On this week's edition of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel: Former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton and Pima County Democratic Party Latino Caucus Chair Vince Rabago join me to talk about Tuesday's upcoming primary election. We discuss the crowded Republican primary in Congressional District 1, the showdown between Matt Heinz and Victoria Steele in in the Congressional District 2 Democratic primary, the GOP primary in the Corporation Commission races, the race between Pia County Attorney Barbara LaWall and her challenger, Joel Feinman, in the Democratic primary; the race between Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller and her challenger, John Winchester, in the GOP primary; and the three-way race between Steve Christy, Marla Closen and John Backer in the GOP primary in the District 4 race for the seat now held by the retiring Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll. We also dig into the latest on the lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute against Pima County regarding World View Enterprises and the recent expansion of the Arizona Supreme Court.
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Here's a rush transcript of the show:
(Jim Nintzel) Hello, everyone. I'm Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel, and we're here to talk Zona Politics. The political herd will be winnowed with the primary election on Tuesday, August 30. Joining me to talk about some of the top races, former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton. Thanks for coming down from Phoenix, Jonathan.
(Jonathan Paton) Thank you.
(Nintzel) and Pima County Democratic Party Latino Caucus chairman Vince Rabago. Gentlemen, welcome to Zona Politics
(Vince Rabago) Great to be here.
(Nintzel) Let's start off with this Congressional District 1 race. Jonathan, you were the actual Republican nominee in that race four years ago. This year, there are, what, five candidates? Seven candidates on the ballot? Two have already dropped out. You're down to five candidates over there. And it looks like, to me, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu may have the advantage in that, but Gary Kiehne, the rancher who almost won last time, is putting up a pretty good fight. And you've got Wendy Rogers in that race from Phoenix, who also seems to be really taking some punches at Paul Babeu. What's your read on that race?
(Paton) Well, the thing that's the key for this race, and it actually is what gives Paul such an advantage, is that most of the Republican votes for this district are in Pinal and Pima County. And while Pima County isn't in his area that he represents as a sheriff, it's still—he goes down there quite a bit to Marana and Oro Valley. The fact is that there are so many people that, you put the rest of the district together it probably won't match the numbers of Republicans that are in those areas. So it does give him an advantage. The other thing is, is that he has a high profile with all the Fox news appearances, etc., that he's had over the years So, two things have to happen for those folks to win. A) They have to take shots at him and B) they have to have the kind of resources to be able to have those shots have some impact. And I haven't seen evidence, at least of those resources going into this race on television, etc., in order to make that kind of impact. Now, anything can happen in these kinds of races, but they are so low-name-ID for most of these folks. That's going to be difficult for them to overcome that, those hurdles.
(Nintzel) And, Vince, this is an open seat. Ann Kirkpatrick's leaving Congress to go run against John McCain, so you have Tom O' Halloran on the Democratic side, who doesn't have a primary. He is a former Republican. He ran as an independent for the legislature, did not succeed in that race but now has gone to the Democratic side. What's your forecast on the general election? And are Democrats hoping Paul Babeu wins this race?
(Rabago) You know, the reality is, Democrats are focused on supporting the Democrats. And so whoever comes out of that race, Tom O’Halloran’s going to be in a strong position in the general election. Backtracking just slightly—on the primary for the GOP side, I have a little different perspective. I agree that someone like Babeu has higher name ID. But you have to remember Gary Keihne, who ran last time and barely lost. They had to declare the election a week late because he barely lost to the former speaker of the house Andy Tobin. And he is a well-known businessman. He's been endorsed by Sheriff Arpaio, and he's not afraid to hit Babeu. I think the sheriff of Apache County, Walter Lee, came out and called Babeu the worst of the lot. So he's got law enforcement on his side, also, at the grassroots level reaching out to Republicans in the primary. So, despite the name ID that the sheriff might have, I would give the edge to Gary Keihne in that race. And then, come the general, I think it's going to be a hard-fought battle.
(Nintzel) We will see on Tuesday. Congressional District 2, we have a Democratic primary over there, Vince. We have Matt Heinz, the former state lawmaker, versus Victoria Steele, another former state lawmaker. Heinz has clearly had the advantage on the fundraising, but Steele has seemed to have picked up a lot of local endorsements, including Raul Grijalva. Your thoughts on how this one's shaping up.
(Rabago) You know it's a very interesting race, because it's money vs. sort of a grassroots retail politics. Support from a tremendous number of volunteers and people in the Democratic Party on Victoria Steele's side versus the doctor and his money, and the money he's been able to raise with his connections in the medical community and across the country, frankly. I believe the DCCC had also sort of weighed in and sort of given the nod to him because of the fundraising abilities, obviously, but this grassroots campaign—and it is a primary—this grassroots campaign of Victoria Steele, I think is going to possibly surprise everybody. And for many folks, people think that might be a better match-up, to the extent it would be a female candidate going against a female incumbent. And so that's something that people try to hedge their bets on and try to figure out and read the tea leaves. But, you know, it's going to be hard to call, because you have all the money, but I haven't seen that much in terms of advertising, or, frankly, in terms of too much in terms of mail. At least I haven't received too much from Heinz, despite all this money, so I don't know if he's hoarding the money and thinking he's going to win no matter what, but only recently did I seeing signs go up, and everything like that.
(Paton) It's just kind of crazy when you think about the fact that the election could be over, right now. The fact is, early voting is such a key component these days in who wins these races, and so if you are hoarding that money, I'd hate to be the guy that has a war chest and loses the primary.
(Nintzel) And Jonathan, whoever comes out of this primary is going to have to face Martha McSally, who has raised a lot of money in this district. It's a competitive district. It's about one-third Republican, one-third Democrat, one-third independent, so on paper at least, it's competitive, but there's a big cash disadvantage for either of the Democrats.
(Paton) Well, the other thing is that she's been working really hard beyond just the normal campaign stuff. She's gotten a lot of bills passed compared to the rest of the delegation from Arizona. She's sort of following the maxim that Jim Kolbe followed. The harder you work, the better off you are going to be within this district, because in Southern Arizona whoever the member of Congress is from this region, is expected to be here, expected to be out there talking to folks, shaking hands. A lot of the retail politics, that's important, she's been doing a lot of that, in addition to the fundraising and the other fundamentals you're supposed to do when you run for office.
(Nintzel) And, Vince, one of the things the Democrats are really trying to hammer her on is the Trump phenomenon. And she has said she doesn’t support trump and she says she's not going to endorse him and who she's going to vote for is her business and not the public's.
(Rabago) Yes, that's what she's been saying, and she's tried to follow a similar tack when she was first running. She didn't want to weigh in on controversial issues that she had weighed in on in the past, and we were trying to get her to say things and she just stayed mum. And so the question will be, is that really going to help her when the race ultimately becomes—which I think it will be—a referendum on whether or not we want a president like Trump. And so it is a big, it's a huge cash advantage that she will have going in. It might be swayed somewhat if it's Victoria Steele because then you have some other dynamics that come into play but I think Jon does have a good point, she has a, if it's a Democratic wave, overall, then everything, you know, goes out the window, right? And so, very well, she could lose, despite the cash advantage.
(Paton) One thing I think is crucial to understand is to watch what the DCCC does. Will they actually commit to spending money? Sometimes they put a marker down and then they will pull out in these districts, but it gives you an indication about how vulnerable they think someone is. At one point, at least, they've pulled out. I don't know where they're at right now, but that's a key factor to kind of understand, the strength or weakness of any given candidate. What is the opposition? What are they doing?
(Nintzel) Tea leaves to watch as we move forward to the general. I want to talk about this Corporation Commission Race because the Corporation Commission is normally a pretty sleepy body that people don't pay a whole lot of attention to, but this battle over solar energy and APS weighing in on these elections with some evidently dark-money spending has made this a whole lot more interesting, I think. You have five candidates running for three seats on the Republican side in this race. You have Bob Burns, who is already on the commission. You have Al Melvin, the senator from SaddleBrooke who folks in Southern Arizona, I think, are familiar with. Andy Tobin, the former house speaker. We have another state lawmaker, Rick Gray, and then a former Chandler mayor and judge, Boyd Dunn in this race. Jonathan, your thoughts on the how this is shaping up? And we should mention that your wife does work for Bob Burns at the Corporation Commission.
(Paton) So I'm biased, so you can take that into account. in what I have to say, but it's a very strange thing. I've been living it because my own personal connection to this race, but as you said, the Corporation Commission is the sleepiest of all the the races that we typically see, but this year, you've got one of the largest companies in the state, APS, has been pitted against one Commissioner, Bob Burns. At the same time, the FBI is investigating charges of corruption and investigating involvement of the company in the last election cycle, in 2014. So you have all this going on. I think Bob is well-situated because every story is about him asking APS to disclose whether they put money in this race or not. I think Andy Tobin, because he's also, he was appointed to the position, and he had a lot of name ID from this last congressional race. I think they automatically have some advantages to get two of those seats. And what's odd is that they the remaining candidates, who are Al Melvin and Rick Gray have paired up with Andy Tobin, and they're kind of fighting Bob Burns, which gives him more name ID. If I were them, I'd be trying to figure out which one of them is going to come in third, to have the third seat. So, it's a very strange election strategy, but I think that this has become one of the most interesting races in the state for that reason.
(Nintzel) Vince, we did see that Bob Burns asked for an investigation of this APS spending, and the rest of the commissioners shut him down and said, "We're not going to let you do this.”
(Rabago) That's correct, and in fact, it was Tobin that was leading the charge to essentially put everything under wraps. "Let's not do this." And so I think that hurts Tobin. Any time you fight against transparency, involving an entity, a major entity, who is an entity that you regulate, that's a problem. Voters can see that very clearly. People haven't understood this idea of what dark money is. You know, it's essentially funneling anonymous money to alleged nonprofits and you then don't have to identify whoever gave that money. So it's like a shell game, sending money around, and that's the whole idea behind it. And Republicans have been a champion of this principle for a long time: disclose, disclose, disclose. So every time you have Democrats would say, "Hey, let's put limits," Republicans' answer would be, "Let's disclose." So, it's a tipsy-topsy-turvy world that we're living in here when you have a former speaker of the House saying, "Hey, let's just put an end to this. We don't need to know,” and to have the FBI investigating, that adds a whole other specter. I agree it is, not only one of the most interesting races, but it is also, I believe, one of the most important races, because it's really going to determine to what level are we going to allow an entity that regulates corporations essentially to engage this election shenanigans. We know there was a ton of money spent by entities that are being regulated by this commission.
(Nintzel) And it seems like even APS is starting to investigate, itself, about what they've been spending on this.
(Rabago) It may be a little late for that, for them to start now, but certainly, the FBI is looking into it. Voters are looking into it, and you have some other candidates running. You have a Boyd Dunn from Chandler, a former judge also running, and so we'll see how he comes out in the race. And then after that, for the general, you have Tom Chapin, and former, I believe he was on the Corporation Commission. Mundell, right? If I remember correctly, in the past. And so he switched parties and is now running as a Democrat. So it's going to make for an interesting, both, not only the primary, but also in the general.
(Nintzel) And the Democrats have a, do the Democrats have a window here?
(Paton, off camera) If they can't win this race with one candidate, they need to pack up and go home, is all I can say. I'm not saying I endorse them. I'm not saying I support the Democrats in this race, but given all the circumstances I've just given you, if they can't manage to win one of three seats that are up, in this election cycle, they ain't going to win anything else, is all I can tell you, because of the circumstances that we have, statewide, at least. That's sort of one of the things I have to say. That would be quite a statement.
(Nintzel) Alright. Let's leave it there. We'll be right back to talk about some of the other races with former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton and former Pima County Democratic Chairman Vince Rabago.
We're back with Zona Politics. I'm Jim Nintzel and I'm joined by Jonathan Paton, the former State lawmaker, and Vince Rabago, the chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party's Latino Caucus to talk about our upcoming primary races. Let's talk about the county attorney's race here in Pima County. Vince, you're an attorney You follow these races pretty closely. We have Barbara LaWall who's been in office for 20 years, facing an upstart challenge from Joel Feinman, a former public defender, who has really raised a lot of money and made probably the most serious challenge to Barbara LaWall has faced in a Democratic primary, ever.
(Rabago) I think that's a good assessment of what's going on, and I think the race ultimately is going to be a set off between, do voters want to stick with experience, someone who has been an administrator of a major county agency and has worked with law enforcement and has come up with a number of innovative programs, but has also faced some criticism about certain policies or certain case results over the years, versus what I think Mr. Feinman has tapped into which is sort of a general dissatisfaction with how the criminal justice system is working — mass incarcerations, mandatory minimums—issues which lead to essentially over-incarceration, and doesn't necessarily make the public safer at the end of the day. So there are a lot of other issues that he's been able to tap into. But on the downside, on the other side of the coin for him, he's only been a criminal defense attorney, doesn't have any significant administrative experience whatsoever, and has never sat in the shoes of being a prosecutor working for the public good to enforce the law and put people behind bars. So, it's going to be an interesting trade-off. Both have been endorsed by a law-enforcement organization, and so the voters are going to be choosing in a sense for experience, or is it going to be change for the sake of change. And, see, that's what I think this race is going to come down to. And he has raised the money, and he's made it a competitive race, so we will see what the voters ultimately decide there in this primary.
(Nintzel) And meanwhile, Jonathan, we also have the Pima County Board of Supervisors up for re-election and certainly the most interesting race may be this Ally Miller versus John Winchester, given the way that Ally Miller has behaved in her first term on the Board of Supervisors.
(Paton) You know, the thing about this race is that the more controversy that has been generated, in some ways it also benefits Ally Miller in the same way that it's benefited Trump in his own primary. I think that all the different issues that have surrounded her, in some ways, have become a referendum also on the media establishment and what Republicans may think of that, nothing to do with her opponent, or even maybe, her. It could be a lot surrounding that. I tend to think that she'll pull it out, but, you know this is—I don't know if there's any polling or anything like that that's out there, but I think there's a halfway decent chance that, in a lot of these races where there's not a lot of voter ID, a lot of the people don't really know who these folks necessarily are, so the controversy actually raises a person's profile and may give them an advantage, that they otherwise wouldn't have.
(Nintzel) There's been a lot of bizarre behavior, a lot of staff turnover, a lot of unfounded accusations, concerns that there are bugs and listening devices in the walls and Chuck Huckelberry is spying on her, but Republicans see her as the one person who is willing to challenge Chuck Huckelberry and the establishment and there are Republicans out there who really like that, Vince.
(Rabago) Well, there are people that really like the idea of seeking some sort of change. And I think they are ignoring the disruptor factor, that she's the disrupter in terms of getting things done, a disrupter in terms of seeing policies accomplished. And it's okay to essentially stand on your principles and be the "no" vote and try to get change, but there comes a point where any politician, this could be a Democrat or a Republican, where they're just not good for government, they're not good for getting things done, even if you are, on whichever side of the aisle you are. And so the question is going to be whether or not enough Republicans—I know many, many in the business community on the Republican side of the aisle are just fed up with this disruption to advancing our interests and trying to find places where we can come together and get things done, as opposed to just trying to disrupt everything, and then when it's swallowed by all these scandals, and, you know, investigations and staff turnover and these allegations, it just becomes very bizarre. I think back to the time where she was trying to complain about the roads and she went and laid down in the middle of the road and took a picture as if she had fallen in the road, and it wasn't even in her district, I don't think. It wasn't even in the county district, it was another area. So, sort of bizarre behavior, and the question is whether the primary voters—is there enough angst of tarnishing the brand of advancing the community? Are they going to come out to say "That's enough. We want someone like John Winchester,” who by the way, he's very conservative. He fits the mold in terms of ideology for that same base of primary GOP voters, but he's a breath of fresh air. He's willing to also try to work to advance things for the community instead of being a disruptor.
(Nintzel) One of the things Miller has been involved with is working with Goldwater on the suit against the World View deal, the balloon company deal that the county has established. She denies that she was involved, but records that she has been withholding have shown that she was, actually, in communication with Goldwater. At least she claims to have been in communication with Goldwater. This whole World View lawsuit. They were in court this week and the county tried to get dismissal of the case and the judge said it did need to go to trial on at least three of the four counts that Goldwater raised about whether this is a violation of the gift clause and other county statutes. Vince, your thoughts on what kind of case Goldwater has here?
(Rabago) Well, I think that's a prime example of the sort of disruptive force that she has become by essentially encouraging and wanting the Goldwater Institute to come here. I didn't know about those emails, but you can actually just go on her Facebook page, which I had occasion to do, and, you know, right around that timeframe, she was up visiting the day with the Goldwater Institute, going to lunch and meetings and spending all day up there with them. And so that's on her own Facebook page. But the issue as to whether or not there's an actual case, here: This is an early stage. Most cases the defense will try to dismiss on what's called a "motion to dismiss" saying that, just on the face of it, there's not a case. So there are still other points in time when the judge will be able to rule on some of these claims and a summary judgement. This is before even going to trial. I think it's going to be a hard case for the Goldwater Institute to make. As I understand it, the rent that the county will be getting back is several million dollars more than the cost of what the county is putting out. I don't see how that could ever qualify as a gift if it's a return on investment that you are banking on to get. And so, we'll see how it turns out. It is in the early stages. And, you know, my sources, good sources, that tell me, and I don't know if this is true or not, but that, plenty of GOP, iconic figures here in Southern Arizona were furious with the Goldwater Institute, and so they expressed their wishes and their thoughts and their anger about Goldwater coming down here and doing this, and so that did not make the Republican establishment happy at all.
(Nintzel) And Jonathan, I see you want to weigh in on this.
(Paton) Yeah, I have been at some of those meetings and I've heard from some of them who have been Goldwater Institute donors in the past. What I think is interesting, is you have one of the premier watchdog groups in the state, in the country, really, that has been successful with a lot of different lawsuits, but they're also up against—as you, as Vince outlines, some of the difficulties of the case, that present themselves about whether how much money will be made, etc.—but there's also a feeling, and those of us from Southern Arizona understand this, that you have an entity from Phoenix coming down and telling, basically, folks in Southern Arizona what to do and how to do it. There's a lot of pushback against that, even from people who might agree with the merits of the case are not happy. And when I talk to a lot of the people that that were major Republican donors, or people that were really involved in the Republican party, they're upset with that aspect of it. How that will affect the case itself, I have no idea, but there definitely has been pushback from a lot of people that are very conservative in Southern Arizona based on that case.
(Nintzel) I want to shift over to Ray Carroll is stepping down from the Board of Supervisors. We have a three-way Republican primary between former car dealer Steve Christie and Republican activist Marla Closen and then John Backer is kind of a political newcomer, Jonathan. Any tea leaf reading of how this one's going to play out?
(Paton) Well I give Steve an advantage just in his ability to raise money. The fact that he's going to get his name out there. And this is a common theme that we've talked about throughout this entire broadcast, but the fact is, is that for these races that don't get a lot of attention, that people might not know a lot about, what you get in the mail, what you see on television, those kinds of things matter. And I think that if you compare what he's been able to raise versus his opponents, I think it gives him an advantage, and I think I'd give him the edge for that reason. I think that you can compare that to the Miller race, where, because she's already in, she has some advantages already from that.
(Nintzel) Alright. Vince, wanted to touch on the court expansion that's coming up here with the Arizona Supreme Court getting two new justices. This was a law that was passed in this last session. It gives Doug Ducey a chance to use his gubernatorial powers to expand the court to put some justices on that he thinks will perhaps help him advance his agenda.
(Rabago) Yeah. I think that from a political perspective, it was a sheer act of genius for him to do that to expand his power. Who he gets to appoint to the bench. From my personal perspective, from a public policy perspective, it was unneeded The court didn't want it. The court wasn't saying, "Hey, we want you to expand this." And ultimately, they kind of got dragged through the political process. And so I don't think it was necessary. It will increase his ability, at the end of the day—if you have the ability to appoint more conservative judges, which, you know, he has and will do, then, ultimately, if there are cases that go up to that level of the court, they will tend to favor a conservative ideology. So, that's my perspective on it. It was one of those situations where it wasn't broke. No need to fix it. It was all politics.
(Nintzel) Jonathan, you're on the appellate court commission that helps choose justices, and you were appointed by Doug Ducey. Your thoughts on this.
(Paton) Well, I will say this about Gov. Ducey. He has appointed more Democrats more people of the opposite party than any of his predecessors have already, and he's only a few years into his first term. So he has already shown a willingness at least to have diversity on the bench, especially political diversity on the bench. This is, this wasn't just the governor's decision. This is a legislative, it was a bill in the legislature. It's certainly their right to do that. It went through the committee process and it was weighed in on by a bunch of people. The court didn't like it, but that's not necessarily where the court ... the legislature also doesn't like the court weighing in on their decisions. So, the legislature made that choice. The governor signed it and we'll be deciding on those at the end of September I believe, is when we're scheduled to start vetting candidates. And, by all indications, the people who've applied, there's a diversity of folks that are going to apply, and they're all very well-qualified from what I've seen.
(Nintzel) Alright. We're going to have to leave it there. I'd like to thank my guests former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton, and Pima County Democratic Latino Caucus chairman, Vince Rabago, for giving us a look ahead at what we can expect from next week's election.