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Tucsonans soundly reject Prop 200—and give the Democratic City Council incumbents a huge scare

Tucson voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposition that would have forced the city to drastically expand the police and fire departments—but the race between Nina Trasoff and Steve Kozachik remained too close to call as of our press deadline.

With early ballots (mailed by the deadline) and all but one of the precincts counted, more than 70 percent of voters had rejected the Public Safety First Initiative, aka Proposition 200, a ballot measure that was largely funded by the Tucson Association of Realtors, auto dealer Jim Click and the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association.

"We were pleasantly surprised by the results," said Brandon Patrick, chairman of Don't Handcuff Tucson, the group that led the campaign against Prop 200. "We were confident we were going to take down Prop 200, but I'm not sure that any of us predicted the results would be that favorable. It feels great to have defeated the biggest unfunded mandate in Tucson history."

But Democrats were worried about incumbent council members Nina Trasoff and Karin Uhlich, who were in tight races when the early ballot numbers were released.

Trasoff trailed in early ballots, then took a lead as the night went on, but fell behind Kozachik by 1,200 votes when all but one precinct reported in, around 11:45 p.m.

"I hope to return to office," Trasoff said. "I'm proud of the work I've done and hope to continue it. It's up to the people."

Kozachik said a win by him would represent a mandate to revitalize the private sector.

"You just say 'Rio Nuevo,' and people's eyes roll," said Kozachik, "because they see that it's broken."

Uhlich, meanwhile, led by just 573 votes with one precinct left to report.

"It's looking good for us," Uhlich said earlier in the evening when she led Ben Buehler-Garcia by about 3,000 votes, "Clearly, there's a lot of anxiety because of the economic downturn. We have to pull together right now."

Cheers erupted at the Democratic gathering at Hotel Congress when results showed Trasoff coming from behind in early voting to pull ahead of Kozachik—temporarily, it would turn out.

"I feel a lot better," said Jeff Rogers, chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party. "But this could be one of those nights," he added somewhat prophetically.

It was likely that the races would not be decided until county workers had time to count the thousands of early ballots that had been dropped off at the polls.

It was a stark contrast to four years ago, when Trasoff and Uhlich crushed their Republican opponents by margins of more than 20 percentage points.

Pima County Republican Party chairman Bob Westerman said that the success that Kozachik and Buehler-Garcia enjoyed against Trasoff and Uhlich in Democrat-dominated Tucson was due to an overall "dissatisfaction with performance."

"I think there are some trust issues, too," he said at the GOP gathering at Chuy's, 6310 E. Tanque Verde Road.

Posters at Chuy's explained the GOP mood: "The incumbents have failed!" "Now it's time ... Council Nuevo."

By 10:30 p.m., the Chuy's crowd of almost 300 people had thinned out a bit, but the chatter was lively, and some people, including state Rep. Frank Antenori, couldn't stop looking at the election results updated on a big-screen TV.

Antenori had told the same crowd that he stopped at Home Depot on his way to Chuy's to buy 64 gallons of paint.

"We're going to paint this town red," he yelled. It was a much more raucous party compared to the somber gathering a year ago at the Manning House.

As of press time, Democrat Richard Fimbres had a comfortable seven-point lead over Republican Shaun McClusky in the race to replace Councilman Steve Leal in Ward 5.

Fimbres' win came despite McClusky's campaign mailing that accused the Democrat of mishandling funds while serving as the head of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

"Tucson sent a good message tonight that experience and knowledge still mean something," said Fimbres, who added that the city's precarious financial situation, with an estimated budget shortfall of more than $40 million next year, loomed as a serious challenge.

When asked if he was remaining positive despite his apparent loss, McClusky said he definitely remained upbeat.

"Are you kidding me? I've been doing this for, like, seven months," said McClusky.

City voters were narrowly rejecting Prop 401, a technical measure which would allow the city to continue spending dollars in its budget above a state-set standard. But that race remained too close to call as of press time, with just 622 votes separating no from yes.

With all but one of the precincts reporting, voters in the Tucson Unified School District rejected by a 3-to-2 margin Props 401 and 402, two overrides that would have increased property taxes to provide funding for technology in the classroom, all-day kindergarten and other educational measures, by wide margins.

Find updates, photos and more election-night coverage at blog.tucsonweekly.com.

This story was written and reported by Jim Nintzel, Mari Herreras, Jimmy Boegle, Nicholas Smith, Hank Stephenson, Erica Nannini and Amanda Portillo.

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