Races That Matter

Tucson Weekly Endorsements 2004

Wouldn't you know it? The same year that everybody decides they want to vote, nobody wants to run for office.

Maybe it's the one-sided districts, or the long odds against unseating an incumbent, or the daunting task of raising money. But outside of the presidential race, this might be one of the most boring elections we've ever seen. What can you say when the race for assessor is the most interesting contest on the county ballot?

OK, so there are some legislative races--but in almost every instance, the challengers don't really stand a chance. Sorry Amanda, Dick, Esther and Marty, but there's an equation we've noted that holds true in most cases: Incumbency plus voter registration minus scandal equals re-election. Let's not kid ourselves: A token nod of support from the Tucson Weekly isn't going to make a difference.

So this year, we've focused on what we're calling Races That Matter--the contests in which something is at stake. The following offices are the ones we consider up for grabs on Election Day. Check out our choices, then make your own.

President: John Kerry

Here's the problem with President George W. Bush:

It's not just that he's led us into a quagmire based on bad intelligence while squandering a tremendous amount of global good will. It's not the overwhelming degree of obfuscation and deception that this administration regularly runs past the American people. And it's not even the fact that his tax-cut policies have squandered a record surplus while primarily benefiting the wealthiest in our country, running up a deficit at a time when we should have been paying down the national debt to prepare for the inevitable expenses that the retirement of the Boomer generation will bring.

Our biggest quarrel is with the philosophy that rests at the bottom of all this: Bush's embrace of ideology over reality.

We expect presidents to bring their agenda into office. But we also expect them to base that agenda on solid data, not a weird amalgam of phony numbers, falsehoods and faith. Even Ronald Reagan recognized he had to raise taxes once the deficit exploded. This president responds with a demand that we cut more taxes for the rich.

Democrat John Kerry has been portrayed by the GOP machine as a hopeless flip-flopper who can't take a stand on anything. We don't buy it. Sure, Kerry has changed his mind on some issues--and it was probably politically motivated at times. But the same can be said of Bush, no matter how much he wants to pretend he's never wrong.

We believe John Kerry has the smarts and guts that it takes to be president. We're confident he's not going to lead us into ill-considered wars, loot the treasury, abuse our civil rights and shut down our right to know--and that's enough for us. Vote John Kerry for president.

Pima County Assessor: Bill Staples

The county assessor has a straightforward job: appraising the value of property so that the property-tax burden is equitably distributed among residents.

With our rapidly appreciating real-estate market, property values are on the rise, leading to a corresponding rise in property taxes because local jurisdictions have been loathe to cut back on the tax rates that have allowed their coffers to swell.

Republican Bill Heuisler, who wants to replace the outgoing Rick Lyons, has a solution to that problem: stop linking property values to the property market. Heuisler proposes to virtually freeze property values until homes are sold.

The problem with that plan, aside from the rather Marxist notion that one government official's opinion of value is more valid than the actual market: It probably runs counter to state law, although Heuisler insists the statutes back up his argument. The legal battle that would emerge would certainly cost taxpayers plenty and disrupt the assessor's office before all is said and done.

But even if it's not illegal, Heuisler's proposal would only help Pima County residents in the short term. In the long run, it would create vast inequities in the property tax system, because people living in identical homes could end up with vastly different property tax bills--a result Heuisler concedes but simply doesn't care about.

His Democratic opponent, Bill Staples, promises to continue to run the office pretty much as Lyons has, relying on the skills of his professional appraisers and computer technology to keep abreast of the market. He also proposes to tackle the so-called "rent-a-cow" scheme that allows developers who own land zoned for high-density development to skirt their taxes by putting cows on the property and challenge the method that billboard companies use to value their billboards for taxing purposes.

We're voting for Bill Staples.

Pima County Sheriff: Clarence Dupnik

Here's why we like Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik: No green bologna. No tent city. No high-profile chain gangs. No stacks of lawsuits and claims that taxpayers have to cover.

Unlike a certain publicity hound north of the Gila, Dupnik has professionally managed the sheriff's department for 24 years. Here's to four more.

Legislative District 25: Jennifer Burns, Manny Alvarez

Legislative District 25--which stretches from Marana to the Mexican border--leans Democratic, but the current House delegation is split between Republican Jennifer Burns and Democrat Manny Alvarez. Voters should return the incumbents.

A bright light in the often-dim GOP caucus, Burns has a background in both law and medicine. As one of the few lawmakers at the Capitol who actually reads and understands the bills she's voting on, Burns votes based on sound policy, not wackadoodle ideology. Given the anticipated rightward swing of the Legislature, we need all the smart mods we can get.

Manny Alvarez is the proverbial Democratic stalwart who can be counted on to vote the party line. The downside: He's usually on the losing side. Still, the Elfrida pistachio farmer can boast carrying a bill that helped reduce insurance costs for rural hospitals, which suggests he knows the ropes.

Democrat Monica Perez is a nice enough kid, but the ASU poli-sci student sounds a little too sketchy when it comes to policy details. Republican David Stevens would fit right in with the East Valley Kool-Aid drinkers--and don't we have enough of those?

TUSD: Judy Burns, Pam Perry, Armand Salese

Ah, the joys of serving on the Tucson Unified School District governing board: The district must find a new superintendent, contend with a desegregation quagmire and face the very real possibility that a vast number of students won't graduate in the spring of 2006 if they don't pass the AIMS test.

Our top choices:

· Judy Burns, the one-term incumbent who knows her way around the district. Burns, who sought the office several times before finally winning four years ago, got involved with TUSD after volunteering in her own child's classroom. She has evolved into a smart advocate for the average TUSD parent and well deserves a second term.

· Pam Perry also climbed into the race because she has kids in TUSD schools. Perry's smart work as associate dean at the Eller School of Business shows she knows about building an education program--which TUSD must do to turn around too many underperforming schools. Perry promises more summer sessions, tutoring and parental outreach in areas where students are struggling with AIMS and other educational mandates. If Perry can avoid being taken in by the bureaucracy, she'll bring bright ideas and know-how to the board.

· Attorney Armand Salese delivers the sharpest criticism on the campaign trail, saying the district needs to focus more attention "on the ground level" to turn test scores around. Salese, who taken TUSD to court in the past--including a mid-'80s lawsuit that ended with more resources in westside schools--will prove a good watchdog as the district wraps the long-running desegregation settlement.

Four of the other candidates--two-time teacher union boss Marilyn Freed, Raytheon exec Alex Rodriguez, University High senior Devin Mauney and UA prof Elena Parra--each narrowly missed the cut. And longtime board member Joel Ireland? It is time for him to go. 'Nuff said.

Proposition 100: No

We were thinking we might just recycle our argument against this proposition to let the state back into the land-swapping biz. After all, state lawmakers have virtually recycled this referendum from a proposition rejected by voters two years ago.

As we recall, our argument back then touched upon the fact that the General Accounting Office had noted that taxpayers often get hustled when it comes to federal land swaps--and we had a funny feeling the same thing would happen here.

But then we remembered there's another reason to reject this turd: The totally cynical packaging that legislators have wrapped it in. In hopes of swaying voters to finally approve land swaps--similar proposals have been rejected five times in the last 14 years--lawmakers have named this one the Military Base Preservation Act, even though it's not going to do a damn thing to help save military bases.

This is a bad idea wrapped in a flag--which, as Dr. Johnson told us long ago, is a scoundrel's last refuge. Vote NO.

Proposition 101: No

This measure would require all initiative and referendum proposals to identify new, dedicated funding sources to cover any financial expenses they may place upon the state of Arizona. If these revenues were not sufficient, the state Legislature would not have to make up the difference with general fund monies.

Sound good? Sure, but in practice, this proposition would be a disaster. It would allow lawmakers to meddle with every voter-approved measure, thwarting those they don't like by leaving them under-funded. At the same time, it would put citizen initiatives in the bind of trying to determine how much they would cost to implement in a governmental system that backers don't control.

One of the real privileges of living in Arizona is the citizen initiative process. Protect that right by voting NO.

Proposition 102: Yes

Since Arizona's right-wing lawmakers have sliced state university budgets to the bone, it makes sense for those schools to buttress their funding whenever possible. And that's why we're endorsing Proposition 102--with reservations. This proposition would give UA, ASU and NAU the chance to make a buck by investing in business spin-offs from campus research.

As it now stands, the Arizona Constitution requires cash-money for campus property transfers, making it tough for capital-strapped entrepreneurs to purchase them. On the other hand, when business-types come up with cash, schools are then cut out of the action if those products take off in the marketplace.

Under Proposition 102, universities could instead accept stock or become part owners of companies wanting to use campus-generated intellectual property and technology. Stanford University, home of Google, is the poster-child for this strategy.

And so we endorse Proposition 102, because it might help the public universities, which really should be receiving adequate finding from forward-thinking state lawmakers. Then again, we realize that this is Arizona.

Proposition 103: No

Under current law, people elected to the office of justice of the peace do not have to be attorneys. But based on a recent state Supreme Court ruling, those appointed as temporary JPs do. This proposition would change that requirement.

While we don't think this is a big deal one way or the other for metropolitan areas of the state, it apparently is in rural Arizona. There, unbelievably, a shortage of lawyers can be an expensive problem to overcome.

Proponents of this measure also argue that the framers of Arizona's Constitution never intended JPs to be lawyers. That may have been true almost 100 years ago when legal eagles were a rare commodity, but today it seems as if you can't spit without hitting at least three of them.

It does seem odd that temporary JPs have to be more academically qualified than those they are replacing. But we also have to ask ourselves: Might not the educational and professional background of lawyers be worth paying extra for in the administration of justice? We think it is, so we urge a NO vote.

Proposition 104: No

The Arizona Legislature wants to require that petition signatures for citizen initiatives be submitted seven, rather than the present four, months before an item appears on the ballot. Under the proposal, these signatures could also start being collected 27 months in advance compared to the current 24.

This is just a dumb idea. Vote NO.

Proposition 105: Yes

The State Board of Education now consists of nine members, eight of whom are appointed by the governor. This proposition would replace the former state junior college board member with either a president or chancellor of a junior college. At the same time, it would add a fourth public member to the Board of Education, along with a representative of a charter school, thus expanding the total to 11.

While we are slightly uncomfortable with replacing someone who potentially held an elected position in the junior college system with an appointed staff member, overall we believe more representation is better representation. Vote YES.

Proposition 200: Hell No!

Prop 200, the so-called Protect Arizona Now initiative, has been triggered by rising--and justified--frustration with the federal government's failure to secure the border. The initiative would require anyone who wishes to register to vote to show proof of citizenship and that those seeking "public benefits" prove that they are legal Arizona residents.

Though it sounds good on the surface, the poorly written proposition promises to sink the state into a legal quagmire and risks all manner of federal funding. Without getting into the details, we'd just like to point out that many of the federal grants that fund Arizona's health and welfare programs specifically forbid the state to inquire about citizenship status, putting tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars at risk. On top of that, there's the whole question of what constitutes a "public benefit," which framers of this initiative didn't bother to define.

The big bucks that have put this on the ballot and continue to campaign for it have come from out-of-state political organization that won't have to live with the consequences.

Even supporters of this initiative concede it would do little or nothing to stop illegal immigration, a complex problem that requires complex solutions. Proposition 200 will just make things worse for the state. Vote NO.

Proposition 300: No

In our humble opinion, Southern Arizona representatives from both political parties in the state Legislature have generally done a commendable job and deserve a raise for their efforts. This proposition would do that, increasing their salary from $24,000 to $36,000 a year.

Unfortunately, the Southern Arizona delegation serves in a body dominated by Maricopa County morons who teach the three Rs: radical right-wing agenda, reduced quality of life, and a remedial education system.

We'd secede if we could, but that doesn't seem an option. Short of that, we certainly don't want to give those conservative cavemen any more money than they're willing to give to education and health care. Sorry, guys, but we just don't think taxpayers can afford to give you any more money this year. Vote NO.

Propositions 400, 401 and 402: Yes

Given the current lack of accountability inside TUSD's current budget, we feel a little like an enabler by encouraging voters to support these three propositions, which would further increase local property taxes to pay for a host of improvements in the county's largest school district.

But we also believe that the resources the new money would provide are invaluable to education--and if there is one thing worth investing in, it's our kids.

The three propositions would allow TUSD to both sell bonds and override the current state funding limits. Together, the package would fund the construction of new classrooms; hire enough teachers to ensure there are no more than 18 kids in K-3 classes; put air conditioning on buses; hire performing arts teachers, librarians, counselors and safety personnel; hook up more computers; and buy computers, desks, gym and lab resources and supplies for visual and performing arts programs.

So: We urge you to give TUSD one more chance. Vote YES.