Electoral Difficulties

Sharon Bronson and Donna Branch-Gilby battle for a Board of Supervisors seat

Donna Branch-Gilby laughs at the suggestion that Ray Carroll recruited her to run against Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson.

While Branch-Gilby says she likes the rabble-rousing GOP supervisor, she's a longtime leader in local Democratic politics. So, no, Carroll had no hand in Branch-Gilby's candidacy, she says.

"The person who best recruited me was Sharon," says Branch-Gilby. "If she had not been an obstructionist on her votes against releasing the voting records, I wouldn't have thought about it."

Branch-Gilby had planned to attend the Democratic National Convention as part of her duties as first vice-chair of the state Democratic Party, which also qualified her to be a superdelegate.

"I kept thinking, 'Oh, someone will run (against Bronson). They'll find someone in the party. (County Democratic Party Chairman) Vince Rabago has his ears open. (Attorney) Bill Risner is talking to lots of people. I'm sure they'll find somebody,'" Branch-Gilby says.

It was on Jan. 8, Branch-Gilby says, that she decided to throw her own hat into the ring, when Bronson "made some comment that it seemed reasonable that the county appeal" Judge Michael Miller's first decision for the county to turn over voting databases that the Pima County Democratic Party had sued to get as part of a voting-integrity investigation. To run, Branch-Gilby had to resign her state-party position--and give up her superdelegate vote.

Branch-Gilby says she'd like to go back to a system where county supervisors are in charge of the Elections Division. Right now, the department is run by Brad Nelson, who answers to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

However, Branch-Gilby contends she is not a one-issue candidate. She wants to see the supervisors start meeting for what she says are state-mandated study sessions. Currently, the county schedule includes the weekly study sessions, but they are always cancelled.

"I said to one of the staff, 'How do you ever communicate?' They said, 'Well, someone will write a message to Huckelberry, and he replies, and sends it out to all five (supervisors).' That's not a discussion; that's not problem-solving. That's not getting together and sharing ideas and challenges and inspirations. It boggles my mind that the study sessions were cancelled and have been for years," Branch-Gilby says.

Branch-Gilby says her opponent and other Democrats on the board rarely question Huckelberry: "The thing is, he needs to be under the direction of the board, not vice versa."

Branch-Gilby does praise her opponent's support of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Environmental issues may be where the two agree most, with Bronson pushing for better-managed growth and the environment since she won her first term 12 years ago. Branch-Gilby is a co-founder of the Milagro Cohousing development that puts green-living principles into action through rainwater-harvesting, and solar and gray-water systems.

While Bronson may agree with Branch-Gilby on some environmental issues, she says supervisors don't need to include study sessions on agendas, and that Huckelberry continues to serve only at the pleasure of the Democratic majority of the board.

"The ... supervisors are very much in control. That's why we have the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan to begin with. ... These were directions given to the county administrator, and he is charged with taking policies we want implemented and implementing them," Bronson says.

District 3 includes 7,400 square miles, including rural communities such as Ajo and Arivaca, and unique urban corridors like Flowing Wells. Bronson says she's proud of the work she's done on behalf of those communities, including the Curley School renovation in Ajo that created a work/live space for artists. Pima County provided $11 million for the $30 million project.

Bronson also touts the earmark of 2004 neighborhood-investment bonds that went to projects and improvements in the Grant Road corridor and Flowing Wells.

"It's not only about creating a sustainable economy. You have to also create community," Bronson says.

Regarding Branch-Gilby's accusations that she served as an obstructionist to keep the Democrats from accessing the elections databases, Bronson says she was just doing her job, taking advice from the county attorney and Secretary of State Jan Brewer.

"The reality is that we had the county attorney and the secretary of state concur that the databases were not public records, and in order to release them, we needed a court order. ... In January, we released the records. It's that simple," Bronson says.

Beyond elections issues, Branch-Gilby and other county critics have openly questioned Bronson's Democratic credentials. Bronson says such accusations are pure politics.

"My first priority as an elected official is to serve my constituents who live and work in my district, which covers 7,400 square miles. There are many constituents I have to serve and places I have to appear that aren't so close to the city core," Bronson says.

Bronson's list of Democratic supporters is indeed impressive, including endorsements from Tucson City Council Members Regina Romero, Karin Uhlich and Nina Trasoff, as well as Gov. Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Terry Goddard.

If re-elected, Bronson says she'll continue to have much to address as a county supervisor, specifically on regional planning issues with other counties through the Southern Arizona Four County Consortium she helped organize.

"Most of the growth is going to take place along the county lines. Pinal County will pass us in the next decade in terms of population. That's why it's important to really start talking regional planning," she says.

Bronson or Branch-Gilby will face Republican Barney Brenner in the November general election.

According to the campaign-finance reports filed Monday, June 30, Bronson has earned more than $126,000 in contributions, while Branch-Gilby has collected just more than $21,000.

Branch-Gilby says she's not concerned about money. She prefers to look at the number of people who are supporting her campaign through small donations.

Bronson had 130 donors during the last filing period, while Branch-Gilby had more than 200 listed. Brenner has raised more than $22,000 from about 130 donors.

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