Early voting begins this week, so the Tucson Weekly is once again presenting endorsements in a variety of races in Southern Arizona, along with our recommendations on various ballot propositions that voters will decide in the Nov. 6 general election.
You'll note that we did not endorse in every race; in many of them, the voter-registration edge is so extended in favor of one party or another that our recommendation just wouldn't matter. In others, we don't feel qualified to offer an endorsement; we have a small staff, after all, and there are only so many hours in the day to interview candidates and do research.
You'll also notice that most of our recommendations are in favor of Democrats. In years past, it was easier to find Republicans to support, but today's GOP has been so hijacked by über-conservative Tea Party types that it's almost impossible to offer approval of a member of the GOP. We hope that trend reverses sometime soon, because the anti-government mania that has infected the Republican Party is both sad and disturbing to watch.
We'll also note that many of the candidates are—just like the rest of us—imperfect and flawed, but hey: This is what we have to pick from, so we're giving our best advice.
While it's easy to express disappointment that President Barack Obama did not magically transform our country into a progressive paradise, he did bring the nation back from the brink of an economic disaster. Nearly all of the troops are home from Iraq, and the Afghanistan conflict is winding down. He crippled the leadership of al-Qaida, including the gutsy call to take out Osama bin Laden. He ended "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," so soldiers can't be drummed out of the military simply for being gay. He pushed through a health-care reform plan that will ensure that millions of Americans no longer have to go without insurance. He's taken on the tough political job of bending the cost curve of Medicare. And he could have done more if the leaders of the Republican Party had chosen to try to work with him instead of dedicating themselves to destroying him.
Obama isn't perfect—no politician is—but he's shown a steadiness and competence that stands in sharp contrast to the proposals put forward by the GOP, which offer the same old (and discredited) ideas of cutting taxes, abandoning the poor and middle class, and boosting military spending. No thanks.
The Tucson Weekly endorses Barack Obama for a second term as president of the United States.
Richard Carmona is the sort of guy we need in Washington, D.C.—which is why it's no surprise that even Republicans have, in the past, recruited the former independent to run for federal office. Carmona grew up in poverty, so he knows what it's like to struggle. He served his nation in Vietnam, worked his way through medical school and served on Pima County's SWAT team. He became the nation's surgeon general and later was willing to testify before Congress that the George W. Bush administration put politics before science. In short, Carmona has shown that he's hard-working, courageous and independent—exactly the kind of guy the U.S. Senate needs.
His opponent, Congressman Jeff Flake, exhibited a maverick streak in Washington with his opposition to earmarks and government spending in general. While it's admirable that Flake has been less hypocritical than many of his GOP colleagues on spending issues, he's driven far too much by an ideology that seeks to cripple the federal government's ability to help citizens, and instead favors a disproven libertarian ideal that an unfettered free market solves all problems. We're not wild about his lack of support for women's rights and generally disagree with his vision of a future America where citizens are expected to fend for themselves without a realistic safety net.
Vote for Richard Carmona.
We were all set to offer an endorsement, albeit a lukewarm one, of Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick—until her campaign released an advertisement last week that was so dishonest and full of lies that we were disgusted.
In the ad, the narrator says that her opponent, Republican Jonathan Paton, "served on the Rio Nuevo board and wasted $200 million of taxpayers' money. Now it's under criminal investigation and could cost us another $72 million." That's a pure lie: If you want to claim that $200 million was "wasted" (which is a dubious claim in and of itself), you have to acknowledge that the money was wasted when the city of Tucson and the original Rio Nuevo Board were in charge of the downtown revitalization project. Paton joined the board well after all of that happened; in fact, while in the Legislature, he called for audits of that spending, and pushed to see a new board formed that stripped control from the city of Tucson.
We had concerns about Kirkpatrick in the first place; she's far more conservative, cautious and distant than we'd like to see. However, we do appreciate some of her positions, including her support of the Affordable Care Act, aka "ObamaCare."
In the Legislature, Paton fought for some decent legislation, especially when it came to university funding and press freedoms. (In the interest of full disclosure, Paton also worked as a lobbyist for Wick Communications earlier this year when Republican lawmakers sought to undermine the public's right to know regarding public notices.) However, we disagree with Paton on too many issues to throw our support behind him. He's too eager to snip away at the social safety net in order to deliver tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.
We offer no endorsement in this race.
Congressman Ron Barber has deep roots in Tucson and has dedicated his life to public service—first, by heading up Southern Arizona's branch of the state Division of Developmental Disabilities, and later as Gabrielle Giffords' district director. In those jobs, he learned how to move the levers of government to provide help to those who needed it most. And he's continued to do just that as a member of Congress. We can't say we agree with every vote that Barber has taken, but we admire his independence.
Barber deserves a full term in Congress. Give him your vote.
A choice between Congressman Raul Grijalva and Republican challenger Gabriela Saucedo Mercer isn't really a choice at all. Grijalva is progressive; Mercer is ... not. Vote Grijalva.
Nancy Young Wright uncovered and cleaned up corruption in the Amphitheater School District before going on to support teachers, kids, university students and the downtrodden at the Arizona Legislature. She developed experience regarding land-use policies through her work to develop parks in Oro Valley, and her service on the steering committee for the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.
Meanwhile, her opponent, Republican Ally Miller, is a Tea Party organizer who vastly overstates her accomplishments (her wild claim that her letter-writing skills brought the FBI in to investigate Rio Nuevo is particularly goofy) and is willing to engage in conspiracy theories that have no basis in reality (such as her preposterous contention that the county couldn't account for $345 million in transportation funding). On top of that, Miller's campaign is under investigation by the Arizona Secretary of State thanks to allegations by opponents that she is illegally coordinating with independent campaigns run by developers.
District 1 constituents deserve better than Miller. Vote for Nancy Young Wright.
It's not as if Democrat Ramón Valadez faces much of a challenge in heavily Democratic District 2, but our vote would still go to him over Republican James Kelley. Valadez is a sharp technocrat with a keen understanding of the county's business, while Kelley is a Tea Party activist who offers little in the way of serious solutions to the various problems he's identified.
Democrat Sharon Bronson has served on the Pima County Board of Supervisors since 1996. Over the last 16 years, Pima County has slowly but surely tackled the legacy that came with decades of bad planning. The county created the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan to protect sensitive areas and give developers certainty about where they can build. During the boom cycle in local development, supervisors boosted the amount of money available for roads by implementing impact fees; now, during the bust, they've ratcheted those fees down a bit to help homebuilders get back on their feet. Property taxes have been essentially stable in recent years, despite the budget chaos that has engulfed the state of Arizona and cities like Tucson.
Bronson's opponent, former UA football-player Tanner Bell, says many of the right things on the campaign trail about battling poverty, but he doesn't offer up much in the way of specifics. The biggest change he proposes is buying less open space—which flies in the face of the decision by voters to protect sensitive environmental areas.
Pima County's District 5, like District 2, is heavily Democratic, so it's unlikely that Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías faces much of a threat from Republican Fernando Gonzales, who has an admirable record of community service. Unfortunately, Gonzales has exhibited little understanding of the county's business. We're voting for Elías.
Clarence Dupnik has served our community as a cop for more than a half-century and as county sheriff for more than three decades. Unlike some Arizona sheriffs we can name, he has never abused and humiliated prisoners for political gain; he hasn't used his job to build a reputation to run for higher office; he hasn't rounded up people because their skin happened to be brown. We're grateful that he's here, considering how relatively well-run the huge Pima County Sheriff's Department is, and we would be happy to see him serve another term.
Republican Beth Ford has done a good job of managing the accounts of the many jurisdictions in Pima County over her 12 years as Pima County treasurer, so we don't see any reason to fire her.
Democrat F. Ann Rodriguez has done an outstanding job of modernizing the Recorder's Office for the 21st century. She's embraced new technology, and made it easier to vote by mail by creating a permanent early voter list, which simultaneously reduced costs and leveled the playing field for candidates. Her opponent, Republican Bill Beard, has campaigned largely on problems that he sees with the county's Elections Division, which Rodriguez does not oversee; we're not sure if his talking points are designed to give him a political advantage, or if he just doesn't understand the office. Give Rodriguez four more years.
District 9, which includes the Catalina foothills, Casas Adobes and the north side of central Tucson, is one of the state's most-competitive districts, with Democrats holding a voter-registration edge of a few points. We urge you to vote for the Democrats in this race, because both Mohur Sarah Sidhwa and Victoria Steele support abortion rights, public schools and the extension of the sales tax to boost education spending, which has been chopped far too much by Republicans in recent years.
However, we have to tip our hat to Ethan Orr. This moderate Republican has often impressed us on the campaign trail. We look forward to hearing more from him in the future—but we can't bring ourselves to pick him over the two amply qualified Democrats.
Democrat Steve Farley has a solid record of leadership at the Arizona Legislature. He has supported public schools, health-care programs, seniors, transit services and environmental programs. He's a wonk who knows how to get into the details of policy.
His opponent, Republican Tyler Mott, is a hard-core conservative who, on his Facebook page, once called for the hanging of President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. That's not the kind of guy we need at the Legislature these days.
Democrat Bruce Wheeler has done a great job in his return to the Arizona Legislature. While he's generally found himself on the losing side in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, he's fought the good fight. We have no doubt that he will be more effective if Democrats manage to reclaim some of their power in the November election.
Our second vote in this competitive district in central Tucson goes to Stefanie Mach, a political rookie who stands for the right positions.
We can't support either Republican in the race: Ted Vogt, who is already serving at the Legislature, has a terrible voting record on education, health care and the environment—and we don't think Todd Clodfelter would do any better.
When he served in the Legislature, Democrat Dave Bradley demonstrated a keen grasp of policy and an understanding that state government needs to support public schools, health care for Arizonans below the poverty level, state parks, tourism and economic development.
His opponent, current state Sen. Frank Antenori, has gleefully slashed away at those programs and has shown contempt for government (or at least that part of government that doesn't provide his paycheck), Democratic voters and many of the Tucsonans he seeks to represent. Vote Bradley.
Democrat Dave Joseph has a solid background in the business of running television stations and is familiar with transportation issues thanks to his work with Pima County Regional Transportation Authority. His Republican opponents are both hard-right conservatives; as a state senator, Steve Smith has a terrible voting record on just about every issue we care about, from education to health care to the environment. The other Republican candidate in the race, Adam Kwasman, offers tax cuts and lower regulation as the solution to nearly every problem facing the state, with the exception of abortion, which he'd like to ban. We recommend that you vote only for Joseph.
It will come as no surprise that we're endorsing Democrat Jo Holt, who is running against Republican Al Melvin in this heavily Republican district. Melvin is a veritable fountain of bad ideas, from turning Arizona into the nuclear waste dump of the United States to seizing the Grand Canyon from the federal government. Melvin is so bad that if you put a dead javelina against him on the ballot, we'd tell you to vote for the javelina. But for the record, we think Holt is better than a dead javelina.
You probably don't pay that much attention to the Arizona Corporation Commission, but one of the commission's most-important jobs is regulating Arizona's utilities. In general, we believe Democrats are more likely to keep the utilities honest, but there's another reason we're supporting Democrat Marcia Busching and the two Democratic incumbents, Sandra Kennedy and Paul Newman, over Republicans Susan Bitter Smith, Bob Burns and incumbent Bob Stump: We support the goal of providing incentives for power companies to invest in alternative-energy production. So far, the incentives that the Arizona Corporation Commission has put into place have done a great job of expanding the use of solar energy in Arizona, which has a long-term effect of reducing pollution and greenhouse gases. We believe the Democrats would do a better job of maintaining those incentives than the GOP slate would, so we urge you to vote for the Democrats—and vote for clean energy.
Of all the races this year, we struggled the most with our endorsements in this contest.
There are 12 candidates seeking three seats on the troubled Tucson Unified School District Governing Board, which makes it hard for anyone to sort through the options. The board is facing tremendous challenges: declining enrollment, a budget squeeze, rising class sizes, unrest over Mexican-American studies, a top-heavy bureaucracy and an education landscape that is rapidly changing.
We disagreed about the candidates who should get our endorsement, but we managed to find consensus on two.
Criminal-defense attorney Ralph Ellinwood appears to be a fighter who will challenge the administration and focus on what teachers and students really need. Cam Juarez, who hasn't let his disability stop him from fully engaging in the political arena, looks like he'll be an independent thinker who will serve the board well.
We considered two other candidates, but could not come to a consensus; we urge voters to pick one of them for the third slot.
We love Betts Putnam-Hidalgo's politics, and she's a parent who rolls up her sleeves and works to support the schools. However, some of us worry about her ability to work with school officials and other board members with whom she may disagree.
We also like Kristel Foster; she, like Juarez, has the endorsement of the Tucson Education Association, and her teaching experience is impressive. However, her wishy-washy stance on TUSD's Mexican-American studies program, and other missteps on the campaign trail, have left us a bit concerned.
This proposition seems like common sense: Criminals shouldn't be able to sue if they're injured while committing some kind of crime. Yet it occurs to us that with this current Legislature, all kinds of things could be turned into "felonies"—such as, perhaps, a form of political protest. And at that point, perhaps private security firms could crack a few skulls of troublemakers with little concern for liability.
We're not terribly sympathetic to most criminals, but this is an over-broad measure that could have unintended consequences. Vote no.
The GOP majority at the Legislature has no love for the judiciary, which has sometimes stepped in to stop some of their more-outrageous actions (such as the effort to remove the chairwoman of the Independent Redistricting Commission with bogus evidence and no due process). Therefore, conservative lawmakers want to make the judiciary a more-political operation, in hopes of installing more of their cronies on the bench. No, thanks.
One of the weird quirks of Arizona's tax system is the personal property tax on businesses. Essentially, businesses pay property taxes on equipment that they own—everything from desks and chairs to massive manufacturing machinery that's valued above about $68,000.
The tax works as an incentive against manufacturers moving to the state, so it's not a great way to raise revenue. In general, we support raising the exemption, which this proposition does. The new exemption would start out at about $2.4 million. That's a bit higher than we'd like to see, but we're willing to go with it, because the loss to state and local governments will be relatively minor, and it could help eliminate a barrier to companies that might be interested in relocating to Arizona. Vote yes.
Proposition 117 is another effort to mess with the property-tax system in a bad way—by setting artificial caps instead of allowing the market to determine the value of property. It would lead, over time, to inequitable taxation on similar types of property. Vote no.
We won't get into all the formulas involved, but Prop 118 would essentially temporarily increase the amount of funding that goes to schools and other beneficiaries via the trusts that are invested in on their behalf. Thanks to the wild swings of the stock market in recent years, those annual distributions have been volatile. This will help smooth them out, so we're willing to give it a try for a few years and see how it works. Vote yes.
The state owns a lot of land in trust for education and other beneficiaries. That land has to be sold to the highest bidder, which makes it difficult to protect certain lands. For years, lawmakers, developers, environmentalists and other stakeholders have tried to come up with a way to amend the Constitution to allow for land swaps that have enough protections to ensure that the state doesn't get a bad deal.
Prop 119 has the support of many of those groups, including the local Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, so we're OK with it—especially since any future swap would also have to be approved by voters. Vote yes.
Proposition 120 promotes the nutty notion, thanks to conservative Republicans, that the state should declare that it has sovereignty over all federal lands within the state. It's a goofy idea—it's not as if the federal government is just going to allow the state to seize property held for all the residents of the nation—and it's bad from a practical standpoint as well: Our current Legislature has already shown that it has little interest in caring for state parks, for example, so why should lawmakers be put in charge of the Grand Canyon and other federal parks and monuments? Reject this nonsense.
We agree that the state has significant problems with its current political system. The Republican primary process has been hijacked by hard-right conservatives who have been both an embarrassment and a disaster for the state.
So we're open to the idea of reform—but we don't think that Prop 121 is the right way to go, because it could well have the same unintended consequences that the Clean Elections program has had. (Clean Elections played a big role in empowering those Tea Party conservatives without helping change the state for the better. We know lots of folks on the left disagree with us on that point—and we share their concern about the ever-growing costs of campaigns—but we'd ask them this question: Is the Legislature better now than it was before Clean Elections was in place?)
We digress. Prop 121 would scrap the current partisan primary process in favor of a single primary that would feature all of the candidates for a particular office. The two top vote-getters would go on to the general election.
The theory here is that no matter who emerged from the primary, voters in the general election would choose the more-moderate candidate, so radical candidates on both sides of the aisle would be at a disadvantage.
The problem with this plan is that there's no guarantee that the system would actually increase participation in the primary, so we'd still have the activists going to the polls in a higher proportion. And it's easy to conceive of ways that moderate candidates could be overshadowed by more-radical ones, leaving just radical choices—sometimes from the same party—on the November ballot.
The current system is certainly flawed, but we're not sure this is the fix. We haven't seen it improve the outcomes in states like California, so vote no.
We are aware that sales taxes are regressive, but we are still urging you to vote for Quality Education and Jobs Act, which would keep the current one-cent-per-dollar sales tax that was approved by voters in 2010 in place. Yes, it was supposed to be temporary so the state could get through its budget crisis without a total crash—but Republican state lawmakers have put us in a position where we have little choice but to extend it on a permanent basis.
Republicans love to boast that they have balanced the budget—but a big reason they were able to do that was because voters agreed to increase the sales tax. And because lawmakers were temporarily flush with that money, they pulled a dirty trick: They passed a massive income-tax cut that was geared primarily toward corporations and the wealthiest Arizonans. Even worse, the full impact of that tax cut won't happen for a few more years, and when it hits, the state will be out more than a half-billion dollars per year.
Without that money, future lawmakers may have to cut more out of education, unless Prop 204 passes this year.
We don't like it, but we're supporting it anyway—because 80 percent of the money is dedicated to K-12 and higher education, which will protect our public schools and reduce the pressure to increase tuition at our universities.
Another portion of the tax will go toward transportation, which will both create jobs for construction workers and improve our roads and highways. We think that's a worthwhile investment.
We wish we lived in a world where the tax burden was more fairly distributed, but we're willing to accept the permanent one-cent sales tax, because we believe it's going to the right parts of the budget. On top of that, all of the claims about the economic disaster that would come from the one-cent sales tax—lost jobs and all that malarkey—have been proven false over the last two years. Vote yes.
It's no secret that our city streets are in need of repair. Nor is it any secret that the sooner we start fixing them, the cheaper it's going to be: Neglecting streets means a bigger bill once we get around to finally fixing them.
We know that the recent headlines about bad employees in the city's Transportation Department make it that much harder to support this. But, frankly, we are encouraged that the new city management made a point of discovering and then firing those people who were ripping the city off.
Prop 409 would let the city borrow $100 million to get started on an aggressive street-repair program that's desperately needed. What's it gonna cost you? Well, if your house is worth $100,000, it's going to cost you $1.50 a month. That seems affordable—and like an investment that's worth making. Vote yes.