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Nucleus Meltdown

A not-quite-liveblog of last week's debate between Democratic candidates for the Board of Supervisors

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Two incumbents on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Sharon Bronson and Ramón Valadez, met their respective primary challengers--Donna Branch-Gilby and Robert Robuck--at a meeting of the Pima County Democratic Party's Nucleus Club last week.

Here's a recap of the raucous caucus. Supporters clapped and cheered; critics hissed and booed.

6:01 p.m.: Moderator Ash Silverberg introduces the candidates. Valadez talks about growing up in Pima County and getting his start in politics by interning for Dan Eckstrom, the previous District 2 supervisor and the kingpin of southside politics. Valadez also mentions that he served in the Legislature and as an aide to Gov. Janet Napolitano. He says the county has made a lot of progress with conservation, sustainability and transportation.

6:04 p.m.: Robuck explains that he moved to Sahuarita from California because his wife grew up here. He says he got worried about local politics when he learned about the plan to mine copper in the Santa Ritas and decided to run for office when Valadez wouldn't return his phone calls. He mentions that election integrity is an important issue.

6:07 p.m.: Branch-Gilby says she running against Bronson "because it was time to stop asking, stop lobbying (and) stop explaining about the necessity of really being sure we had an accurate election in a democracy, and it was time to do something about it."

Branch-Gilby gives props to Bronson for her work on the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan before calling Bronson "the leading obstructionist" on the election-integrity issue.

6:11 p.m.: Bronson takes the microphone and goes all Oprah, stepping out from behind the table. "I hate standing behind a podium," she says. "I think we all need to be talking to one another, and we don't do that by standing behind something, but by confronting the issues."

Bronson bureaucrats that she's proud of "moving us from divisive politics" to "a paradigm where there's collaboration and consensus." She says she has worked on environmental issues and found ways to help the city and the county work together on issues such as water.

6:27 p.m.: A woman named Barbara complains that she can't find a disaster plan related to the upcoming climate catastrophe set to hit Pima County. She accuses Bronson of telling her that the county had developed a response to a Day After Tomorrow scenario, but a subsequent search of the county's Web page had yielded no such plan.

Bronson snaps: "Actually, if you had listened, what I said was, after 9/11, we had a disaster plan, as we were required." She says not all disaster plans are public record "because of reasons of security."

Branch-Gilby says the county needs more leadership in planning for the disasters that will accompany climate change.

6:37 p.m.: Valadez says the public should have input on the budget. He pauses, and Bronson suddenly begins to feed him lines, murmuring that budget information is online. Valadez repeats her words, and Bronson adds that we're the only county in Arizona that "does it." "We're the only county in Arizona that does it," Valadez repeats.

6:38 p.m.: Robuck has praise for Bronson: "Sharon, I almost didn't see your mouth moving while he was talking." The audience responds with a hearty laugh.

Robuck calls for more public input in the budget, then calls for the board to meet more often in study sessions. Patrick McKenna, an aide to Republican Supervisor Ray Carroll (who is using Robuck and Branch-Gilby as his swords of vengeance against the board's Democratic majority), yells out, "Yeah!" and applauds so loudly that it sounds as if he is pounding two bricks together.

Robuck mentions again that Valadez wouldn't take his calls and complains that Valadez hired Jennifer Eckstrom, the mayor of South Tucson and the daughter of Dan Eckstrom, as his chief aide.

"That's like having my wife working in my office," Robuck says.

The statement brings an angry rebuttal from Jennifer Eckstrom, who is sitting with her father at a table in the corner of the room. "Excuse me, but we're not married!" yells Eckstrom as she gives Robuck some serious skunk-eye.

6:45 p.m.: Attorney Bill Risner, who led the legal action that forced the county to turn over election databases and is one of the activists alleging that the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election may have been fixed (see this week's Skinny for details), asks the supervisors to commit to recounting the RTA ballots if there's a legal option to do so. He gets huge applause; McKenna is now whooping like a pro-wrestling fan.

All candidates agree that they would support a recount.

6:55 p.m.: An audience member asks why the supervisors didn't turn over the electronic databases rather than forcing the Democratic Party to sue the county. The room explodes into applause.

Bronson blames the mess on the lawyers for both sides. "Let's kill all the lawyers," she Shakespeares before the audience begins booing and hissing.

"In hindsight," Bronson notes, "this should never have been adversarial."

Valadez weighs in, saying that the supervisors listened to what may have been bad advice from their attorneys. He says that supervisors have reformed ballot-counting security based on suggestions from election-integrity activists. The crowd begins to hiss again.

Branch-Gilby reminds the audience that this issue prompted her to run, meaning that she had to pass up her chance to be a superdelegate at the Democratic National Convention: "I said, 'Oh my God, I have to give up my seat to the convention, because this cannot go unchallenged.'" She calls for new management in the Elections Department.

7:10 p.m.: Closing statements already! Branch-Gilby reminds the crowd that Bronson resisted the release of election records, even though some of her fellow supervisors disagreed; Branch-Gilby adds that she wants to amend the county's general plan based on global warming and the subprime mortgage meltdown.

Bronson talks about cooperating with the city of Tucson and working toward a sustainable environment and economy. She says she works cooperatively with everyone and doesn't engage in adversarial politics.

Robuck says he opposes the Rosemont mine and supports election integrity. He also says too much pork is secretly being hidden in the budget. He complains that the county is wasting $110,000 on a dead-end road in South Tucson.

Valadez, who seems genuinely upset to have faced such a hostile crowd, talks about his experience. "You know, there is a very big difference between someone coming to a community and telling us what we need to do and doing what--doing what it takes to make the difficult decisions," says Valadez, who boasts about better relationships with local municipalities under his leadership.

7:18 p.m.: Silverberg thanks the candidates and the audience. "They were super," he says, "and so were you."

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