On this week's episode of Zona Politics: Former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton and attorney Jeff Rogers talk about why Democrats cruised to reelection on the Tucson City Council, pick apart what went wrong with the county's bond election and dig into the pros and cons of the education funding proposal passed by the Arizona Legislature in a special session last week. Watch the show Sunday morning at 8 a.m. on the CW Tucson, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast and Channel 58 on DirecTV, Dish and broadcast. You can also hear the show at 5 p.m. on KXCI, 91.3 FM or watch online here.
Here's a transcript of the show:
Hello, everyone. I'm Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel, and we're here to talk Zona Politics. Joining me today to talk about the recently completed election and much more former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton. Thanks for coming down to join us here from Phoenix, Jonathan, and attorney Jeff Rogers, the former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party. Thanks to both of you for being here.
(Rogers) Happy to be here.
(Nintzel) Let's talk about these council races, Jeff. You and I were watching the early ballots coming in here, and it was pretty clear the Democrats had a significant lead in the early ballot returns. The Republicans did not have much money Very difficult to unseat a Democrat on the Tucson City Council, so you were probably not surprised to see the results.
(Rogers) Not at all. We've been tracking I think I sent you one day the tracking numbers that we were getting. The state party was figuring out who had voted or not voted and we get returns from the recorder's office every day, a download, and then we remove those people from our database and we continue to call and knock on the doors of those people who haven't voted. So, our get out the vote effort is very strong in this county and always has been, so I wasn't at all surprised at the numbers. I think what surprised me most this year was you had really what appeared at first glance to be better quality Republican candidates than we usually see in these races, but they just never got any traction, they never got, raised enough money to even get, if they ever got the matching funds from the city it was very late in the game and they just really weren't able to put up much of a fight so I think it's a sad time to be a Republican in Pima County right now, because the Democrats are pretty much in charge of everything, but I think in the future we're looking to maybe go to ward-only elections, which I think will be something that, you know, maybe there will be some new faces in the Republican Party that can use that to their advantage.
(Nintzel) Jonathan, you've been involved in the city council races down here before so probably you're well aware of how hard it is to dislodge them, and the Democrats won by 15 points or more on Tuesday night.
(Paton) What I’m curious about, and I agree with Jeff that I think there was an even better quality, caliber of candidates that we've seen. I think I'm, I've been actually really impressed with how well they know the issues, etcetera. What I want to know is in the last election with these same wards from what I understand, what I remember, Shirley Scott and Cunningham, they both lost their own wards, and Jeff was just referring to the weird ward system that we have in Tucson. I'm curious to find out how they each did in their own individual wards, because quite often, the people end up getting represented by people they didn't vote for, but they get voted on citywide which is a very odd circumstance. There's a court case now going through the Ninth Circuit on this very issue I'm curious as to how that's going to turn out and would that have any impact on elections in the future.
(Nintzel) That's the law suit that says Republicans are being unfairly represented. Jeff, do they have a case?
(Rogers) I don't think they do. It's been litigated before and they've lost previously. I think that they've got a better chance of getting this back on the ballot, maybe, and have the voters take a look at it. Some of us are getting more open-minded to going to ward-only for other reasons. We think that annexation is the future of this city and if we want to annex large portions of, say, the foothills or other areas these people are going to want to know that they have people representing them more directly and I think that's going to be the way we appeal to to these people to be annexed. But it is in their financial interest to be annexed for various reasons, to save them money on emergency services and on trash pickup, sewers, etc., but there's been aversion to that in the past and I think this might be the opening for it
(Paton) Do you think that might make people more amenable to .... I think the reasons that Jeff is talking about that annexation is because of the next topic we're going to be talking about, which is the failed bond election at the county level and, I think that, I agree with him, but I think that right now, there is very little incentive for a lot of these folks to be in the city, because they feel like they're going to be voted on by, in their mind, my dad lives in the county, there's other people that live in the county area that would be annexed, they don't want to be represented by what they consider a bunch of wild-eyed, crazy, left-wing people in the city. That's kind of the way they look at it And I think that part of the problem, though, that Jeff hasn't addressed is the way the primary system works and the fact that there are partisan elections here in the City of Tucson. I think that's one of the reasons why people are so turned off by the city. I think they feel that it appeals to the furthest left people in the state, or at least in this region, and I think they don't like it. I think the partisan elections is another component of enticing them to become part of the city
(Rogers) I don't think partisan elections are a problem. We've shown, statistically, nationwide when you remove partisan elections, voter turnout tumbles by a large degree, so, you know, having partisan parties, it tells us, you, something. It's not the be all and end all, but that R and that D next to someone's name gives you some idea of what they stand for.
(Nintzel) Some kind of branding out there beyond a name or a gender or ethnicity.
(Rogers) You can be a much more independent Democrat like Steve Kozachik might be or, like, when he was a Republican, he was a much more independent Republican than some of the others, so there are people who defy the labels to some degree, but the labels at least still give you some idea.
(Paton) But Steve Kozachik, he kind of proves my rule. He realized he wasn't going to get elected as a Republican, because of the partisan nature of these elections, so he changed to becoming a Democrat.
(Rogers) Well think he would have been re-elected. I think that he just felt like the party abandoned him and what he stood for. He was just ….
(Paton) He was not even elected in his own ward when he ran .
(Nintzel) He would have had a hard time in a primary, given the position he had taken in terms of guns and squabbles with the state legislature. He had turned off the Republican Party to some degree. Um, let's shift gears over to the bond election, which I think was to many people the big surprise of election night. All seven questions rejected by voters. Jeff, your thoughts behind what was behind the voters' rejection.
(Rogers) Well, when they initially said they were going to voters this year, I thought it was a mistake. You have probably 25% of the voters showed up in the county to vote on this and the city voters as well, and that's an extraordinarily low turnout. The people who are anti-tax are going to turn out, but those people are hardcore. They're going to show up at the polls. Your average voter who shows up in a presidential year but not other years is not going to show up in this election. And so, I think it was a probably a mistake. And I think they should revisit it next year in the presidential election and probably put some of them back on. But the other problem was, I think, a lot of voters felt like this was such a big Christmas tree, I mean, you know, being in the state legislature, you know that, and congressmen with earmarks earmarks and things like that, we had a little something for everybody in this package.
(Paton) ... and a little something for everyone to hate.
(Rogers) Yeah. And so there was just too much there, there, and I think that everybody looked at it like "There's all these nonprofits and private groups are getting money for various causes and things, and it probably needed to be pared down to some essentials, like floodplain protection and roads
(Nintzel) And the roads came on very late in the process. I mean originally that wasn't even part of the thing. These other 99 projects were in there for tourism and economic development the accelerator and all these different operations they came up with ....
(Rogers) It was just too big.
(Nintzel) Jonathan, your thoughts on what was going on here.
(Paton) Well, what I think is at least the way the campaign was run, what I think is odd is that for 20 years Carol and Pete Zimmerman have run these campaigns they consistently, they're Democrats, they've won these bond election campaigns. And usually there was a unifying theme that the ballot, that each ballot measure had like, with this, it would be something like, success with seven, or whatever it might be Right now, the unifying theme was the county, that was the unifying theme and everybody hates the county. The only experience the average citizen they might like their city. The might like their police and fire, they might like these other folks but when they think of the county, I realize the county does more than what other jurisdictions do, but think of the county but usually they think of the county as the jail. And they think of the county as having to pay their property taxes. They don't like the county as an entity and yet that was the umbrella that all of these were put in In the past, they appealed individually to the voter You would get something in the mail. If you're a Republican voting in Green Valley, it would say "This is going to improve your road," or this is going to improve this aspect, whatever it might be. I don't know that they did that. I talked to a lot of Republicans that are on the early voter list. They never got a mailing, but you knew they were going to vote because they had a ballot in their hands, and why they didn't target them, and knowing that they were going to come out for those same reasons that Jeff said. You know they're going to vote but there was no attempt made to try to persuade them. It was a very strange way of campaigning. So the overall arching message was, "This benefits the whole county,” which no one really cares about, and secondly, they never made individual appeals to how it's going to help you, the individual voter.
(Nintzel) You had a pretty wide spectrum of supporters, here. You had people in the business community. You had people on the Environmental Commission. You had Republicans, you had Democrats.
(All talking over each other.)
(Paton) But that's another thing. First of all, if you have those messengers, if you have the Chamber, if you have Ray Carrol, you have others that are identified as Republicans, and you know that Green Valley's going to vote, I would use that to my advantage. The other thing is, $300 thousand sounds like a lot of money but when you compare it to previous bond elections and ballot measures that are county wide, the half-cent sales tax increase for example was over a million dollars back in 2006 $300 thousand bucks isn't a lot of money for a bond election in Southern Arizona. It's usually probably around a half million at least, so that might be why they couldn't target the people that I think they should have targeted, which goes to, "Okay, how strong really was this business support? If they, because they're the ones who write the checks, and if they didn't do more than $300 thousand dollars, I think that signifies that there's a problem. So maybe the folks who ran this didn't have those kinds of resources If you know that you're not going to have that, if you see that you're having a problem, you might want to re-think what you've put on the ballot.
(Nintzel) I've been talking with people about what's next because one of the big things in this package is obviously the roads, and one of the projects in there was the Sonoran Corridor that's supposed to link I-10 and I-19 on the south side and kind of go from Sahuarita over to that U of A Tech Park and the idea of having Raytheon in the midst of all this and building a tech hub in that area seems to be important to the future of Raytheon, obviously important to the employers here. A lot of people are disappointed by that I've heard talk that Sharon Bronson has suggested that maybe next time we go out for a half-cent sales tax we use that to reduce property taxes on one end, and then we also use it to fix roads. And Jeff, your thoughts on a package like that. Is that a viable idea?
(Rogers) It might be a viable idea. The problem that we've got is, unlike Maricopa County, which has 90 percent of Maricopa County is some city or another, it's incorporated, and so they are able to draw down a lot more tax dollars from the state government than Pima County, which is only something over 60% of it is incorporated. So the problem is, we've got this huge infrastructure to run, and we don't have a tax base or that funds it. So the only thing you can do is increase taxes like that One of the other things that I've heard people talk about is what's called an equalization tax and that would be something like a two cent sales tax on all of the people in unincorporated Pima County, or all the businesses in unincorporated Pima County here in Pima County. And so that way you wouldn't have, for instance we pulled to the more dealerships from the Auto Mall into the city in order to tax those get those initial two cents into the city. But what if we just taxed two cents on all of the businesses that are within unincorporated Pima County. Now I'm not sure how the numbers crunch out, whether a half cent sales tax on everybody would raise more money, but we've got to think outside the box because we're not going to get the money that we had in previous years from the state legislature from the HURF funding. I mean, what we viewed as a temporary solution to solve a statewide budget deficit has turned into a permanent problem. And I don't know. Maybe you have more of an insight into that than I do but I don't see those monies coming back to cities and counties, and so we've got to get creative if we're going to do anything to fund the infrastructure of this county
(Paton) And at the legislative level, then you have the county manager suing the state, so I don't know that that's a really great way of establishing relationships with the state. I don't see the state coming in to bail out Southern Arizona, and I don't see the voters going for a tax increase on the next ballot.
(Nintzel) How do you pay for the roads?
(Paton) I don't know how you do it. I don't know the answer to that, but I'm telling you um, you know, what we talked about originally, you have to entice people to want to belong to the City of Tucson, and that's something that I actually agree with Jeff on. And I don't think that you entice people in the city to go onboard with Karin Uhlich and Regina Romero and some of the folks that are on the City Council. I just don't see them being attracted to doing that. And I don't think that having partisan elections makes it more attractive for them to be part of the city.
(Nintzel) We've got about a minute here, but I want to ask, before we take our first break, I want to ask— Jonathan Rothchild is saying maybe the city needs to go it alone. Is that a viable idea?
(Paton) Well here's the thing, I live in Scottsdale now, and Scottsdale, you'd think of it as a bastion of the right wing. And the fact is that they passed a bond election with almost no problem whatsoever, and I think that um, I go back to what I said about the county being the overall umbrella for these, that's something that's been a constant theme in Southern Arizona. I think it's a dying model, and I think that the city is going to have to do it on its own It would have more success. People feel like they have more at stake, "These are roads for my city I'm willing to vote for it," as opposed to "Well, why should I be paying in Marana for South Tucson. I think that's kind of ...
(Nintzel) ... or Green Valley, or wherever.
(Rogers) You know this bond package had little baubles for everybody and it had something for a library in Green Valley. You had a project in Oro Valley, projects in Marana, and so there was a sense in which you know, it was kind of "We'll give you this, we'll give you this, we'll give you this," and hope that everybody pulled together on it. And Im not sure that's going to work. It hasn't in the past.
(Nintzel) What about 20 seconds, do you think the city can go it alone with its own mini bond package?
(Rogers) Well, they did it already previously on the roads so I think that the possibility does exist. I was talking to Mayor Rothschild on the election evening about the possibility of a half-cent sales tax that would also help fund public safety, so.
(Nintzel) All right. The other big news coming in last week was the special session of the Arizona legislature in which Governor Doug Ducey managed to appear at least (to have) managed to settle this law suit, longstanding lawsuit with the schools over inflation funding and get his school trust fund measure onto a ballot and if voters approve this, then it solves some problems in our state. Jeff, your thoughts on this one.
(Rogers) I think it was a mistake. I think there are other ways to solve this problem. I think that Ducey was trying to look for a way that he can cut corporate taxes or high income earners taxes again and the surplus money we have sitting there could have been used to solve this problem and, part of the "Rainy Day" fund, but instead they chose this solution which will create a little bit of a cliff in about ten years. But it's kind of short-sighted and it doesn't, you know in essence they're getting 70 cents on the dollar from what they would have won in the lawsuit with the schools. They won the lawsuit. It's just a matter of winding its way up through the courts, and so they settled it for less than 70 cents on the dollar of what they would have gotten had the lawsuit been taken to its natural conclusion. And in addition to that, of that 60% of that is going to come from the state land trust, and that's money that might be, and there's a fair number of people now saying it might be illegal to do that. When Arizona was given these state lands as part of the enabling act that established statehood, it prohibited disposing of the trust itself and they can only use the interest money on it. Now, we had two Republicans, a current state treasurer and a former state treasurer who testified before the committees on this that this was illegal and that they would not be allowed, and that a lawsuit could result and could stop the process entirely, so that's one genuine possibility, and I'm not sure who the plaintiff would be and who would bring that lawsuit. It might actually be the state treasurer. But they were pretty forceful in their feelings that this whole process was illegal. I think what this will do is take us from 50th in the nation in state support of education ... maybe we'll slip up to 49th but that's no solution in the long term. We really, really have ignored education in this state, and that's why, you know, frankly it's not these tax cuts are going to bring businesses in to this state. That's a fallacy. It's been proven wrong in Kansas and in Wisconsin, and what will bring businesses into this state is an educational system that employers know will create people who actually are educated enough to be a work force. Or, I mean some large employers have said they won't come to Arizona because they don't want to bring employees into here because we don't have an educational system that they could count on to educate their children.
(Paton) There's so much to unpack in what Jeff just said, I don't think we have the time in this broadcast to do that, but let's go through a couple things. Number one, the Democrats were put in an awful position in this vote. You have the minority leader of the house who's going to have a tough election campaign, Eric Myers is going to have a tough senate election campaign the next go around, say "Well, I'm going to vote against it on the floor, but I'll probably be voting for it on the ballot." That is sort of like an "I'll vote for it before I vote against it” kind of a situation that we've heard in the past. That puts him in a horrible position. You have something I've never seen before in my entire life. You have Andrew Moore, the head of the AEA, and you have Andy Biggs the president of the senate, the most conservative guy I probably ever met in my entire life, both saying that this is a good deal. Andrew Moore will praise the leadership of a Republican governor, whom the Democrats plan on attacking in this next election cycle as being bad for education. He's praising him for his leadership and Andy Biggs is working with the other side to make that happen. It is like for the next year, until this actually until Election Day, the governor is going to be stumping for this ballot measure all across the state. And it's going to be impossible for Democrats to make that case. A lot of them were put in an awful spot. I think that it's a pretty bad position when your greatest hope, when Jeff's greatest hope of overturning this, is built on the legal advice of Jeff DeWitt and Dean Martin, the former treasurers of, or one former and one current treasurer of Arizona. It's just amazing to me. And yet these guys, trying to whip votes in the Democratic Caucus to vote against it. It's a very strange situation the Democrats find themselves in, and I think it means they're not going to be able to beat this governor in a future election, and, I think you take education off the table, at least K-12 education, as a major issue for the foreseeable future.
(Rogers) As long as we're dead last in the nation in support of K-12 education, dead last.
(Paton)… and I'm so glad he brought that up because that's another ….
(Paton and Rogers talking over each other)
(Rogers) from all kinds of nonpartisan organizations. Some years we're only 48th sometimes we're 49th. Sometimes we're 50th.
(Paton) And if you put in 49th in education in a Google search, you'll come up with more than one state. You come up with multiple states. It's sort of the same thing every year. The difference in Arizona funding is that we have the School Facilities Board that pays for school construction. Most other states that's done with property taxes. In Arizona it's done at the state level. It completely skews ....
(Rogers) How about teacher salaries?
(Rogers and Paton talking at once)
(Paton) …state funding. And as a result of this deal teachers are going to get a raise, so the same deal that Jeff is decrying gets a raise. His answer for this is the same answer he had in the last discussion which is, well, we'll just raise taxes. Which the voters have said again and again they really don't want to do.
(Rogers) Democrats put forth a plan that didn't need to raise taxes, which made…
(Paton) Which was completely based on a fantasy, that ...
(Rogers) We have the money, let's spend it on education. Let's show the public what our priorities are.
(Paton) Your projections are completely unrealistic.
(Rogers) And this is not going to take education off the table. This is has turned into a big issue for voters. I'm astonished that …
(Paton trying to speak at the same time)
(Paton) .... that this will pass
(Rogers) No, I think it will pass. It does almost nothing to get us out of last place, Jonathan. The fact is that we need something a lot bigger than this.
(Paton and Rogers talking over each other)
(Nintzel, to Paton) “Near the bottom.” If you don't want to say we're in last place, we're pretty low down there.
(Rogers) You want to say, "You're wrong! We're 45th? Or we're 46th?"
(Paton) I'm saying that it is a common, well, first of all, you're going to look at every single state, and you have the same argument in every single state in the nation.
(Rogers) Just look at teacher's salaries. That's very objective.
(Everyone talking at once)
(Paton) Arizona is very different, for example, than California where you have high taxes and high funding …
(Rogers) …but it's not …
(Nintzel) Let me jump in here, Jeff, and say in terms of the politics, Jonathan has a point.
(Rogers) Politics are going to be very …
(Nintzel) ... has the schools behind him and the schools are saying they need more than just getting out of this but that's a start and ...
(Rogers) It's like when you're holding somebody hostage and you say, "Okay, I'll let you, I'll set you free ...
(Paton) I looked at Andrew Morrill on that podium, and he did not look like he was suffering from Stockholm syndrome. He looked like he was …
(Rogers interrupts) He sold out the schools at more than one ....
(Nintzel) Yes. Nonetheless, the schools are saying ....
(Paton) You're splitting up the base of the Democratic …
(Rogers) Well, you just …
(Paton) Party, right there. Jeff just exemplified it.
(Paton) The Democratic Party ....
(Rogers) … has been the strongest backer of education in this state.)
(Paton) … You have the AEA, which is the biggest supporter of Democrats, in the State of Arizona saying "We support a Republican governor and a Republican legislature."
(Nintzel) It's a win for Ducey, though, in terms of him being around ...
(Rogers) Politically it's a win.
(Nintzel) Okay. And let me bring back what Jeff was pointing out about the school trust and the fact that they're digging into the school trust. You've got about six billion in it now.
(Paton) I can make the argument that the way that the returns came out in the last couple of years they were artificially low. This is going to be an adjustment of that. It's going to be legal. You have other cases around the country that deal with similar issues and they've never found against a state or anything similar in the rest of the country. It's going to be fine. This isn't going to be, the sky isn't going to fall …
(Paton and Rogers talking at once)
(Paton) The solution that Jeff and the Democrats have, was predicated, he's talking about this is predicated essentially on a house of cards, that's his argument.
(Rogers) There's not house of cards. We have plenty of money right now to currently to fund …
(Paton) That is a ...
(Rogers) Not only that ....
(Paton) I never got a chance to finish my statement If you do what Jeff is advocating, the Democrats are advocating you would, and you had bad economic projections in the future, this is all based on sales taxes for the most part, (with) bad projections into the future, you are putting the state in an even worse situation than they're currently in. At least now, with the State Trust Fund, they have at least a stable system. You would not have a stable system on the Democrats' plan. No one took that plan seriously. No one took it seriously.
(Paton and Rogers talking over each other)
(Rogers) Democrats don't get a hearing on any ...
(Paton) Even democrats don't take it seriously.
(Rogers) The thing about that also built into this system is a trigger that would basically allow them to cut aid to education if education becomes a certain percentage of the budget. The state budget. I think it's 49%. If it's 49% they could cut education funding. So, what they've done, and we know, because Ducey's such a fan of Kansas and Wisconsin and Sam Brownback and we know that he wants to reduce the size of government, so …
(Paton) … reduce the size of government …
(Paton and Rogers talk over each other)
(Paton) You can point to Florida, you can point to all kinds of states all across the country. Over eight states right now. Um, Oregon, Washington, there's a whole bunch of different states that do not have a sales tax or a state income tax, rather, and they're doing just fine.
(Nintzel) When you do that, though, you do shift who pays taxes from the people who are wealthy to …
(Paton) Look, they made it ....
(Rogers) Sam Brownback in Kansas, they're …. It's absolutely in utter collapse.
(Paton) Well, that's not true, and secondly you look at people are actually, a lot of businesses now are starting to locate to Kansas, and they're going to …
(Rogers) That's not what's factually correct, Jonathan.
(Paton) It is factually correct.
(Rogers) The state of Kansas is in complete disarray. They're at a point where they're having to shut down schools. They were at a point last year where they had to close schools early at the end of the school year I mean that's how bad it is. They were once crowded, their highways, and now they can't fund their highways. I mean it is a ....
(Paton) … and I think …
(Rogers) … it's a wonderful model for what Republicans would like to do to America.
(Paton) What about .... I've been fascinated watching .... Why does it work in Washington?
(Rogers) Washington state? Washington State has not done what Kansas did and basically give away everything and cut taxes.
(Paton) Well, I don't think you I don't think that, they don't have a, there are several Western states, not Kansas, that do not have a state income tax.
(Rogers) Yeah but that changes your taxing model.
(Paton) …and I think that's a lot of people …
(Rogers) … and that's where Ducey wants to take us.
(Paton and Rogers talking at once)
(Paton) I'm not saying the governor wants to do that. I'm saying that there are a lot of folks that feel that the state income tax in Arizona, especially what they charge corporations, means that they don't want to come to Arizona, and that's why we don't have as many ....
(Rogers) … I think you're wrong …
(Rogers) Why they don't want to come to Arizona is because of our poor education system.
(Paton) I don't think We've heard that ....
(Rogers) Two large employers we've had relocate to the Phoenix area because of the poor education system.
(Paton) Well we have people who won't even locate to Southern Arizona because of high taxes and regulation in the county.
(Rogers) Actually we don't pay higher taxes than people in Maricopa County. We have to pay, we have a higher tax rate in Pima County because of the fact that we don't have all these other incorporated areas that are charging...
(Paton) Explain that to the voters that voted against the bond election.
(Rogers) Ray Carroll is one of the most wonderful people at sizing this up and he constantly gets told by people, "We pay such, so much higher taxes." "Well, no. You have all these other taxing facilities in Maricopa County."
(Nintzel) Hospital districts and the sales tax.
(All talk at once)
(Paton) We could do that here in Southern Arizona, but there's not the credibility ....
(Nintzel) You've got to leave it there, guys, but I have enjoyed this conversation immensely. Former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton, attorney Jeff Rogers, thanks for coming in here. That's our show for today. If you missed any part of it, you can catch us at zonapolitics.com where you'll also find transcripts of this and previous programs, and I'm sure our transcriptionist is going to love going over this one. Thanks to our media partners at the Tucson Weekly, Tucson Local Media and KXCI FM where you can hear the show at 5 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. Thanks for watching. We'll see you next time.