Which Of Three Strong Candidates Will Win The Supervisor's Seat In District 3?
By Jim Nintzel
IF ALL THE world's a stage, then the race to unseat Supervisor Ed Moore is political theatre at its very finest.
The three-way District 3 race is thick with intrigue: Pima County's most notorious politician, once again believed to be facing the final curtain; a neighborhood activist challenging a well-funded real estate broker; even accusations of drug dealing and money laundering.
With the other four board races all but decided, District 3 will be the pivotal seat on the board. If voters elect Democrat Sharon Bronson, they'll get a longtime community advocate who'll frame tough policies for builders. If Republican Vicki Cox-Golder wins the race, the Growth Lobby will have a sympathetic ear on the board. And if Moore can somehow cheat political death once again, there's no telling what could happen.
With less than four weeks before the November 5 election, it's a race that everyone from the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association to the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Tucson agrees will define the future of land use for Pima County. As District 5 Supervisor Raul Grijalva puts it, "The war is in 3."
SHARON BRONSON DOESN'T look like a grizzled veteran as she sits down to a lunch of soup and salad at the South Forty, a honky-tonk diner with a parking lot full of pickup trucks just west of the Tucson Mountains. But the 51-year-old accountant has been tangled up in local land fights for what "seems like eons," she says.
Bronson got her start as a neighborhood activist in the early 1970s. For more than two decades, she's worked on initiatives and referendums, as well as local, state and federal campaigns. Now she's taking her first stab at public office.
"It's time we turn the Board of Stupervisors into the Board of Supervisors," Bronson says. "We need some leadership, we need a different direction, we need a board that sets goals and we need a budget process that makes sense."
Bronson says crime--particularly juvenile crime--is the most pressing issue on the minds of voters she meets campaigning in neighborhoods. She says the county needs to review spending on youth programs to see what's effective as a long-range strategy. In the short term, she'd like to cut the county's lobbying budget in half, take some lawyers off the public payroll, and spend the money to hire more sheriff's deputies. Her tough talk has earned her the backing of Sheriff Clarence Dupnik and Democratic county attorney candidate Barbara LaWall.
Cox-Golder agrees the most important issue in the race is juvenile crime. She says she'd like to beef up the sheriff's department, but she doesn't know where she'd find the money to do it "until I get there."
"You have to make it a priority with the county budget," she suggests.
But while crime ripples across the surface of the campaign, the raging undercurrent is growth. In so many ways, it's the classic Pima County political struggle between neighborhoods and developers, between saguaros and bulldozers, between the desert and dollars.
"Why is (juvenile crime) here?" Bronson asks. "Part of the reason is the way we've grown. In terms of schools, the Marana School District is at its bonding capacity. They can't build any more schools, they can't raise any more money. Their teachers just signed a contract saying they would accept 35 kids in a classroom. You don't think the juvenile crime problem is going to explode if you have these kinds of class sizes? All of this is the expense of uncontrolled growth without developers paying for the consequences."
Bronson points to statistics that show the median income in Tucson has dropped from $25,500 in 1971 to $22,000 in 1994.
"This is how growth brings prosperity?" Bronson says. "I don't get it. Higher taxes, lower quality of life. Growth is a Ponzi scheme. You have the next wave of growth pay for the current wave of growth. And that's what's making government collapse."
Cox-Golder also stresses the need for controlled growth. In speeches, she says she doesn't "believe growth needs to be subsidized on the backs of existing residents."
But when it comes to finding a way to make growth pay for itself, Cox-Golder has few ideas. She doesn't want transportation impact fees higher than the $1,550 the board set earlier this year, because she says it would unfairly burden the housing market. Asked if current residents should continue subsidizing development, Cox-Golder draws an analogy that, oddly, likens the profits of homebuilders to the education of children.
"There are areas of Tucson where somebody subsidized their development and their neighborhood," Cox-Golder says. "It's like the retirement communities that vote against bond issues for school districts because their kids are no longer in school. Somebody before them subsidized their kids' education. So this argument that I'm not going to pay any more taxes because your kids don't deserve what my kids had just doesn't wash with me, because we're here to make a better society."
In a luncheon speech before a group of mortgage brokers earlier this year, Cox- Golder praised the county's continuing growth.
"Growth is important to every business and every industry in Pima County," Cox-Golder said. "In fact, I think growth is important to the government, because if you don't have growth, what you have is failing infrastructure. Or, to keep the infrastructure current, you have to raise taxes. You have to have steady growth to just maintain what we already have."
"We've got a billion-dollar road problem," Bronson retorts. "We have no money to fix it. How can anyone with any kind of a conscience, when the median wage is $22,000, increase the primary property tax rate, increase the flood district? We can't afford unplanned growth. It's not what keeps government going, it's what's driving us into a hole. It's what's making people lose trust in government, because what do they get out of it? Zip."
Bronson says she'd like to see transportation impact fees set at $3,000. She'd like to impose additional impact fees to help pay for parks and wants to look at other ways to end subsidies for developers, from charging homebuilders the full cost for sewer hook-ups to ending the tax break they get from letting cattle graze on their property until they begin construction.
Rather than increased impact fees, Cox-Golder says she wants to lobby the legislature to give Pima County the authority to pass a gas tax or ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to build new roads--a proposition that has failed twice at the ballot in the last decade. Bronson opposed the tax both times and doesn't support wasting the money on an election so it can fail again.
As part of her solution to the growth problem, Cox-Golder wants to rewrite the county's Comprehensive Plan, which she criticizes as "subjective and unsubstantiated."
"She hasn't read it," Bronson says. "All the things she wants to do are already in there. The problem is the board hasn't had the political will to enforce them. The plan is only as good as three votes. The problem is, Ed Moore came in in '88 and again in '92 and all the conditional zonings that should have reverted back to the original lower density, he and his buddies Mike and Paul ended up putting in place. They essentially made them hard zonings."
Bronson argues that Cox-Golder's proposals--rewriting the Comprehensive Plan, or creating urban growth boundaries--are just a way for the Growth Lobby to further stall policy changes.
"What Vicki is trying to do is postpone the debate until the year 2000," Bronson says. "We can't afford to postpone the debate any longer. We have the tools and we need the political will to use those tools to deal with the problems in a way that doesn't burden existing taxpayers with the costs of growth. It puts that (cost) firmly on the backs of developers. It's time to stop subsidizing growth."
IT'S A HOT July midday and Vicki Cox-Golder is taking meetings in a brightly sterile Coco's along traffic-jammed Oracle Road. She orders a waffle with strawberries and whipped cream--"lots of whipped cream," she tells the waitress with a laugh.
"One of the main reasons I'm running is I think I'm a good consensus candidate," says the 45-year-old land broker. "I've proven my abilities to bring groups together who haven't been able to work together in the past."
For nearly as long as Bronson has been working environmental politics in Pima County, Cox-Golder has been in the land business. She got her real estate license in 1973 and opened up her own brokerage firm, Vicki L. Cox and Associates, in 1976. That same year she married Lloyd Golder, a land speculator and rancher in Catalina. She's worked the real estate circuit, with stints heading up various local and statewide realtor associations.
When Cox-Golder first began planning her campaign for the Board of Supervisors last year, she turned to her longtime associate, real estate broker Bill Arnold, to serve as chairman of her campaign. Arnold counts politics as a hobby, but his job at Genesis Real Estate and Development often interweaves with county politics. He served on many county commissions and currently sits on the county's Planning and Zoning Commission. The juncture of politics and land deals has paid off handsomely for Arnold: In his dealings, for example, he's earned about $150,000 in commissions in his role as a broker for the Amphi School District (For details, see "The Wrong People, Part II," page 4).
In 1994, Arnold was the Southern Arizona campaign coordinator for Proposition 300, the high-profile "takings" legislation which would have required government to pay property owners when regulations affected their profits. Passed by the Arizona Legislature in 1993, the law so frightened a coalition of environmental groups that they took it to the ballot through a referendum.
Bronson worked the green side of Proposition 300, opposing the takings legislation because "I don't think taxpayers should have to pay polluters not to pollute." Arizona voters rejected the measure by a 3-to-2 margin.
Cox-Golder and Arnold have hired Republican strategist Bunny Badertscher to put together the campaign. With the help of pollster Margaret Kenski, the Cox-Golder campaign has been tightly packaged. Anticipating a tough GOP primary against Moore, Cox-Golder assembled a formidable campaign, which included raising more than $50,000 before the primary and picking up high-powered endorsements from U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, and Congressman Jim Kolbe.
But Moore proved to be an elusive target. Although he remained registered with the Republican Party, he ducked the primary by filing to run as an independent.
"The whole theory was, they were going to knock me out in the primary," Moore says. "The panzer divisions were over behind the hill. I turned in my nominating petitions and they came down to get me, only I wasn't there."
Reaction to Moore's decision was mixed. Mike Hellon, who sits on the Republican National Committee, fired off an angry fax declaring that "Moore has forfeited any right he once had to support from any Republican." Hellon's name rarely pops up in county politics, but he had an interest in this case; his wife, Toni, who works as a campaign manager for Kolbe, supports the Cox-Golder campaign and has contributed $270.
Rex Waite, chairman of the Pima County Republican Party, has a different spin.
"It was a smart move politically," says Waite, who says he'll be happy to count Moore in the Republican Party if he wins the election.
Instead of facing Moore in the GOP primary, Cox-Golder found herself facing accountant Ann Holden, a restrained-growth advocate who was barely able to raise $6,000. Still, with a fiesty campaign aided by political strategist Emil Franzi, Holden put up a strong fight, losing the race by less than 500 votes.
Franzi, a frequent contributor to the Tucson Weekly and The Arizona Daily Star, helped Moore win the office in 1984 and 1988. He has now crossed party lines to assist the Bronson campaign.
FRANZI ISN'T THE only Republican backing Bronson. Cox-Golder's waffling has led to a backlash among what she calls "green Republicans" in District 3, who supported Holden in the primary.
"If you talk to her superficially, you'd swear she was a cactus hugger," says Lan Lester, who chairs the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Tucson and heads up the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Development, an umbrella group of about a dozen homeowner associations. "You can almost see the thorns coming out of her arms. When you question her...she'll reverse herself. Ask her to define a 'fair' impact fee and she comes unglued."
Lester, who's supporting Bronson in the general, has been unhappy with Cox-Golder since last summer, when Amphi District officials appeared before the Board of Supervisors in support of a rezoning in northwest Pima County. Developer Bob Hadd was trying to rezone a 19-acre parcel so he could build a 30-unit subdivision with about one-and-a-half houses per acre. The property was next to a new elementary school Amphi was planning to build.
Hadd's rezoning request faced tough opposition. The neighborhood association argued the streets in the area were already overburdened and that the county had yet to address current infrastructure needs, much less future ones. County staff also opposed the project.
On July 17, 1995, one day before the project was supposed to go before the county Board, Hadd sat down for a meeting with Cox-Golder and Amphi Associate Superintendent Katie Frey to negotiate an agreement with Hadd to provide him with infrastructure for his development in return for rights to an easement and $30,000.
Following the meeting, Frey wrote a letter to Hadd--copies of which went to Cox-Golder, the county planning department and the clerk of the board--in which she said, "Amphitheater School District will benefit if your rezoning request for the property...is granted.... As you know, I will be out of town tomorrow and unable to attend the Board of Supervisors meeting. Mr. Steve Hitchman, who is one of the district's Bond Project Managers, will be in attendance and will speak to your proposal."
According to the board minutes from July 18, 1995, Hitchman said the district did not have a position on the project, but he added the rezoning would be beneficial to the Amphi District and its taxpayers, because the district would be able to get easements, utilities slopes and drainage easements.
The board rejected Hadd's request, with Moore joining Democrats Raul Grijalva and Dan Eckstrom in opposing the rezoning.
Despite her meeting with the developer, the subsequent letter and Hitchman's appearance before the board, Cox-Golder insists the Amphi Board did not take a position on the rezoning.
"She can say she didn't send anybody and they don't do that, but I was at the meeting and they hammered us," Lester remembers. "It is taking a stand, absolutely."
A few months after the rezoning was rejected, on November 28, 1995, Hadd contributed $100 to Cox-Golder's campaign, which refunded that amount about two weeks later. Cox-Golder says she returned the money because she doesn't like to take contributions from developers with whom she does business. But on December 29, 1995, Hadd's partner in the deal, Perry Bassett, contributed $270 to the Cox-Golder campaign--the maximum contribution under state law. Bassett's wife Trudy also contributed $270 to the campaign.
"I didn't know he was his partner," Cox-Golder says. "I would have returned the money if I did."
Cox-Golder also boasts of another deal she cut with the developers of Rancho Vistoso, which gave the district a school site in 1992. She says it's an example of how government and developers can work together to solve problems without high impact fees.
"Developers kicked in those schools sites," Cox-Golder says. "We need them to kick in and do the right thing more often."
Cox-Golder doesn't mention the details of that deal, either. The developer who did "the right thing" in this case was Conley Wolfswinkel, the Phoenix developer who was convicted of fraud after he and another developer floated more than $149 million in bad checks through multiple bank accounts. At the time Amphi made the deal with Wolfswinkel, the land was in limbo because Wolfswinkel had declared bankruptcy and owed back taxes on the property dating to 1989. Kicking the land over to Amphi meant Wolfswinkel was off the hook for the tax bill, which Amphi asked the Board of Supervisors to dismiss. Moore made the motion and the board voted unanimously to erase the debt.
For all her experience in building consensus with developers, Cox-Golder somehow never managed to pay attention while her business associate and campaign chairman, Bill Arnold, handled $4 million in land purchases for future school sites.
"I'm not involved in that part of the activities at all," Cox-Golder said during a September 6 radio interview with John C. Scott. "I deal with real estate all day long. I don't want to have to deal with it after-hours, as well."
Bronson says that perfectly typifies Cox-Golder's style.
"Vicki's definition of leadership is to take all the credit and distribute all the blame," she says.
BUT FOR EITHER woman to win the office, Ed Moore is going to have to lose the race.
The cigar-chomping, 61-year-old supervisor first got involved in county politics in the early 1980s, when he put together a plan to save Rillito Racetrack. Frustrated by the run-around he got from the Board of Supervisors, Moore decided to run for office himself because "I saw how corrupt local government was," he says slowly in his soft-spoken voice. "I happened to know that certain developers were promised that they could buy that race track."
Spending more than $100,000 of his own money, Moore challenged District 3 Supervisor E.S. "Bud" Walker in the Democratic primary. Walker, who had served three terms on the Board, was a staunch supporter of the development community. Even though he was a real estate speculator himself, Moore successfully wooed the neighborhood vote and beat Walker. Homebuilders, frightened by Moore's candidacy, tried to run Robert Stash as an independent candidate, but Moore trounced him in the general election.
The developers needn't have been so worried. Over the next four years, Moore proved to be sympathetic to their concerns--so much so that by 1988, he'd lost most of his neighborhood support. A stint as chairman of Democrats for Mecham hadn't helped his standing in the party.
He also couldn't afford to finance another election, so he turned to developers to fill his campaign warchest. Even with their money, he only narrowly defeated Democrat Sue Dye in the 1988 Democratic primary. He went on to beat Republican David Morales in the general election that year.
By 1992, even the neighborhood activists who had stuck by him in 1988 had bailed out. Moore realized he couldn't win a Democratic primary, so he switched to the Republican Party. The development community was still behind him, including Vicki Cox-Golder, who was his campaign chairman that year.
"If Vicki thought Ed was so bad, why was she his campaign chair four years ago?" asks Bronson. "Ed hasn't changed--has Vicki? My guess is Vicki is running because Ed didn't deliver on the water issue. If you liked the way Ed voted, you'll love the way Vicki votes. She just won't be as entertaining."
Cox-Golder is contrite about her role in the Moore campaign.
"I knew that was going to come back to haunt me," says Cox-Golder, who explains she merely "lent" her name to the campaign and had little to do with its day-to-day operation.
Moore dispatched Morales again in the 1992 Republican primary and went on to defeat Democrat John Kromko in the general election. Moore spent nearly $60,000 on his campaign, while Kromko spent only $33,213. In addition, Moore was aided by an independent campaign committee run out of the Pima County Republican Party, which spent more than $56,000 on a negative ad campaign against Kromko. Chief among the contributors to the independent campaign committee were legendary land speculator Don Diamond ($10,500), auto dealer and banker Jim Click ($8,500), developer David Mehl ($2,500) and attorney John Munger ($2,250).
After winning the election, Moore organized clandestine meetings with newly elected supervisors Mike Boyd and Paul Marsh, in which they secretly re-organized county government. Just minutes after the new board was sworn into office in January 1993, the GOP majority launched a purge that led to the firings of several top-level county employees. The dismissed employees banded together and filed a lawsuit that the supervisors eventually settled out of court for more than $3 million (For details, see "Outrageous Fortune," Tucson Weekly, August 22).
"The first time Ed was able to get three votes together, it cost us $3 million and counting," Bronson says.
Moore still defends the purge, saying that it saved the county millions of dollars "because some of the games stopped." But his fragile alliance fell apart when District 1 Supervisor Mike Boyd defected from the GOP triumvirate and began voting with Democrats Raul Grijalva and Dan Eckstrom.
Since then, Moore's become increasingly erratic. Prone to talk of the conspiracies and corruption he sees as rampant throughout Pima County, Moore has latched onto the water issue to try to float back into office.
Moore helped organize efforts for last year's Proposition 200, the initiative that banned direct delivery of CAP water for five years and forced the Tucson City Council to begin work on recharge projects. Strongly opposed by the development industry, the initiative was passed by 56 percent of Tucson voters, many of whom had been horrified when brown CAP water first poured out of their faucets and caused their pipes to explode.
Proposition 200 put Moore in the crosshairs of the Growth Lobby, which has now embraced Cox-Golder. She has co-opted his money base; as of the most recent campaign finance reports, through August 21, she had raised more than $50,000, with more than half coming from homebuilders, brokers, bankers and others of similar interest. (New campaign finance reports are due this week.)
In addition, the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association has sent out a postcard asking its members to compile lists of employees in District 3 so SAHBA can send them "information about the candidates" and absentee ballots. The group is rumored to be planning a fiercely negative attack against Bronson in the last weeks of the campaign.
Without the Growth Lobby behind him, Moore now freely attacks his former allies, calling them the "big guys" who are out to profit at public expense, but he still often votes on their side. In August, he voted against charging impact fees for new homes, arguing that the $1,550 fee wouldn't raise enough money to make a dent in the county's road needs.
Moore's few contributors continue to be developers, including land speculators Don Diamond and Don Pitt, who both contributed $270, and Marana's Kai family, which pitched a total of $1,620 to Moore's campaign. By August 21, Moore had raised only $7,290, but he says he'll spend as much as it takes to keep his office. If he has to, he'll sell a piece of land and finance the race himself, as he did back in '84. He says he'll win the race because his office has provided outstanding constituent service.
Moore's chief campaign tactic so far has been a mailer just days before the Republican primary which attempted to link Cox-Golder to drug trafficking and money laundering. Cox-Golder condemned the accusations as "mudslinging" and Moore was roundly condemned in the media for the attack, resulting in another round of bad press, but he remains unfazed by the spin; he revels in his bad boy image.
"The more you guys hit me, the better off I am," he says.
DISTRICT 3, WHICH stretches across the northwest to include Marana, across the southwest to include Midvale Park, and west across the reservation out to Ajo, has about 36,675 Democrats, 28,308 Republicans and about 12,000 folks who aren't registered with either party. It's traditionally been Democratic territory; Moore was the first Republican to win the seat, and he did it as a Democrat his first two times out.
That would seem to make Bronson the odds-on favorite. If she can hold the Democrats and capture the green Republicans who supported Ann Holden in the GOP primary, she should have the votes to win.
But voters have never had a three-way race in front of them. If Moore can hold the so-called Perot voters--the voters who generally distrust government--and capture right-of-center Democrats and Republicans, he might be able to pull off an upset. It's a long shot, but probably the best strategy Moore can hope for.
Cox-Golder, meanwhile, is scrambling to hold the Republicans and capture the conservative Democrats by portraying herself as the moderate choice between Bronson and Moore.
"I have more experience in the business world," says Cox-Golder. "I think it's nice to have some business skills to bring to the Board of Supervisors in looking at budgetary items.... I think you also have to have that constituent experience that she does not have.... She's got a broad base of neighborhood community support, but she doesn't have the business support. I think I'll be a better listener."
Bronson is confident her experience on the city's citizen budget committee, as well as her decades as an accountant, give her a pretty good understanding of the county's budget. She scoffs at Cox-Golder's claim to understand the county's budget.
"Vicki's experience--if that's what she calls her experience--is a D-minus student," Bronson says. "I'd probably flunk her. She doesn't know how to read a budget, she doesn't know what's going on, she has no clue about what's going on in the whole health care portion of the Pima County budget."
Bronson has found the race to be arduous.
"It's work, but it's also not particularly uplifting," Bronson says. "The problems are immense. You have to stop doling out jobs to your friends and start getting out there and not sitting up on the 11th floor like Ed does. It has a certain charm, I guess, but it doesn't solve the problems.
"And government isn't going to solve all those problems," she continues. "It can't. Bureaucracies don't solve problems. People solve problems. That means bringing neighborhoods together, making those neighborhoods into communities, and government can put some resources behind it and make it happen. But for it to really happen, people have to want it to happen. And that requires the same kind of thing that I've been doing when I've been working with the environmental groups and the neighborhood groups and the social justice groups. It requires getting out there."
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