The Skinny


The earth didn't exactly move with last week's election, but there's some dust settling. Let's look over the nearly final numbers and answer the questions you'd be asking if you were as smart as us.

Hey, that Proposition 200 sure went down like the Hindenburg. More than seven out of every 10 voters said no dice. Why did people hate it so much?

Simply put: The voters of Tucson are smart enough these days to realize that whatever water problems we're facing, we're not going to solve them with a one-page declaration written by John Kromko and his pet cats.

Kromko ran a flat-out lousy campaign. Even though the opposition damaged their own credibility with some goofy arguments--like the suggestion that passage of the proposition would cut off the flow of water to co-eds and sick veterans--they controlled the debate by spending somewhere around $800,000.

Supporters of the Tucson Water Users' Bill of Rights had all sorts of bold predictions about how the initiative was going to pass on Election Day, but they turned out utterly wrong.

Here's a tip for that gang: You don't win a campaign by showing up at a few neighborhood meetings and posting delusional comments on the message boards at the daily newspapers' Web sites. You don't win by playing the victim and saying that if Jim Click and Don Diamond are against it, it must be a good idea. You don't win when your campaign tools of choice--big honkin' campaign signs--are all but illegal in the city limits.

You win it by running an actual campaign. Kromko was trying the same ol' tricks that served him 20 years ago when he was blocking highway construction. Those tactics don't work anymore. Watching Kromko try to win this campaign was like watching Saddam trying to hang on to Kuwait with World War I-style trench warfare during the first Gulf War.

The Growth Lobby has learned a thing or two in recent years. One major lesson: They need to form coalitions and play well with others, as they did by getting support from unlikely allies such as the Pima County Interfaith Council, the leadership of both political parties and Congressman Raúl Grijalva. It was relatively easy to bring that crew on board, because Prop 200 was a collection of lousy ideas.

If nothing else, can we finally stop bitching about the trash fee?

Probably not. People are already suggesting that if Kromko had asked for a straight up-and-down vote on the trash fee, voters would have passed it.

We're not so sure. Certainly, the homebuilders and car dealers wouldn't have broken open the checkbook to save the garbage fee, but Kromko probably would have run a campaign that was just as inept.

What's the deal with Kromko?

In his heart of hearts, Kromko is deeply suspicious of government, so he's determined to handicap it as much as possible. That's why he's always trying to figure out ways to block it from collecting new revenues, whether for streets, staff or mental hospitals.

He's been losing at the ballot for two reasons: (1) he doesn't run credible campaigns; and (2) not everyone agrees that screwing government up as much as possible is a good plan.

Kromko told the morning daily that he now wants term limits for Tucson City Council members. In the last two years, four out of the six members of the council have changed. Where's the problem here?

When it comes to Tucson politics, Kromko is like that old boyfriend a girl just can't get rid of. He seemed attractive with his rebellious spirit and wacky sense of humor, but she eventually came to her senses and gave him the old let's-just-be-friends speech. Sadly, he won't stop calling, and he's really starting to creep her out.

Couldn't the $800K or so that the Growth Lobby shelled out been spent on something more useful?

Why, sure! That money could have paid for at least one government report exploring the feasibility of a water authority of some kind.

We can expect plenty of those reports in the near future as local officials from various jurisdictions wrestle over the idea of developing a water authority.

Why did a Republican mayor win more than 70 percent of the vote in a town where Democrats have a serious registration advantage?

A lot of folks like to complain that Mayor Bob Walkup is an empty suit, a glad-hander who has done nothing in the last eight years. They're not paying attention.

You may not like what Walkup has accomplished in his first two terms, but he has gotten things done--even though it's meant reversing some of his early positions and embracing higher sales taxes, higher property taxes and higher fees.

· The biggest accomplishment is the garbage fee. By turning Environmental Services into an enterprise department supported by fees, Walkup and his allies on the council made a fundamental change to the city's budget that has freed up more than $20 million a year to pave more neighborhood streets, expand parks and hire more city staff, including more cops and firefighters.

· Walkup also helped persuade the county to take over the library system. Although Walkup has tried to spin that as consolidation, it's actually the opposite: The deal ended a longtime collaborative effort between the city and the county. In a few years, the library will have no city support, and the city will have another $10 million to spend on something else. By then, the county will have cranked up property taxes to make up for the loss--and more besides, given that the county has already boosted the library budget as part of the takeover.

· We were skeptical four years ago that Walkup could make good on his promise to help form the Regional Transportation Authority and successfully pass a sales tax to fund transportation, but he--with the help of a whole bunch of other folks--managed to pull it off. He also flipped on his original opposition to impact fees and led the charge to create them in the city.

· And while Rio Nuevo hasn't exactly blossomed yet, Walkup was part of the team that managed to persuade state lawmakers just last year to amend the enabling legislation to get hundreds of millions of additional dollars. It sure wasn't José Ibarra talking to the GOP leadership to get that done.

The only Democrat who seriously considered a run against Walkup was Ward 5 Councilman Steve Leal--and what was Leal going to say? That he was opposed to trash fees, impact fees and transportation taxes before Walkup supported them? That doesn't strike us as a viable campaign strategy.

Without a Democrat in the race, Walkup steamrolled Green Party candidate Dave Croteau, who leveled the predictable complaint in the morning daily that Big Money won out over Big Ideas. The big problem with that analysis: Croteau didn't float any real Big Ideas. Or, more specifically, he didn't propose ways of using government to achieve his ideas of "relocalization." He also didn't bother to raise enough money to get any of his ideas to a mass audience, but that's one of those unseemly things that Greens are above. Which, by the way, is one of the reasons that they lose.

How did the city's decision to send every registered voter a postcard they could return for an early ballot affect turnout?

It meant not many voters got out on Election Day. When all the votes were counted, less than 68,000 people cast a ballot. That's about 30 percent of the electorate.

Of those, more than 43,600 voted early, while about 22,500 voted on Election Day. That's a new record in the percentage of voters casting early ballots, which has tended to increase with every election.

But a lot of people who got early ballots never bothered to turn them in. The city sent out about 60,000, so a lot of 'em ended up in the junk-mail pile.

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