The Skinny

Town Halt

Activists want U.S. Rep. McSally to hear from them at an open meeting, but McSally has other plans.

The traditional congressional town hall where representatives take questions from constituents has become quite the heated affair in recent years.

It was a tactic refined by Tea Party activists after Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 and Democrats were in control of both houses of Congress. Tea Party activists would attend town halls to protest the White House's policy objectives, such as healthcare reform and the stimulus.

Sometimes, those awkward moments were captured on YouTube and came to haunt the elected officials, such as when then-Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick walked away from an event designed to be one-on-one meetings with constituents that became unruly as political opponents started to demand a town hall where they could vent against her as a group. The video of Kirkpatrick walking away from the meeting haunted her through subsequent campaigns, including her 2016 run against Sen. John McCain.

Now Democrats are trying to use similar tactics to confront GOP representatives over the idea of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, building a border wall and otherwise antagonizing Mexico, the travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim nations, rolling back environmental protections, and other priorities of the Trump administration and the GOP Congress. Just last week, California Republican Congressman Tom McClintock had to be escorted from a town hall by police as protestors jeered him.

Southern Arizona Democrats are having a hard time getting U.S. Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ02) to play along with the open town hall meeting. McSally, a cautious politician who often tries to sidestep questions on controversial issues within her competitive congressional district, is ducking demands from various political activists to have an open-invite town hall meeting.

Cheryl Cage, a former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party and a veteran of local campaigns for Democratic candidates, says she has tried to persuade McSally's staff to have a town hall meeting that's open to the public so that constituents can share what's on their minds. Although she concedes that town halls have been prime hunting grounds for embarrassing moments for elected representatives, Cage insists that she and her allies just want to have an open forum to express their concerns to their Congresswoman.

"I'm not looking to scream at anyone," Cage says. "I'm looking to have a conversation about what she's thinking and what I'm thinking."

Earlier this week, Cage was among a number of protestors who gathered outside McSally's office to demand a town hall.

McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak denies that there's an effort to avoid having a town hall, but told The Skinny that McSally has been busy with work in Washington since Trump was sworn into office.

"We regularly hold town halls and are in the process of scheduling more in the weeks ahead," Ptak said. "More announcements will come as we get those scheduled."

Ptak pointed to a list of more than three dozen town halls McSally hosted in her first term after winning office in 2014. Of those, about 20 were at businesses, ranging from IBM and Raytheon to the American Red Cross and the Art Institute of Tucson. Another nine were at senior centers and five were tele-town halls, conducted as conference calls to a wide audience.

Another tele-town hall was scheduled for this week, but Cage said she doesn't consider that a real town hall.

"That's not doing it for me," Cage said. "It's scripted. You can get cut off at any time. It's tightly controlled. It's not a give-and-take."

Cage is disappointed town halls have become so controversial that elected officials now avoid them.

"It saddens me to my core that basic give-and-take between elected officials and constituents is to be avoided," Cage says. "It scares me to death and it should scare anyone to death."

World View Deal Grounded

Judge rules in favor of Goldwater Institute and against Pima County in high-tech HQ case

Pima County lost a major court ruling last week when a Superior Court judge ruled that a lease deal between the county and World View Enterprises violated state law.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Catherine Woods said Pima County should have followed a state law requiring an appraisal of the land and building, and an open auction that would have allowed other bidders to run the facility, among other requirements of state law.

The Board of Supervisors was expected to vote to appeal the case this week, after the Weekly's deadline.

While the case was dragging on through the courts over the last year, the construction of the World View headquarters has been more or less completed, with World View planning a big opening fiesta later this month.

A bit of background: Under the lease-purchase agreement with World View, Pima County was supposed to build a 135,000-square-foot headquarters and launch pad for World View, a company developing high-altitude balloons that can do the work of satellites at a lower price point, as well as a plan for high-priced edge-of-space tourism rides. The headquarters was supposed to cost around $16 million and World View was supposed to lease the headquarters, with rent rising over time until the county's costs were paid off and World View would then purchase the building.

The court decision is a win for the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, which filed the lawsuit last year, and Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller, who voted against the deal and excoriated World View executives when they appeared before the Board of Supervisors. Miller publicly denied working with Goldwater on the lawsuit, although public records uncovered by the Tucson Sentinel revealed Miller told an aide she had been coordinating with Goldwater before the lawsuit was filed.

The local business community, including the Tucson Metro Chamber and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, urged Goldwater to withdraw the suit, saying that it would hurt economic development in the region. The World View HQ is part of an ongoing effort to develop a high-tech corridor near Raytheon, the region's largest private employer.

Pima County attorneys had argued in court they were working under a section of state law that allows for such deals for economic development, but Woods ruled that the two statutes were not in conflict with one another. She did not rule on other counts alleged in Goldwater's lawsuit.

If the decision is not overturned, the county will be obligated to hold a public auction for the lease and follow various other legal requirements.

Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs at 5 p.m. Sunday on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM and at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. Sundays on KEVT, 1210 AM. Nintzel also regularly talks politics on the John C. Scott show Thursdays at 4 p.m. on KEVT, 1210 AM.

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