Primary Colors

Odd But True--Democrats In Congressional District 5 Have A Choice On September 8.

By Jim Nintzel

DEMOCRATS DON'T have many races to decide in the upcoming September 8 primary, but the biggest one is probably the Congressional District 5 race between Tom Volgy, a UA political science professor who served as Tucson's mayor from 1987 to 1991, and Wayne Bryant, a union activist whose past campaign experience includes a failed bid for Mike Boyd's District 1 seat on the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

Volgy, who represented midtown Ward 6 for 10 years before winning the mayor's seat, is making his second bid for the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1991, he sought the District 2 seat now held by Democratic Ed Pastor. Although he won in southern Arizona, Volgy lost big in Maricopa County.

This time out, Volgy is staying closer to home with a bid for Rep. Jim Kolbe's CD5 seat. Volgy's built his platform on six main principles: healthcare, education, social security, the economy, the environment and campaign finance reform. He's assembled well-reasoned position papers on each topic on a campaign web site (

Currents Volgy says Congress will never take meaningful action on the first five issues until the current campaign finance system is reformed--an area where Volgy has sterling credentials. He spearheaded the creation of Tucson's system of publicly financed campaigns, which has become a model for communities interested in limiting the influence of deep-pocketed special interests.

The Tucson model--which matches dollar-for-dollar money raised by candidates who qualify by receiving small contributions from a set number of city residents--has actually driven down the cost of running for office.

"Find another community in the United States where that's true," says Volgy.

For his congressional campaign, Volgy has refused the traditional route of PAC funding. Instead, he's raising money through informal coffee sessions with voters throughout the district. Volgy has promised to attend 200 coffees by the end of the campaign and has already topped 100. As of last month, he was already more than halfway toward his goal of raising a quarter-million dollars for the race.

At the coffees, Volgy says he makes a short speech about the six issues he's built the campaign around. He says the positive response--from Democrats, Republicans and Independents--has staggered him.

That crossover support will be vital if he is to unseat Kolbe, who has held the office since 1984. District 5 is home to 156,647 Democrats, 156,909 Republicans and 52,000 voters who aren't affiliated with either party, making it a potential swing district.

"It will be a swing district," Volgy confidently predicts.

BUT TO TAKE on Kolbe, Volgy must first defeat Wayne Bryant in the Democratic primary. Bryant's biggest political moment came in 1996, when he won a three-way primary to capture the Democratic nomination for District 1 seat on the county Board of Supervisors. But the rookie candidate wasn't able to muster the momentum to defeat Republican Mike Boyd, who took 58 percent of the vote in the general election.

Bryant, who has been a leader of the local pipefitter's union, says he decided to get into the congressional race this year because he's "pissed" about the country's direction.

But Bryant's anger has translated into a confusing mix of policies. He says he's a strong supporter of states rights, but he doesn't support federal block grants to states in any area--not in agriculture, education, farm subsidies, food stamps, law enforcement, Medicaid, Medicare, school lunches or welfare. And he says primary responsibilities for border security, civil rights enforcement, education, environmental clean-up, Medicaid, Medicare and welfare programs should rest with the federal government.

Bryant supports a balanced budget amendment, but he also supports enough programs to balloon the federal budget. He wants to institute a national healthcare plan and increase spending for AIDS programs, arts funding, education, environmental programs, Medicaid, Medicare, student loan programs, the National Labor Relations Board, the Department of Labor and OHSA, law enforcement, NASA and welfare.

And, at the same time he says he hasn't decided whether he supports a flat tax, he supports cutting taxes for people earning less than $25,000 and increasing taxes on income over $75,000--a classic progressive taxing system.

While the Democrats agree on some issues--both, for example, are pro-choice--there are many areas where they disagree as well. Volgy supports the current federal regulations of gun ownership and would vote to force guns to have trigger locks, while Bryant says he would vote to repeal any measure that restricts the ownership of firearms.

While Volgy wants to ban PAC contributions and create a matching-funds program similar to Tucson's system, Bryant has come up with a novel campaign finance reform proposal: Give any candidate who qualifies for the ballot an amount equal to the salary of the office to fund the campaign--half for the primary, half for the general election.

"It's something no one else is talking about," Bryant says. TW

 Page Back  Last Issue  Current Week  Next Week  Page Forward

Home | Currents | City Week | Music | Review | Books | Cinema | Back Page | Archives

Weekly Wire    © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth