On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Sean Collins stood before the crowd at the Pima County Republican Club luncheon and lit into Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll.
Collins, who hopes to unseat Carroll in the Aug. 28 GOP primary in District 4, had a lengthy list of complaints about Pima County government in general—and Carroll in particular.
Among Collins' gripes: Carroll had been registered as a Democrat in the 1990s before switching to the Republican Party. Carroll has led opposition to the proposed Rosemont Mine. He hasn't done enough to create jobs. He doesn't work hard enough and ignores Republican voters, except during election season. He hasn't fixed enough potholes and has supported putting water stations in the desert to help migrant border-crossers. He has supported the purchase of open space and has hamstrung developers with too many impact fees.
"The incumbent, my opponent, has been there for 15-plus years, and he's too comfortable in his chair, folks," said Collins, an Air Force veteran who owns a Dairy Queen in Vail.
As Collins ran through his indictment, Carroll was in the audience and appeared relaxed, with a smile regularly crossing his face. Carroll didn't try to defend himself by addressing the crowd, although he's scheduled to speak to the weekly gathering of conservative Republicans later this month. He left midtown's El Parador restaurant shortly after Collins wrapped up his remarks.
Some members of the conservative lunch crowd were in Collins' corner. Rebecca Spann, who considered running against Carroll herself, complained that Carroll "votes like a Democrat. ... He votes with them more times than he doesn't.
"He's such an intimidating person, Ray is," Spann added. "I told him, 'Ray, you need to move on. You need to go write your book or do something else. You've been here too long.' And that was three years ago."
But Carroll had the support of other members of the crowd. Dick Dale, a local doctor who unsuccessfully ran for the Arizona Legislature in 2004, said that he found Collins to be "a little negative."
"I like Ray, because I've known him a long time," Dale said. "You know, he puts so many miles on his truck every year. ... I think he does talk to his constituents."
I asked Carroll if he's a real conservative, and he plunked down two awards on his desk.
"I've got two chunks of glass that say I am conservative," he boasted.
The first is the 2007 John W. Dawson Local Hero Award from the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers, which Carroll earned by blocking a county sales-tax increase. The second is the 2009 Gov. Howard Pyle Award from the Arizona Republican Party.
"That was from (former Arizona Republican Party chairman) Randy Pullen," Carroll said. "You think that Randy Pullen is going to recognize a nonconservative?"
The question of whether Carroll is a loyal Republican dogged him during his first run for office, way back in 1998. At that time, Carroll had recently been appointed to the Board of Supervisors under contentious circumstances. Nonetheless, Carroll prevailed in the three-way GOP primary—and has been fortunate enough to avoid a ballot-box challenge since beating a Libertarian in the 1998 general election.
"I've got the credentials of a fiscal conservative," Carroll said. "I've led the district on other conservative issues. I'm pro-gun. I'm a devout Catholic who's pro-life, from conception to natural death."
Over his years in representing District 4, which stretches from the Tanque Verde and Rincon valleys to Green Valley, Carroll has repeatedly refused to provide the necessary vote to enact a sales tax in Pima County. He has consistently voted against Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry's proposed budgets and has offered his own alternatives, which usually suggest using some of the county's reserve funds to provide property-tax breaks.
He's also been one of the county's most-visible politicians. He regularly participates in charity events, such as waiting tables for the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault's Dine Out for Safety fundraisers. When Mount Lemmon suffered through 2003's catastrophic Aspen Fire, Carroll was on the scene, coordinating different government agencies and helping residents recover from the devastation.
The Chicago native has a natural charm that has served him well through his political career. Carroll came to Tucson in 1984 to settle down with his wife, Ann, and raise his kids: Maria, now 23, who lives in Dallas; Shane, 21, who has just graduated from the New Mexico Military Institute; and Carlos, 17, who is starting his senior year at Salpointe Catholic High School and already has a football scholarship to Southern Methodist University. (Last year, Carroll chartered a bus to take Green Valley residents to Nogales to see Carlos play with Salpointe.)
Before he got into politics, Carroll tried his hand in the nonprofit sector, working at Casa de los Niños; he then tackled commercial real estate. But when he landed the appointment to the Board of Supervisors in 1997 after the death of Supervisor John Even, Carroll felt like he'd found his calling.
"This is the one career choice that I've made that I've been totally satisfied with," he said.
Carroll has been a loyal soldier for higher-ranking Republicans. He helped Jim Kolbe, the former Republican congressman, deflect a conservator challenger in 2004. He's served on Sen. John McCain's campaign committee and Sen. Jon Kyl's finance committee. On the local level, he chaired Republican Tyler Vogt's campaign against Democratic City Councilwoman Shirley Scott last year.
He has, sometimes, crossed party lines. He endorsed Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik in 2004 and backed a Democrat, Salette Latas, in a nonpartisan Oro Valley Town Council race.
But he's also caused grief for the Democrats he serves with on the Pima County Board of Supervisors. Four years ago, when they were up for re-election, Carroll quietly aided primary challengers to the incumbents and has worked to undermine them with their own constituencies, particularly on issues related to the county's Elections Department.
This year, Carroll is enjoying plenty of support from the local business community. Just last week, he was endorsed by both the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association and the Tucson Association of Realtors. And Carroll still has plenty of Republicans in his corner, ranging from National Committeeman Bruce Ash to auto-dealer Jim Click.
Linda Barber, who headed up Evan Mecham's Southern Arizona gubernatorial office in the late '80s and served as chairwoman of the Pima County Republican Party from 1988 to 1992, isn't taking sides in the race, but she believes that Carroll has been a loyal Republican, and that Collins' charges are "not always 100 percent true."
"I have to say this about Ray Carroll," Barber said. "He has always been supportive of this Republican Party, and whenever the party has a function, he's there. ... And I think Ray has really held the line on taxes. He's been the last man standing against the county sales tax that they've pushed forward a few times."
Barber disagrees with Carroll's opposition to the Rosemont Mine, but "this might be the only topic that Ray Carroll and Chuck Huckelberry have agreed on in 15 years."
If there's an issue at the forefront of the District 4 race, it's that proposed Rosemont Mine, a project that would carve out tons of copper from the Santa Rita Mountains over an estimated 25 years.
Augusta Resources Corporation, the Canadian parent company of Rosemont Copper, owns the 530 acres where it would like to dig the pit, but is requesting that it be allowed to use around 3,000 acres of national forest land as a place to dump tailings waste.
Augusta began the process of opening the mine in 2006, but has been entangled in bureaucratic red tape—much of it from Pima County—and is still working on getting the necessary permits to open.
Carroll, who has led the county's opposition to Rosemont, cites a number of concerns, including the impact on the water supply for Green Valley residents, increased traffic loads on scenic Highway 83, and damage to other economic sectors around Tucson, including tourism and astronomy. He's not sure the community should trust Rosemont Copper's promises to clean up the site once they've finished mining the mountain.
"I'm very skeptical," Carroll said. "Whether it's their salaries or their promises to the community or bait-and-switch tactics, I don't think they can be trusted."
Collins is a big supporter of the mine, although he insists that he's not a patsy for Rosemont Copper.
"I'm not the Rosemont candidate, although my opponent says I am," Collins said. "I'm an environmentalist like everyone else is. I don't want to cut down all the trees."
But there's no denying that the Rosemont Mine issue has been a major part of Collins' campaign. One of his key campaign supporters is former state lawmaker Randy Graf, a hard-right conservative who is now on Rosemont's payroll.
Among the five individual supporters listed on his website are Rick Grinnell, another business advocate who does public-relations work for Rosemont, and state Sen. Al Melvin, a big Rosemont proponent. Yet another supporter, attorney and former Pima County Republican Party Chairman John Munger, says he's "very unhappy" with Carroll over his opposition to the mine. (Carroll says that Munger's unhappiness must have arisen in the last two years, since Munger asked for—and received—Carroll's help with an unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial campaign.)
Collins said that Pima County needs the mine and the estimated 400 jobs that will come with it.
"It certainly is a jobs issue," Collins said. "Tucson is falling off an economic cliff."
Carroll said he's not anti-mining. He points to his support of an agreement that the county entered into with Oracle Ridge Mine, an underground mine near Mount Lemmon.
"It's 240 jobs," Carroll said. "And community feedback has all been positive, not just from Summerhaven, but the communities around there."
Collins said Carroll's support for one project and opposition to another "doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me." But Carroll said the mine operators have very different impacts on the community.
"It's obviously a different situation when you're opening a new mine versus reopening an old mine," Carroll said. "It's an underground mine."
The Rosemont Mine is a symbolic issue in the campaign. But running the county involves overseeing a host of departments—the local courts, a complex health-care system, a vast transportation network, a sewer system, parks, libraries and more—as well deciding future development through zoning and other responsibilities.
Collins is particularly concerned about county spending.
"The money that is spent is absolutely ridiculous," he said. "We will cut out the fat. There's way too much fat."
As an example of wasteful spending, Collins says the county has spent too much money on open space—even though those purchases of land for parks and conservation have been approved by voters through bond elections.
"We want to protect some of our natural resources, but in my opinion, this county is purchasing way too much of that at taxpayer expense," Collins said. "There's an awful lot that can be done with some of that property."
If you drill down, however, Collins doesn't know the county budget well enough to offer much in the way of cuts. Ask him if he'd reduce spending on parks, for example, and he tells you: "Taking care of parks is certainly important. We should take care of our priorities, and our priority is getting our county back on track. I'm not sure of the exact dollar amount that we're spending on our parks, but our parks are important, undoubtedly. But I think we need to reprioritize."
And here's Collins on library spending: "I think the county needs to reprioritize. It needs to start from scratch. We need to tear the budget apart and reprioritize completely and figure out where the money needs to be spent, in the most-positive, most-effective manner. (Library funding) certainly needs to be studied, as do all the other issues."
And while he feels that the county has "way too many regulations," he can't name any that he'd get rid of. Instead, he wants to get together business owners to figure that out.
In short, while he has plenty of complaints about how the county is run, Collins doesn't know too much about how he'd run it differently.
Collins is a newcomer to county politics. He moved to Tucson in 1999 while he was still in the Air Force, and in 2000, he was named the Southern Arizona Red Cross Military Hero of the Year. After he retired from the military in 2003, he went to work for Northrop Grumman, a defense contractor in Sierra Vista.
He and his wife, Tracy, also opened a Dairy Queen store in Vail. The shop went over budget, but thanks to a federal loan program for veterans through the Small Business Administration, Collins was able to get enough money to open the shop in 2007, according to an Arizona Daily Star article.
Going over budget on the Dairy Queen wasn't Collins' first financial trouble. On his website, Collins blames a 1997 bankruptcy on a former wife, whom he says misspent his money while he was serving overseas.
"The decision of having to file for bankruptcy in 1997 was one that I entered into with a heavy heart," Collins wrote. "I have always attempted to live within my means as a responsible, honorable citizen and best example to my children. Unfortunately and shockingly, I abruptly learned that my ex-wife did not share those same values."
Collins is a member of the Greater Vail Area Chamber of Commerce and a Republican precinct committeeman. He served on the Vail Community Action Board, which helps guide collaboration between businesses, local government and schools in the unincorporated community, but his membership on the board was revoked earlier this year after he missed too many meetings, which he blamed on a back injury.
When he looks back over his years in public service, Carroll has a good feeling about his time on the Board of Supervisors.
"I like helping people," he said. "That's a big part of this job. You don't make a lot of money. I haven't enriched myself."
He said he's surprised that he hasn't faced a challenge before now.
"When I got into public service and politics, I thought I'd give it whirl," he said. "I expected that I'd be challenged, time and time again, because I figured that's the way that politics went. But I've been blessed to have a stretch here where I was unopposed, and I've been able to represent the people in my district, no matter what their party affiliation. But I like to succeed. I like to get things done."
He said he's looking forward to the verdict of District 4 voters on Aug. 28.
"I'm happy to have a challenger, no matter who, Republican or Democrat," Carroll said. "We'll let the voters decide who is the better Republican fit for District 4."