NO WAY, JOSÉEven as he told the morning daily that he was done with the Ward 1 office last week, Tucson City Councilman José Ibarra dreamed up one last wackadoodle scheme: a "penny for public safety.
Ibarra wants to ask voters to approve a one-cent sales tax for police and firefighters, which--along with city courts--now get about $246 million of the billion bucks or so that the city spends annually. Ibarra estimates the money could provide an additional $100 million to get more cops and firefighters on the street.
The police and fire departments are understaffed, but let's get real: Is this something the voters would buy?
When it comes to sales taxes, voters have been a notoriously stingy bunch. It seems preposterous to think they'd be happy to hike the sales tax to 9.1 percent--the highest in the state--especially so soon after agreeing to the half-cent sales tax for transportation.
Even that transportation increase took four tries. And it didn't happen until city and county leaders put together a real coalition that spent months hammering out a plan. They didn't just toss out an idea and hope people would back it. Pitching a plan like this without solid community and financial support is nothing more than grandstanding.
But even if it were a viable plan, Ibarra has no credibility. He wasn't much help in passing the transportation sales tax, undercutting the Regional Transportation Authority proposal by suggesting that the voters be allowed to pick and choose projects--as if anything would have passed under that scenario.
And Ibarra fiercely opposed the city's garbage fee, which was a feasible way to raise an extra $20 million for cops, firefighters and streets. Despite his criticism of the trash fee, Ibarra was never able to offer any kind of credible alternative and took a dive on repealing it once Democrats got control of the council in 2005.
But that's been José's M.O. for a long time--throw bombs without offering any alternative other than a call for "creative solutions."
It's a portrait of a political meltdown. In his first campaign for Ward 1 back in 1995, Ibarra was a 25-year-old whiz kid who had cut his teeth on westside politics as a teenage aide to political kingpin Raúl Grijalva, who was then on the Pima County Board of Supervisors. Ibarra learned how to get out the vote with George Miller's '91 mayoral campaign and Bill Clinton's '92 effort in Arizona.
Back then, Ibarra was brash and cocky, but he knew how to work neighborhood issues. He emerged from a tough five-way primary for an open seat in '95 by fewer than 200 votes, a testament to his political skills.
Over the last dozen years, Ibarra has racked up a reasonably good voting record when it came to neighborhood issues, but he self-destructed as a politician. While he blasted city staff, he himself failed as a watchdog of taxpayer dollars. He played fast and loose with public campaign funds and didn't bother to keep track of water-bill payments that came into his office. In the latter case, he cost taxpayers more than $200,000 related to a defamation case after he shot off his mouth and accused a former staffer of stealing $4,000 from those water bills.
While Grijalva issued the standard cliché last week--telling the morning daily that Ibarra had "matured" and "represented his ward and the city in the best possible way" and yadda yadda yadda--the relationship between Raúl and José has been stretched and strained over the years. During one of his re-election bids, Ibarra himself announced that his relationship with Grijalva was over.
And now so is his career on the City Council, although he's still making noises about running for mayor. Lotsa luck with that, José.
Ibarra had smarts, ambition and opportunity. He could have been a contender. He could have been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what he is.
WHO'S NEXT?As we mentioned last week: Scott Egan, an aide to Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, is giving some thought to running for the Ward 1 seat on the GOP ticket. Egan pulled papers last week after we mentioned his ambitions. You don't suppose that's what drove Ibarra out of the race, do you?
Whatev. With José out of the way, Democrat Regina Romero, now serving as an aide to Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, also pulled papers earlier this week. Two other Democrats, Ramon Olivas, and Michael Navarro, joined Romero by showing interest in the race.
As for Egan, we sure can't figure out why he'd trade his job on the 11th floor of the county building in exchange for the headaches that come with a council seat.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?The Clean Elections folks are battling a number of bills this session at the Arizona Legislature. One of them, Senate Bill 1188, would change the name of the program from Clean Elections to Publicly Funded Elections. It passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 4-3 vote last week.
And why would Republican Sen. Bob Burns want the name change? Could it be that the opponents of Clean Elections reckon it would be easier to convince voters to repeal publicly funded elections than clean elections?
Which isn't to say we care much, one way or the other. Having seen how Clean Elections has empowered the conservative wing of the Republican Party, we're not sure it's all that good for the state. And it certainly hasn't led to cleaner elections, whatever that means.
But we will say that we're mighty amused by the latest move by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, which has hired lobbyist Michael Williams to advocate on behalf of the publicly funded election system.
One of the biggest bagmen around the Capitol, Williams is famed for his ability to raise money for lawmakers who run traditional campaigns. To see him now talking up the virtues of Clean Elections is like having Congressman Raúl Grijalva start talking about needing more troops in Iraq.
BALLOT BUSTERSBrad Friedman, the man behind bradblog.com, stopped in Tucson to talk about the importance of ballot integrity to a gathering Pima County Democrats last week.
Friedman stressed the need to remain vigilant when it comes to keeping an eye on the voting process, especially when it comes to voting with touch-screen machines. Even while Florida is now looking at scrapping their touch screens after yet another disastrous election this year, Pima County--like every other county in Arizona--is putting one in every single polling place, ostensibly to help the handicapped as part of the federal Help America Vote Act.
Those machines, which cost about $2.1 million in federal dollars, were used by roughly 500 Pima County voters in the 2006 general election--which comes out to, oh, $4,200 per ballot, according to Brad Nelson, director of Pima County's Election Division.
A former stage actor and director, Friedman, 40, got into the blog biz "completely accidentally," but has been at the forefront of reporting on the ballot-integrity beat.
The Democrats are bringing another election watchdog to town next week. Steven Freeman, author of Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?, will be speaking from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, at the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Hall, 2475 E. Water St. The suggested donation is $10, with the proceeds benefiting the party's Election Integrity Committee.