to take these funds."
While he's generally critical of current county management, Williams says he hasn't studied the budget enough to make any conclusions about whether the county should have cut the budget more than it has in recent years.
"I wouldn't want to make that dissertation right now," Williams says. "Looking at a budget versus sitting on the dais are two entirely different things. I've learned that as a legislator."
While he has served in the Legislature for four years, Williams has not won the endorsement of his fellow Legislative District 26 GOP lawmakers. Both state Sen. Al Melvin and state Rep. Terri Proud have endorsed Ally Miller, who is carrying the Tea Party banner in the race.
Unhappy with the direction of the Tucson Tea Party, Miller organized her own group, the Pima County Tea Party Patriots. Her first political effort, a 2009 recall attempt of Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, fizzled quickly. But Miller stuck to politics, building her organization and joining with Tucsonans who wanted to see an investigation into Rio Nuevo. She was a big supporter of the newly constituted Rio Nuevo board, which had been criticized for spending more money on attorneys than on downtown redevelopment.
Miller was disappointed when Senate President Steve Pierce removed chairwoman Jodi Bain and Rick Grinnell from the board.
"We had finally gotten forensic audits," Miller says. "Jodi Bain, I thought, was really leading the board forward."
A Vermont transplant who came to Arizona to attend the UA more than three decades ago, Miller has come to love the desert. But she sees a lot of trouble in Pima County government that she'd like to have the chance to examine.
"I was concerned about my taxes, and I started attending those meetings, and what I saw was a rubber stamp for whatever Mr. Huckelberry put forth," Miller says. "I didn't see members of the board being proactive and putting anything on the agenda. Mr. Huckelberry was controlling those meetings."
Miller wants a review of every county department to find waste, fraud and abuse.
She's skeptical about the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan—"I believe it's more about control than being an environmentalist"—and says the county has "more than enough open space." If she could, she'd do away with impact fees on development, because she says it discourages homebuilding and commercial development.
Miller promises to dig into the budget to get a better idea of how money is being shifted about. And, like the other candidates, she says that county regulations need to be reduced to encourage more business, although she doesn't offer specific regulations she'd like to do away with.
Miller doesn't have Williams' name recognition or Hellon's deep roots in local politics, but she does have a gender advantage: She's the only woman in a race with three men. If none of the candidates are able to break through to voters, she may be able to win some support based just on that.
Miller is the choice of Joe Higgins, a local talk-show host and businessman who nearly unseated Day four years ago. He lost a GOP primary by just 5 percentage points.
Higgins says he likes Miller because of her educational background and her experience working at Honeywell and Intel.
"This next election is about job-creation and economic opportunities," Higgins says. "We've got to start putting people in office who can have a dialogue with either current companies or relocating companies as to what we're in for, and how we go about getting jobs."
Rounding out the pack of candidates is Stuart McDaniel, a former mortgage broker who now works as a consultant to real-estate and development companies that do business with local governments.
McDaniel says he got into the race because he believes that the county "can do better."
"I got fed up," McDaniel says. "We have an opportunity to have Tucson and Pima County leading the recovery in Arizona, but the anti-business attitude we've had here for a long time is hindering growth."
His message is similar to those of the other candidates. He'd roll back regulations, and he'd privatize the county's health-care programs for the indigent "as much as possible." He also wants to see "across-the-board" spending cuts.
"I'm a free-market guy," McDaniel says.
McDaniel has been involved in local politics since his days as an undergraduate Young Republican on the UA campus. He's worked on campaigns for former Pima County Supervisor Mike Boyd and former state lawmaker Steve Huffman; his most recent foray into politics was as deputy director of Republican congressional candidate Jesse Kelly's failed 2010 campaign against Gabrielle Giffords.
In this race, McDaniel has landed endorsements from U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, who represents parts of Maricopa County; Oro Valley Councilman Lou Waters; real-estate broker Vicki Cox Golder; and restaurateur KC An.
McDaniel worked for First Magnus, the massive Tucson-based mortgage lender that collapsed in 2007.
"It was a great ride up, and a tough ride back down, that's for sure," McDaniel says.
It had a personal impact on him: After his income plummeted, McDaniel lost his house and much of his net worth.
"We had to short-sell our dream home," says McDaniel.
In recent days, McDaniel has turned his fire directly on Williams, calling him a "big-government Republican," based on a rating by the Arizona branch of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative lobbying group. Like Hellon, he's been critical of Williams' votes to take money from Pima County to balance the state's budget.
"How will Vic protect Pima County taxpayers from future legislative raids when he repeatedly voted for them himself?" McDaniel asked in a fundraising email. "Can you trust him to look out for us? I have the credibility to fight the Legislature when they try to divert our tax dollars. Vic doesn't—he voted with them."
McDaniel's connection to the Kelly campaign gives him access to a network of motivated primary voters.
"I'm looking forward to being the conservative voice of reason on the board," McDaniel says.