by Jim Nintzel
As she wraps up her first term on the Tucson City Council, Democrat Regina Romero says she loves her job representing the westside Ward 1.
“I’ve represented Ward 1 very well,” Romero says. “I work very directly with constituents and with neighborhood associations and businesses in Ward 1.”
She cites her record of working with Pima County, local tribes and other governments to find funding for projects in Ward 1 neighborhoods. And despite the need to cut city spending as a result of decreased sales-tax collections and declining revenues from the state of Arizona, she’s tried to keep the police and fire departments as a priority.
But Joe Flores, whose family owned a pharmacy for more than 80 years before he retired about a decade ago, says that the city is on the wrong track.
“I’ve become frustrated by movement of the direction that the city has been taking,” Flores says. “The decisions that are being made by the Tucson City Council are questionable.”
He’d like to see Tucson “revert back to what it used to be. All it needs is a positive direction.”
Flores is particularly critical of the spending on Rio Nuevo.
He says he’d like to spend more money on police officers, firefighters, repaving roads, putting in streetlights and pouring sidewalks. He’d like to lower fees for Parks and Rec programs such as KidCo and lower rental rates at the Tucson Convention Center. And he’s opposed to any tax or fee increases.
Asked what he could cut in the budget to pay for his priorities and Flores offers an honest answer: “I have no idea.”
“I would really need to take a very strong look at all the departments and see what the departments are doing,” Flores says. “You already had fees in place at one time. What happened? … Something along the line got out of proportion.”
Romero says the cuts in spending and the increases in fees was driven by “we went through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And the way that city governments work is that we have state-shared revenue—which is city of Tucson taxpayer money going up to Phoenix and coming back with just 70 cents on the dollar—and sales taxes. Those are our funding sources. If he doesn’t want to raise taxes on other things, then that’s what he has to work with.”
The Pima County Democratic Party Executive Committee—a group of precinct leaders—voted earlier this year to take the unusual step of endorsing Romero over Flores in the primary.
Flores isn’t bothered by the party’s snub.
“I know that they’re not the ones who are going to get me into office,” Flores says. “The voters are going to get me into office. The people.”
But Flores’ campaign manager, former state lawmaker Luis Gonzales, sent a letter to Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers demanding that the endorsement be revoked.
Rogers says the executive committee stands by its decision because “they were very happy with the work of Regina Romero. She’s done an outstanding job and she deserves another four-year term.”
“Nobody had ever heard of Mr. Flores and it’s still that way,” adds Rogers, “Nobody’s been able to point out anything he’s done within the Democratic Party.”
Rogers suggests that Flores’ previous ownership of a payday-loan company demonstrates that “he wasn’t going to represent true Democratic Party interests. We get a sense that he’s not going stand for the same principles as the Democratic Party does.”
Flores says the payday loan operation was just one element of his check-cashing business and he was just serving as an agent for a payday lender out of Phoenix. He no longer does payday loans because state law no longer allows them.
“As far as the payday loan business, we operated it as an agent,” Flores says. “We only did for about a year and a half and the only reason we did was because people were requesting it.”
Flores says he has “no opinion one way or the other” about the payday-loan industry.