WHEELER IN?We mentioned last week that Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson was facing primary opposition from Donna Branch-Gilby, who is hammering the three-term incumbent on election-integrity issues, and a possible general election challenge from Republican Barney Brenner, who is hammering her on county spending.
Now it looks like Bronson might not be the only supe facing a challenge. Former two-term Tucson City Councilman and legislator Bruce Wheeler says he's considering a challenge to Pima County Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Elías. Wheeler says there is an intentional plan by local Democrats and other activists to find three candidates to run against the three existing Democratic supervisors. Branch-Gilby is one, and if Wheeler decides to move forward, he'd be the second to challenge another county incumbent. "There's been discussion of the severe disappointment in the Democratic supervisors," Wheeler says. "Election-integrity issues are primary concerns, obviously, but the Democratic board has approved every bond and tax proposal. ... Financial integrity is at issue, too."
Finding a third candidate, to run against Ramón Valadez, is key to Wheeler's decision as to whether or not he's ready to return to politics and take on Elías.
If that happens, you can give a lot of the credit to Republican Supervisor Ray Carroll, who has been trying to recruit both Democrats and Republicans to run against the incumbent Democrats on the board. It's just another way for Sugar Ray to let his colleagues know that they can freeze him out, but he can still create headaches for them.
DOG CATCHES CAR?Speaking of Sugar Ray Carroll: He's pushing a new proposal to bring the county's Elections Division under the direct control of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, rather than having the elections director report to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
The proposal springs from the ongoing battle over election-integrity issues that has been at the heart of the ongoing legal squabbling between the county and the Pima County Democratic Party. Carroll argues that Huckelberry has been protecting Brad Nelson, the county's election director. "It couldn't get any worse than it is behind the firewall of Chuck Huckelberry for political accountability," Carroll says. "I'd rather have it back under the supes, even though they've shown little interest in making it more transparent." Carroll hopes to get the item on the agenda in April.
The election-integrity crew might want to give the idea a little more thought, since elected officials have even more at stake in the outcome of an election than the county administrator does--and they could easily install their own political hack as the head of the elections division.
When Republicans held a majority of seats on the county board back in 1993, they installed Jane Williams as clerk. Williams then hired Delores Johnston as elections director. In the 1994 election, Johnston managed to lose an entire precinct's votes up in Oro Valley. In the wake of that disaster, the supes decided to transfer the responsibility for elections to Huckelberry to straighten out the mess. All of which just goes to show you: We've had plenty of problems with elections being botched, fixed and stolen long before the age of touch-screen machines and black-box democracy.
SPEAKING OF ELECTION INTEGRITY ...Attorney Bill Risner, who is representing the Pima County Democratic Party, has two hours on Monday, April 21, to persuade Judge Michael Miller to order Pima County to hand over the remaining election database files that go back to 1998.
The county continues to stand by its original assertion when Risner first took the county to court last year that releasing the database files is a security risk. In an attempt to prove that releasing the files won't cause a security problem, Risner has filed declaration from two election systems experts, Thomas Ryan and David Jefferson. Ryan worked on the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, election-fraud investigation, while Jefferson has consulted for five secretaries of state regarding election systems.
The county, however, says releasing all the files is a risk that could give someone information on the county ballot layouts. The county is also pointing out that even after officials turned over more files than the court ordered, Risner and his crew have yet to prove that the Regional Transportation Authority was rigged.
Risner has made a motion asking the county to offer up someone for a deposition who can explain why security risks remain an issue, he says.
"I don't care who they bring in," Risner says.
The county responded by asking the court to sanction Risner for playing legal games and by asking for an order of protection to bring an end to his requests.
If the Democrats get the remaining records, Risner says, the files will be used to finalize a wiki being designed by Jim March and Tucson's Tom Ryan (no relation to the aforementioned Thomas Ryan) to develop a computer tool that would be available to anyone in the United States to analyze their own county's Diebold systems.
Risner says he's confident Miller will continue to rule in the Democrats' favor.
"Although he threw (the county) some significant bones, he has clearly made findings that the political parties have a legitimate role here, and he has clearly said these are public records," Risner says. "And he clearly said, although we got part of it, we could come back and show there's no harm in getting the rest."
RUSHING TO THE AID OF MINES AND UTILITIESArizona lawmakers haven't made much progress as of press time on the gigantic hole in the state budget, but Republicans in the state House of Representatives managed to push through a property-tax cut that would make the money problems worse.
The GOP lawmakers--with the exception of Pete Hershberger and Jennifer Burns of Southern Arizona--voted to permanently extend the state's three-year suspension of a property tax meant to boost education funding.
Sure, the average homeowner will get a break of a few bucks each month--but the big winners here are utilities, mines and other fat cats that will save millions of dollars.
Yeah, we know: The utilities and mines will pass those savings on to us. And then we'll have enough money to hire our own university professors and build our own highways between Tucson and Phoenix.
A similar property-tax repeal is making its way through the Arizona Senate.
ADIOS, RAY CASTILLORepublican Ramon "Ray" Castillo, who served in Tucson City Council in Ward 1 from 1969 to 1973, passed away at age 70 on March 12. Castillo's last dance in local politics was in 1999, when he ran against Jose Ibarra for his old Ward 1 City Council position.
Castillo, a State Farm agent in Tucson for 41 years, was part of a rare GOP council majority in 1969. He was defeated for a second term in 1973, but tried to comeback in 1979 and 1983, in addition to that final try in 1999.
Another Ray in local GOP politics, Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, says Castillo was a friend who will be missed.
"Well done," Carroll says. "You've reached the top."