Republican Wrangle

Joe Higgins takes on incumbent Ann Day in the District 1 Board of Supervisors GOP primary

Entrepreneur Joe Higgins says a group of local business owners encouraged him to run against incumbent Supervisor Ann Day in the District 1 Republican primary on Sept. 2.

However, Higgins won't reveal exactly who those business owners are, though he does say that restaurateur Bob McMahon and Finley Distributing matriarch Dorothy Finley are supporters of his.

Higgins says he wants to bring a small-business-owner point of view to the board. He's the former owner of a cell-phone retail operation he owned for five years and is the founder and owner of Sports Buzz Cuts, as well as a new garbage-collection business. He is also the chair of the Tucson Small Business Commission.

Small-business concerns aren't the only issues Higgins brings up. He says he's running because he's concerned about the county budget and property taxes. He thinks impact fees imposed on developers are too steep and believes the county needs to give communities like Marana and Oro Valley more autonomy when dealing with sewer and development issues.

In particular, Higgins says he wants to look at infrastructure issues in District 1.

"Fifty-five percent of the county road dollars go to District 1. ... In 1997, a bond package was put together to fix Orange Grove. We do Swan, Sunrise, River and Craycroft, and the end of Orange Grove is still a parking lot. For 20 years, we've known where the growth was going, and it wasn't the foothills (but Marana and Oro Valley)," Higgins says.

Higgins claims Day has pushed road dollars into the foothills--which happens to be her election base.

"Steering money into the foothills at the expense of the growth of Oro Valley is wrong," he says.

Higgins says Day may be vulnerable this election season, thanks in part to her support of a half-cent county sales-tax increase last year that was blocked by the other Republican on the Board of Supervisors, Ray Carroll. Higgins says he considers the proposed increase a fiscally irresponsible move with the greatest impact on minimum-wage earners.

However, Higgins has received his own share of criticism, in part because he hasn't voted all that often.

Higgins, 39, has only voted in one primary since registering to vote in Pima County. The Tucson Weekly's reported that Higgins voted in most statewide general elections, but sat out 1994 and 2002, and never voted in city elections when he lived within the Tucson city limits.

Higgins did vote in the 2006 primary, which is when he started getting interested in politics, he says. He also voted in the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election, but never voted in a bond election.

"I thought it was a fair question, but in my early 20s, I didn't vote," Higgins says. "Then, I was busy raising my family and paying the mortgage, but when it started to hit my pocket, that's what got my attention."

Higgins says he really began getting involved in 2002, when he tried to put up an A-frame (sandwich-board) sign in front of his store. He discovered the process wasn't easy and decided he wanted to change the city code.

"I got appointed to the sign-code committee, and I took that one on. We got a 7-0 vote from the City Council, and we had a new A-frame law. I think there are 280 permitted now. From a small-business point of view, it's pretty important. You don't have a lot of money for advertising, so that involves catching the attention of drive-bys. So that's why I took it on."

Higgins says experiences like that will show voters that he is someone who sees a problem and fixes it.

"I'm not a rabble-rouser," Higgins says.

However, Democrats control the Board of Supervisors. Higgins says he doesn't see himself fighting it out, but building consensus.

"I find a middle ground to get things done. But it is also an amazing pulpit to get your message out, look at the problems and shed light on the problems."

Day says she understands and cares for people in Pima County. That's why during the most recent budget process, she worked with Carroll to decrease the budget even further than was proposed by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

"I understand how the issues affect the people of Pima County, especially when it comes to taxes and our budget. I know you don't spend more than you make," Day says.

Day says the high price of oil and gas are having an impact on Pima County's communities and its day-to-day operations.

"We didn't get as far down as we'd like in this current budget," Day says, though the board decreased the budget in some areas by as much as 7 percent.

In response to Higgins' assertion that Day tends to focus too much on the foothills, she remarks that an RTA plan to redevelop Overton Road and La Cholla Boulevard recently got moved up from a phase II project to phase I.

She is particularly proud of her work building more parks and recreation facilities for District 1 residents, and her support of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

"Every voter I talk to says quality of life in Pima County is what's important to them. Parks are part of that, but that's also why from the beginning, I always supported the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. We have to establish sensible growth policy for our region. That's just the way it is."

Day says Higgins does not understand all of the challenges facing Pima County--especially the challenges that don't involve partisan issues. She says that the issues she works on as a supervisor are rarely partisan, allowing her to have good relationships with other supervisors and constituents.

Higgins sent out a press release chastising Day regarding her actions to fight the Democratic Party lawsuit against Pima County. Day responds that she voted against allowing the release of the database files in the beginning, but changed her tune after a judge ordered the release of the first database files.

"I think I followed the advice from the IT department and the county attorney. We were told there were security issues. At first, I went on the advice I was given. Then it made its way through the court system, and I began to recognize that security wasn't really an issue, and if others are still concerned about that, I think we've made changes in our procedures to make sure our elections are secure."

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