On this week's episode of Zona Politics: We sit down with Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, Board of Supes candidate John Winchester, who is challenging Supervisor Ally Miller in the GOP primary, and Kirsten Engel, a candidate for the Arizona House of Representatives in District 10.
The show airs at 8 a.m. Sunday on the CW Tucson, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast and Channel 58 on DirecTV, Dish and broadcast. You can also hear it at 5 p.m. Sunday on community radio KXCI, 91.3 FM. Or watch it online above.
Here's a rush transcript of the show:
Hello, everyone. I'm Tucson Weekly
senior writer Jim Nintzel and we're here to talk Zona Politics. Joining me on the set today: Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, the chair of the county board. Supervisor Bronson was first elected in to the Board of Supervisors in 1996 and now is seeking her sixth term. Supervisor Bronson, welcome to Zona Politics.
(Bronson) Very happy to be here, Jim, and I love your new studio.
(Nintzel) Thanks so much. Why are you seeking another term?
(Bronson) Well you know, finally, we are headed in the right direction in terms of economic development. The momentum is with us. Witness: Accelerate, World View, Comcast and now, most recently, Caterpillar. We've turned around this recession, and I want to continue that momentum, and make sure it's not reversed.
(Nintzel) So one of the biggest complaints I hear, and, certainly, you hear, is the condition of Pima County roads. What can the county do to start getting on top of this backlog of deferred maintenance on that infrastructure?
(Bronson) Well, I think we're doing a few things. We've got some general fund allocations, but long-term, we're going to have to look at different funding options. Perhaps with the RTA, we take some of the RTA sales tax and use it for road maintenance. And I think at the state level, we need to look at how we are distributing Highway User Revenue Funds for funds and that this user formula does not favor Pima County. We need to get our fair share, so, kind of a two-pronged approach. Let's look at using some RTA funds for road maintenance and then let's change that HURF distribution formula
(Nintzel) You know, in recent weeks there's been a great deal of controversy involving your fellow board member Ally Miller and her reluctance to turn over some records related to her e-mails, and a staffer who was masquerading as a reporter while on her staff. Supervisor Miller walked out of the meeting abruptly this week as you were discussing the public records controversy, and there are suspicions that Supervisor Miller has been using her private email to conduct county business. You voted along with your colleagues to build a better policy regarding public records. What's wrong with the current policy, and what you want to see changed?
(Bronson) I think we had a very reasonable policy, but we had never been confronted with this type of meta-data request and we clearly didn't have any protocols in place. I think that our policy just needs some revision to bring it up to 21st-century standards, and they weren't there. I think Supervisor Valadez summed it up when he said "Our policy stinks." And it does at that level. We haven't addressed in the 21st-century items that related to meta-data, cell phones, that sort of thing. We are in the process of doing that, now.
(Nintzel) And you do have a situation where there are concerns that some activity is taking place on private emails rather than on the supervisors' actual public emails, and that really leads to some thorny legal questions.
(Bronson) It does. But I think there's been enough case law, court cases that indicate those emails that are related to county business are vulnerable, and so it's my personal view that, again, this may be decided in a court of law. I'm not sure where all this is going, but if they had to do with county business, then those should be turned over to the entities requesting them.
(Nintzel) And some of your critics, including supervisor Miller, are unhappy with the vote to spend about $15 million to build a headquarters and a launch pad for World View, which is a local company that's involved in upper-atmosphere balloon work for corporate and government clients as well as space tourism. World View will be paying rent over 20 years to reimburse the county's costs to build the headquarters, but, nonetheless the Goldwater institute has filed a lawsuit against the county saying this is a violation of the gift clause and some other laws. Why did you think that World View was a good deal for the county?
(Branson) Number one, I don't think it's a violation of the gift clause, because over the 20-year lease, World View will actually be paying on average, about $2 above market for the lease, so it benefits taxpayers in the community, just from the lease perspective, alone. But then let's talk about the jobs, the other effects that this will have. It's going to make us a center of excellence, if you will, in aerospace and defense. And I think that's something this community wants and needs.
(Nintzel) One of the parts of that World View is, it's going in around your Aerospace Corridor, which you recently managed to move to create more of a buffer zone for Raytheon. But there's the larger question of building the Sonoran Corridor, the highway between I-19 down by Sahuarita to the U of A Tech Park and eventually creating a bypass for I-10 and I-19. That was on the bond proposal this last November that failed. Is there a way the county can move forward with that project?
(Bronson) We're examining that now. We have every intention with moving forward. We're looking at our options, and the reality is, "What are we good at, here, in terms of growing the economy?” We're good at aerospace at defense. We're good at transportation logistics, the transportation hub near the airport, Port of Tucson and we're good at biotech. So, that corridor is going to be essential to our economic well-being as we move forward in the future. It's our connection with Mexico. It's our connection with Canada. Again, the transportation logistics piece. So, it's, you know, the ducks are all in a row, here. Let's make sure we get to the finish line.
(Nintzel) Tell me a little bit about the Caterpillar deal and what the county had to do to nail that down.
(Bronson) Pretty much, something very similar to Accelerate. I think they need a temporary space as they were building their headquarters here, and we were able to find it in a county building. Again, they're leasing it, and over the period of the lease, they're paying market. So, we're thrilled to have them. It's a top 50 company. There's going to be an effect from this. We've already gotten several entities that are interested in coming to Tucson simply because of the Caterpillar deal, because Caterpillar's a big player on the international scene.
(Nintzel) Critics complain a lot about the county's property taxes. Your thoughts on how to ease that property-tax burden.
(Bronson) Well, again, I think I've said since I was first elected, we need to diversify our revenue source. We're the only county of the 15 counties in Arizona that doesn't have a sales tax. My preference would be lowering property tax by adopting a sales tax. Lowering the property tax by the amount of revenue generated by the sales tax so that we can be more competitive economically and attract companies to this region.
(Nintzel) Another thing that your critic on the board of supervisors complains about a lot is the subsidy that the county provides to Banner Health to run Kino Hospital and, we've got about a minute and a half, here, but talk a little bit about why that is an important subsidy.
(Bronson) Well, let's say that the last time Pima County ran Kino Hospital, now Banner South, it cost us $40 million a year. We have an obligation at the state level to provide care to the needy, and we are providing Banner $15 million, it will lessen over time, every year to assist in that process. But at the same time there's some benefit because of graduates of medical education. For every dollar we invest, this community gets $4 in return. Somehow, I think that's a good investment.
(Nintzel) I think that's all we have time for, today, but I definitely appreciate you coming down and talking to us here on Zona Politics and good luck with your re-election campaign.
(Bronson) Thank you very much for having me, Jim.
(Nintzel) We will be right back with a Board of Supervisors candidate, John Winchester. Stay tuned.
(Nintzel) Our next guest is John Winchester, a Republican who is seeking to challenge Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller in District 1. Mr. Winchester, who is making his first run for public office, now works as outreach director for the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies at the U of A. John, welcome to Zona politics.
(Winchester) Thanks for having me, Jim.
(Nintzel) Why are you running for office?
(Winchester) You know, I've thought I would get involved in politics, and here in Pima County, for a long time—since I was in high school. And this time I jumped in because I felt like everybody knows what the issues are. We have problems with roads. We have problems with tax structure, and we want more business. Especially as a young person with a family, I've got a young family, I want to provide for them. I want to give them more, but we lack leadership to make that happen. And I jumped into this race because that's exactly what we're missing is we're missing leadership. There are a lot of opportunities staring us in the face and, you know, political season tends to be a negative season, but I don't think there's anything to be negative about. I think there's a lot of really positive stuff that's available to us. We just need someone who's going to reach out and get it, and I don't think we've got it right now
(Nintzel) What are your thoughts on your opponent? I've heard you say that you feel like she lacks the temperament to be an effective elected official.
(Winchester) I think she does. She doesn't handle conflict very well, but that’s her methodology, and she campaigned on this. A lot of people have said well, "The board is against her." But she campaigned on being against the board four years ago. And she's maintained that, and I don't think that is a good method that is going to produce good governance. We need an efficient government, an effective government, and we haven't gotten that in representation in District 1. In fact, it's been an impediment in some ways to things that the board is going to do, and has been trying to do here locally in the last few years. I think there have been some great strides made, and she's not part of that.
(Nintzel) What did you make of this week's board meeting as supervisor Miller walked out of the meeting as the fellow board members were discussing her response to some public records requests from the Tucson Weekly, the Tucson Sentinel and the Arizona Daily Star.
(Winchester) I thought it was poor form. She is in the middle of a conflict. And she needs to be able to respond to it. She's an elected official. She should have handled it in a much more professional manner, I think. And obviously there are questions whether or not a month is clearly too long to release records that people have requested from her. She held them hostage. She reversed her position when she was told, you know, it's a war she can't win. And she started releasing them ahead of this meeting that she knew was coming. She's clearly gyrating regarding this conflict that she's in with this aide who started this newspaper and she hasn't behaved well. And leaving the meeting, it was—there was a lot of pressure on her, and I can imagine she was feeling uncomfortable. But you can't just get up and leave. I mean, she's elected to be there, and she left.
(Nintzel) Let's talk about your thoughts on how to get some things done around the county, starting with the roads. How do we improve our infrastructure here in Pima County?
(Winchester) I think Pima County's infrastructure is aged and it's also not suitable for the population's size and type that we have here. And it's going to take a lot of investment. We thought we were getting something in the '97 HURF funds, and we've gone forward with that, but we're still beyond that. We need a major investment. We need to have a short-term strategy of how we're going to attack it, and then a long-term strategy for doing it. There's a lot of discussion about creating another diverse revenue stream and giving it to the RTA, and letting the RTA manage the upkeep of all of the roads. I was speaking with Farhad Moghimi with the RTA. He said the roads in Pima County are moderate to poor. They're not in great shape, and we need to get them up to snuff, up to par, especially if we want to attract business, especially if we want people from the outside to come it, and not just for them but for the sake of the people who drive on them. But we need to create that revenue stream to give it to the RTA, so we’re not putting it towards a lot of the Department of Transportation with the county. We've been accused of putting it towards administrative costs and other things like that. If we give it to the RTA, it won't go towards that, and we can pay outside companies and privatize the paving of the roads and the fixing of our streets. And it's also a pay-as-you-go system that's a possible opportunity, there. I personally like that. I think the RTA has shown that they can manage those funds. I think it gives people confidence in government. I personally favor that model. There are other options out there that people have put out, but it needs to be addressed, not just in an election year. People have known how bad the roads are for a long time and you can't just say that you're going to address it during an election season. We need something on this right away. It needs to be addressed seriously, right away.
(Nintzel) Four out of the five supervisors have said we have to ask the state to increase the gas tax in order to provide more revenue for infrastructure. What do you think of that idea?
(Winchester) I think it's fair. The structure, as it is, is unfairly giving Maricopa County more money, I think by three times than what they're giving Pima County. We have a larger (unincorporated) population, and more roads that we have to fix. I don't think it's equitable, but in addition to that, the HURF revenue funds are not increasing at the rate of inflation, and so it's costing us more, and gasoline is being used much more efficiently with vehicles. There are a lot of equations to those HURF revenues that we need to see changed. That said, I don't know that Pima County can sit around and wait for the, you know, beneficence of the state legislature to decide "Oh, yeah. This is a good idea." I think they're going to have to start fixing this by themselves.
(Nintzel) What did you think of the board's decision to spend about $15 million to build a headquarters that will be rented by World View, this ballooning company that's doing upper atmosphere work for corporate and government clients as well as plan for space tourism.
(Winchester) I think the attempt is part of a change that people are beginning to feel in the region, that we're going after people, not just waiting for people to come here. I like that. I like it a lot. I'm happy to see it. We need to bring those types of jobs to this region so that we can increase the tax. It helps government, helps everybody all the way around. They're creating wealth for people. It's wealth from outside that we're bringing in, that World View's bringing in. Another homegrown company. I think it's a great idea. I don't know whether or not it's legal. We're going to find out, but I'm happy to see that the county Board of Supervisors, and the county as a whole, is going after these types of, this type of development. I'm happy to see it.
(Nintzel) What other economic development efforts do you think the county ought to be making?
(Winchester) I think with the acquisition, specifically, of Caterpillar, I've been talking to a lot of people in chambers, Joe Snell at the Sun Corridor and other people who are here locally trying to bring business. With the acquisition of Caterpillar, the pipeline's filling up. People are saying "Well, Caterpillar’s going. Why are they going?" And they want to get in. They want to find out why it's good to be here. And I think they've found it's a great place to be. We need to continue to develop in the Aerospace Corridor, the Sonoran Corridor, to increase the transportation and flow of the economic opportunities that are there to facilitate them. The county needs to invest in infrastructure. Another thing we need to focus on is taxes, the tax structure. That will also help bring companies here. What I think the county is really doing is shifting in a very powerful way. It's exciting to see.
(Nintzel) Your opponent voted against pursuing a lawsuit against the state that the county recently won. The judge's ruling means that about $18 million in annual costs that the state tried to pass along to the county has been reversed. The county was able to reduce property taxes earlier this month. Would you have supported that lawsuit against the state?
(Winchester) Absolutely. It was unjust. In fact, it was so clear that I was told that the actual, the opening remarks, the judge decided with the opening remarks of the case. They didn't go into a very long legal battle. But it was unjust what Rep. Olson passed in 2015. My opponent supported it. She, quote, called it "good government." But it was a gimmick on the part of the legislature to offset their costs onto the county so that they could balance their budget by screwing over lower budgets, and it was responsible for the county to say "Hey, look, we need to fix this." We won, we were able to lower property taxes, and then my opponent turns around and says, "Oh. This is a great budget because of lower property taxes." The only reason it was lowered is because they won the lawsuit. So it's a weird situation on her part, when she's supporting the budget because of lower property taxes but it's lowered because of the court case that we won that she opposed.
(Nintzel) Alright, we're going to have to leave it there, but, John Winchester, thanks for coming in and good luck with your campaign.
(Winchester) I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
(Nintzel) We'll be right back with a candidate for the state house of representatives, Kirsten Engel.
(Nintzel) Joining me now is Democrat Kirsten Engel, who is seeking one of two house seats in Arizona's Legislative District 10, which includes Central and Eastern Tucson. LD10, which is one of the few competitive districts in Arizona, is now represented by Democrats Bruce Wheeler and Stephanie Mach, but with Representative Wheeler stepping down, there's an opening. Kirsten Engel has been a lawyer with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Attorney General's office, and is now a law professor at the University of Arizona. Kirsten, welcome to Zona Politics.
(Engel) Thank you for having me.
(Nintzel) So, talk a little bit about why you're running for office.
(Engel) Well, let's go back to 2005. That's when my husband and I moved here to Arizona, very happy to move to this beautiful state. Our daughter at that time was just one month old. She's now actually eleven, and a student in TUSD. But unfortunately what we have seen since we have been here, shortly after we came, is just cut after cut to public education at all levels—K-12, community colleges and universities, where I work, where my husband works, and I feel like I'm stepping up right now because I think this just has to stop. It's really affecting a whole generation of students, and it's really affecting our economy. I want an Arizona where we have top-quality schools, where we have good jobs, where we are able to attract industry because we've got trained workers and we're just not moving towards that, so that's why I'm throwing my hat in the ring, and as an attorney, as somebody who's an educator, as a mom. I feel like I have a lot to offer.
(Nintzel) Now there are about a million details in the state budget and you already stressed your concerns about education funding, but if you were going to change a few other things in that state budget and move them around what would they be?
(Engel) Well the budget was pretty much of a disaster. There were a few bright lights. I would, as an educator, I would give it a D-. Not enough, and I think we've got to recognize the good things that the Democrats working with like-minded Republicans were able to achieve. Saving the JTED program with that fantastic high graduation rate, that trains students to work in Arizona, saving KidsCare, 100 percent funded by the Federal government, no brainer. At least that was passed. But there were a lot of things that weren't done, and a lot of things I would have changed. First of all, we've got to see those next steps after Prop. 123. We haven't seen anything, and yet we have a real deficit in in the education area. The nonprofit Children's Action Alliance group, very well respected, they calculate that as $1.2 billion. That's to cover just classroom expenses technology, retaining teachers. We’ve got real teacher shortages. The universities still struggling, still having to do with the issue of raising tuition on their students for making ends meet. And that's not good. I would have had some money in there for community colleges. We've cut them to zero, and yet they are very important part of the picture. Some of our embattled state agencies that are so important to the future of our economy, such as the Department of Water Resources completely flat funding, and yet look what they're dealing with. This is the future of our state. We're a desert state. We've got lowering levels in the Colorado River. We have unregulated groundwater pumping in our rural areas. We've got to support our agencies that are working on those problems. So those are just a few of the things that I would have worked hard on to change.
(Nintzel) One of the major battles this last session had to do with expanding vouchers, so that nearly all Arizona students would have had the option of getting taxpayer dollars to pay tuition at private and religious schools. It didn't pass, but supporters are likely to bring it back next year. You've said you oppose that legislation. Why?
(Engel) I do. I think that is really shifting money that should be going to our public schools to our private schools, and it's just not a—in the long term, it's just not going to work. I think there is a justification for those empowerment scholarships the way they were originally envisioned to help students with special needs to go to private schools where they weren't getting those kinds of services in our public schools, but you can't just open that up to every student. You will end up bankrupting our public school system, and that just is not good for the future of Arizona. It's just not sustainable.
(Nintzel) Another one of the major battles going on in the state these days revolves around solar energy. And most of that is taking place with the Corporation Commission, but you have a long background in environmental law. What do you think the state should be doing to subsidize the solar energy community and how should they go about that?
(Engel) Well, it's really a very unfortunate what's going on in the state. I mean, it was Governor Napolitano who said that Arizona should be the Persian Gulf of solar. And it still could be. That is definitely a very good economic trajectory for the state to build up solar power. We've got all this wonderful sun. I know, because I moved here from Chicago. But instead, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction and letting other states actually move ahead of us. Massachusetts has twice as many solar-powered jobs as Arizona That just makes absolutely no sense for me. So putting on these extra fees which are discouraging rooftop solar is going in the wrong direction. Solar power, actually rooftop solar in particular, actually is saving us money in the long term. We do not have to invest in the expensive plants to cover the load on particularly hot days. So, looking at it as a, yes, there is some subsidy for solar, but you have to look at all the benefits that we're getting from solar. And look what it could do for our economy. It could keep prices low for consumers as well. It introduces some really good competition into the market.
(Nintzel) What's your take on the efforts of the state this year to shift costs down to the lower jurisdictions like the county and the city?
(Engel) Well, that's really troubling. What I've heard is our city and county governments are really struggling a bit, and your prior guests were talking about the problems of the roads. As I go knocking door to door, people are really concerned about the roads. I'm concerned about the roads. You know there are a lot of costs that we pay because of that. And yet, we've seen a lot of tricky business by our state government in sweeping funds out of the HURF moneys so that they don't go to the counties. We've also been seeing some troubling things in our legislature in terms of just not respecting local government. The law that was passed this past term that penalized cities and towns if they pass an ordinance that's considered to be inconsistent with the state law by taking away their state revenue-sharing money. I think that is really, really anti-democratic, unnecessary, and really kind of shuts off local government as really a source of innovation in new policies to address the real problems that we have. So the state has been taking away resources from the counties by not, by sort of expecting them to pick up where they're not filling in, and also kind of taking away their ability, their autonomy to deal with some of their local issues.
(Nintzel) Alright, well that's all we have time for, today, but I wish you the best of luck with your campaign, and I'm sure we'll be talking more in the future.
(Engel) Hope so. Thank you.
(Nintzel) We will be right back with some closing thoughts.
(Nintzel) That's our show for today. Next week we're taking the Independence Day weekend off. On behalf of the whole team here at Zona Politics, we wish everyone a happy Fourth of July. We'll be back in two weeks. My thanks to our media partners at Tucson Weekly, Tucson Local Media, and KXCI 91.3 FM where you can hear the show at 5 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. If you missed any part of today's show, you'll find all our episodes at zonapolitics.com and be sure to follow us on Facebook. I'm Jim Nintzel. Thanks for watching. We'll see you next time.