STEAMROLLEDAfter four failed efforts over the last 20 years, Pima County voters finally approved a transportation proposal last week--and in the end, it wasn't even close. A full 60 percent supported the plan, while nearly 58 percent supported the half-cent sales tax.
In the weeks leading up the election, supporters were all nervous and sweaty, mostly because polls showed a narrow majority supporting the plan, with about a quarter of the electorate undecided. Since undecided voters tend to break in a negative direction, they had good reason for concern.
But a big chunk of those undecideds broke in favor of the plan. The victory was solid through the county, with only a few precincts, mostly in outlying areas, voting against the $2.1 billion, 20-year plan.
Surprisingly enough, most precincts along Grant Road, which became a rallying point for opponents, supported the plan. Even in the Campbell Avenue/Grant area, where fierce RTA opponent Ken O'Day rules over the local neighborhood association, residents voted yes. Man, that must smart.
Why did this plan pass resoundingly after earlier ones failed by such large margins? In preparing this plan, the Regional Transportation Authority did some smart things:
· They sought out community consensus, despite claims by the opponents that the RTA was just repackaging the same old ideas.
· They dumped goofy experiments like grade-separated intersections that would have allowed Grant to tunnel underneath Campbell.
· And they put together a plan that balanced road improvements with an expanded mass-transit system.
Of course, having nearly a million bucks for a political campaign didn't hurt, either, especially when opponents only had enough cheddar for a couple of yard signs, some old-school mailers and a Web page.
But the key was that the package appealed to enough people that the opposition was limited to a handful of folks who were reduced to arguing that widening roads was a bad idea for a transportation plan.
Oh, wait: Opponents also came up with a bunch of process issues--voting powers of the jurisdictions, a slip-up over who paid for ballot arguments, procurement mistakes in the purchase of voting materials, blah blah blah--that voters really didn't care about.
And finally: People have recognized that our traffic congestion is going to get a lot worse if we don't do something.
The RTA still needs to put its shoulder to the wheel and get the work started--and we're going to have to make sure the work gets done, as promised.
But we're sure looking forward to riding that urban streetcar home after a few pints of Bass down at Club Congress.
ON THE MARGINThe Oro Valley Town Council race was a proverbial squeaker last week. With six candidates competing for three seats, just three votes separated the third- and fourth-place candidates, incumbent Councilwoman Paula Abbott and challenger Don Cox as of press time. And as close as the race was--it triggered an automatic recount--those two candidates couldn't be further apart. Cox is a cement-head, while Abbott is a neighborhood-minded cactus-hugger.
Problems with the OV election emerged in precinct 200, out between Shannon Road and La Cholla Boulevard, according to Kevin McHugh, who was working the polls. Some Oro Valley voters who turned up to vote in that precinct were only given ballots for the county election. McHugh says at least 14 folks voted and then asked for a town council ballot, not realizing that they were in the midst of being disenfranchised.
A final OV note: Coming in dead-last was Conny Culver, who swept into office two years ago as a reform candidate, only to take a dive on all the issues that she campaigned on. Having lost her base without winning over the folks who didn't like her in the first place, Culver tried to push a unique issue for a town council race: tort reform. Culver evidently hoped to win over the medical community with her quixotic campaign, but no one appeared to be buying it last week.
CLEANED OUTDemocrat Bruce Wheeler, a former member of the Tucson City Council, has abandoned his quest for the Secretary of State's Office.
One big reason: The ridiculous amount of money that's available for a statewide campaign through the Clean Elections program.
(We now pause to brace ourselves for the obligatory letters from Clean Elections supporters, who will point out that the system is perfect and has worked exactly like its creators imagined it would.)
If he'd managed to collect at least 2,625 $5 contributions, Wheeler would have been eligible for $95,550 for the Democratic primary. Let's see: With roughly 890,000 registered Democrats in Arizona, that comes out to about a dime per voter. A great deal--if you're running for office in 1920. But in 2006, even if you're carefully targeting the high-propensity voters, you can afford what, one mailer? Maybe?
Still, it's not as bad as candidates for treasurer, state schools chief or corporation commission. They only get $47,770 for statewide campaigns. And people wonder why we think of it as the Incumbent Protection Act.
Oddly enough, gubernatorial candidates get $453,849, even though they're reaching out to the same number of voters. Does that make sense? Not to us.
But, hey: Candidates competing for lower offices can always count on more media attention than those running for governor, right?
Wheeler's exit leaves Israel Torres, who worked as registrar of contractors under Gov. Janet Napolitano, as the only announced Democrat in the race. Torres is running as a Clean Elections candidate.
Incumbent Secretary of State Jan Brewer, who has already qualified for her $95,550, faces a GOP primary challenge from Skip Rimsza, a former Phoenix mayor who was smart enough to realize that to be competitive, he'd have to raise funds the old-fashioned way. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have been smart enough to run under a different name than "Skip."
MISSING MONEY MANRemember Arizona Treasurer David Petersen? OK, you probably don't. To recap: He's the Republican who was big on character and values. So big, in fact, that he may have been drifting over ethical and legal conflict-of-interest lines in relation to a character-building organization that had him on the payroll, if we can believe what we read in the papers.
After the news that he was under investigation by Attorney General Terry Goddard broke, Petersen announced he would not seek re-election but would instead seek to clear his good name.
It seems that name-clearing work is taking up a lot of his time, since Petersen has pretty much given up going to work.
The Arizona Democratic Party is having a fine time with Petersen's troubles. They've launched a Web site to track him down--"Where in the World is Arizona Treasurer David Petersen?"--at www.azdem.org/whereisourtreasurer.
GOOBER WATCH '06Oh, those poor GOP gubernatorial candidates just can't get any respect. Or name recognition, evidently. The latest Rocky Mountain Poll shows that Don Goldwater is leading the Republican pack--but only 15 percent of Republicans say they'll be voting for him. We imagine that number would drop even lower if they were told he wasn't Barry.
Half of the Republicans surveyed said they still didn't know who they would support, which tells us that nobody is gaining much traction in the race. And 25 percent said they'd vote for none of the above. Hmmm, sounds like bad news for Republicans.
Len Munsil, the only candidate to get his Clean Elections dollars thus far, had better start spending that money soon. He's way down at 4 percent, according to the poll.
But that's better than the domestically troubled Mike Harris, who was down at 2 percent. But hey, throw in the margin of error and it climbs to 8.2 percent. Or negative 4.2 percent, depending on which way it goes.