Tea Party Patriot Ally Miller, one of four Republicans running for retiring Pima County Supervisor Ann Day's District 1 seat, remains on the warpath against the Tucson Weekly.
As you may know from reading last week's Skinny column ("The Silent Treatment," July 26), Miller declared that she would never again do an interview with your Skinny scribe, Jim Nintzel, after the Weekly published a story that suggested she didn't know what she was talking about when she said that $345 million in transportation funding was "unaccounted for" over the last 10 years. (For details, see "Whose Bright Idea?," July 19.)
Miller, a self-described budget expert, was basing her comments on a "Fact Sheet" distributed by a new nonprofit, Arizonans for a Brighter Future, which we've also been investigating. We've got more about that particular group online this week, but here's the bad news for Miller: While the spokesman for that group, developer Michael Farley, says he believes there are plenty of questions to be asked about the county's transportation priorities, even he admits the money isn't "unaccounted for" in the county's budget.
"It's probably in there somewhere," says Farley, who remains critical of the county's transportation spending in general, as you can see in "The Bright Stuff."
It can't feel good for Miller to have that particular limb sawed out from underneath her, given how far she crawled out onto it.
One of Miller's four opponents, former Republican National Committeeman and GOP state party chairman Mike Hellon, handed out copies of the Weekly's original story on Miller and Arizonans for a Brighter Future at a debate that also included fellow District 1 candidates Stuart McDaniel, a conservative activist; and Vic Williams, a state lawmaker, on Thursday, July 26.
Toward the end of the debate, Miller denounced Hellon's distribution of the article as "outrageous."
"That is a liberal rag," Miller said. "And if anyone gives any credibility to the information that is in that article, it was a hit piece by Jim Nintzel, and it (was) purely because I spoke out. And I think they don't like me because I'm speaking out, and I'm standing up to what is going on at the county, so they're attacking me. ... And it's very interesting to me that Mr. Hellon would distribute that to your chairs this evening and cite that as a viable source of news, because we all know what the Tucson Weekly is all about."
Here's the thing: If Miller is going to say that we're not credible, it would help her case if she got her own facts right. In the process of denouncing us, Miller changed her story about what she told us during our one and only interview with her.
Miller now claims that she told us she was concerned because HURF dollars (or Highway User Revenue Funds, which come from state gasoline taxes, registration fees and other sources) were being used to pay off county road bonds.
But when we talked to her, she didn't say anything of the sort. She leaned on the claim by Arizonans for a Brighter Future that $345 million couldn't be "accounted for."
We've got the tape of the conversation (as does Miller, who made her own recording), and we can't find any reference to concerns about using HURF funds to pay off bonds. We'll challenge Miller—who did not return an email seeking clarification on this point—to produce a moment in the interview where she said what she now claims to have said.
But here's what makes Miller's distortion of our reporting even stranger: While changing her story, Miller once again demonstrated that she doesn't understand transportation funding.
In the debate, Miller declared that the county "is using (HURF) money for the bonds that we should be paying for with our secondary property-tax rate. We should not be using HURF money to pay for bonds. And that's what they're doing, and they're playing a shell game with the money, and they're moving it around. ... That is wrong, and it shouldn't be happening, and it needs to stop. In the last five years—I've done an investigation here—$80 million has been raided."
Miller is evidently unaware that county voters, when they passed a 1997 bond package, specifically supported using HURF funds to pay off the roads bonds.
You could have argued against that route in 1997—as the Tucson Weekly did, saying that the county should use a pay-as-you-go approach instead of borrowing against HURF revenues. And you can say that the road-bond money, once it started coming in, wasn't spent that well, as the late Chris Limberis argued in these pages back in 2001.
But you can't say the money is being "raided" if it's being used for the purpose for which voters said it should be used. What Miller is proposing—namely, using property taxes to pay back revenue bonds—is the sort of illegal shell game that she spends so much time bemoaning.
Also: It's not much of an "investigation" if Miller can't figure out at some point that her basic premise is wrong.
As we watch Miller make these nutty pronouncements on the campaign trail, we're left to wonder: Can't radio host Joe Higgins get his candidate under control?
Maybe it's better if he doesn't. We're getting a good laugh out of Miller's crusade, especially as she changes her story and continues to bungle the facts. Here's what it reveals to us: Miller doesn't know very much about how the county works; she is willing to gin up false allegations based on her misunderstanding; and she has very thin skin.
It's not a very good temperament for someone in public office, but we imagine having her on the Pima County Board of Supervisors would result in some spectacular copy over the next four years. We don't imagine it would be all that good for the constituents of District 1, but if they are foolish enough to vote for Miller, they'll get the representation they deserve.
We do want to clarify something, though: Ally, we're not writing "hit pieces" about you because you have the courage to speak up. We're reporting that you keep saying things that aren't true. And we're doing it because it's our job.
Hellon said it best in his response to Miller at the debate: "You can like the Weekly or not. You can like the Star or not. You can like The Wall Street Journal or not. But she was wrong. She said something occurred that didn't occur, and they checked it and proved that she was simply wrong. ... In this business, when you're running for public office, you need to be accountable for what you say and what you promise and what you do. And if you're not, somebody like Jim Nintzel is gonna call you on it."
STAMPS OF APPROVAL
Speaking of the county races: A few groups have been handing out endorsements.
The aforementioned Mike Hellon, who is seeking to replace Ann Day on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, landed the endorsement of the Pima County Deputy Sheriff's Association. Stuart McDaniel, who is also in District 1 Republican primary, has the endorsement of the Tucson Association of Realtors.