Same Difference

Republican Ann Day and Democrat Byron Howard Sound Awfully Similar.

ROUGHLY 60 POLITICAL junkies have ventured out to a meeting room at St. Philip's in the Hills Church for tonight's political debate, despite the fact that it means missing the season premiere of The West Wing. (VCRs are undoubtedly rolling tape in many homes.) At the front of the room are Republican Ann Day and Democrat Byron Howard, who are battling for the District 1 seat on the Pima County Board of Supervisors left open by Republican Mike Boyd's retirement.

Aside from a few queries about the county budget and Kino Hospital, nearly all of the questions relate one way or another to growth and development. The issue is increasingly important to today's voters, so the candidates are doing their best to stress their commitment to preserving open space and planning better for growth.

"I want to bring our community together and solve the growth issues that threaten our quality of life," Day tells the crowd. "I'm talking about our traffic gridlock, our shopping centers, big boxes, loss of desert land, and sprawl."

Like Day, Howard is talking about preservation. He finds nothing wrong with it, as long as property owners are compensated by taxpayers if the value of their land decreases. "If it infringes on land that is privately held, go to the owners, tell them this is what our plan is, purchase it," he says. "Don't play games with them."

Day can hardly contain her enthusiasm for the county's Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, the ambitious blueprint for growth in Pima County. She calls it "the most exciting land-use issue on the horizon."

Howard also supports the plan, although he says it should have been done a decade ago. In fact, he supports a plan even more ambitious than the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan: a grand countywide central plan that includes every municipality and nails down the real cost of development.

"My biggest number-one goal," Howard says, "is I believe more than anything else we need regional planning in every category."

But for all their talk of preservation, how green are the candidates? Both oppose the Citizens Growth Management Initiative. Both support Prop 100, the Growing Smarter Plus referendum from the state legislature that's opposed by 70 conservation groups across the state. Both oppose the county's efforts to downzone property. And both point to the other as the real stooge for the development industry.

ON OTHER ISSUES, both Day and Howard continue to echo each other. Both see themselves as consensus builders who promise to find solutions to community problems through compromise.

Both express skepticism about the latest county budget, suggesting that County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry used accounting tricks to create what appeared to be a balanced budget. And both support keeping Kino Hospital open, although they foresee trimming back on its mission.

With little policy difference between the candidates, the race is likely to come down to personality and political affiliation.

The 62-year-old Day grew up on a ranch that straddled the Arizona/New Mexico border between Duncan and Lordsburg. She had never run for office when she won a state Senate seat in 1990, although she was no stranger to politics. Both an ex-husband and a sister served in the Arizona Legislature; the sister, Sandra Day O'Connor, now sits on the U.S. Supreme Court. Day herself was first woman appointed to the industrial commission, by former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt.

On the off chance that you don't already know him, the 54-year-old Howard is a local political consultant. He got his start in the bureaucracy of Pima County's Wastewater Department, eventually running it for three years before retiring in 1979. After leaving the county, he landed an executive position with U.S. Home, where he worked until 1983. He stayed in the land biz until 1989, when he began to emerge as player in local politics as a co-founder of the Tucson Business Coalition, a group of small business owners who enjoyed some brief influence in the early 1990s. After the organization withered, Howard expanded his consulting business. His biggest client these days is the Town of Marana, although he has also done work for other organizations, including the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association and the local subcontractors union, the Alliance of Construction Trades.

Those ties to the development community have been helpful in the fundraising department. Howard had raised $73,537 as of October 2, with more than $30,000 coming from builders, brokers, bankers and other players in the development industry. At the close of that reporting period, he still had $28,836 in the bank.

It's a testament to Howard's charisma that he has also tapped a lot of elected officials, including Supervisor Dan Eckstrom, County Attorney Barbara LaWall, state Rep. Herschella Horton, City Councilman Fred Ronstadt and Amphi School Board member Mary Schuh.

Howard has trailed Day in fundraising, but not by much. As of October 2, Day had raised $83,955, including more than $30,000 she transferred from her Senate campaign fund. She's spent $51,340, leaving her with $32,615 in the bank. Day has enjoyed the support of the legal community, with more than $9,800 from lawyers and judges. She attributes the support to close ties with lawyers and judges, including her husband and famous sister.

ON THE STUMP, Howard has a booming delivery that outshines Day's halting comments. But he'll need more than public presence to win the race. He's a Democrat running in a district that's 43 percent Republican and only 38 percent Democrat, with about 19 percent unaffiliated with either major party.

That means Howard will need to hold his Democratic base while attracting crossover support. While his conservative record will attract some crossover, holding the base may prove a challenge: In the September Democratic primary, Howard got less than 47 percent of the vote, despite the fact that challenger John Crouch ran a shoestring campaign that got off to a late start. Howard had spent more than $41,000 as of primary day. Day, by contrast, captured more than 64 percent of the vote in her primary win against Dan Schottel, a fellow lawmaker who, like Day, had hit a term limit in the legislature.

Despite his challenges, Howard remains confident he can pull it out.

"I think I definitely can attract conservatives, especially owners of small businesses that I've met over the years," Howard says. "Quite frankly, I have as much to offer as anybody who's running."