As Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll was thanking many of his friends for their support late Friday afternoon, he told them that when he was growing up in Chicago, he always dreamed of being one of three things: A police officer, a priest or a politician.
"Those first two had such high standards of admission that I had to focus on the third," Carroll cracked. "I tried to join the priesthood but they told me they were looking for quality, not quantity."
The Feb. 5 gathering at Mills Touché, the high-end fashion boutique owned by Carroll's wife, Ann, was a bittersweet occasion as Carroll formally announced what had by then become the worst-kept political secret of 2016: He was not going to seek another term on the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
Carroll will fall just short of the 20 years he needed to get his full pension, but he decided now was the time to call it quits. He's 54 years old, he still has time for another career and the job just ain't what it used to be. So he's following one of the oldest rules of showbiz: Always leave them wanting more.
Carroll celebrated some of his favorite political wins on Friday afternoon: He's proud of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, an ambitious planning effort that has won national acclaim by using environmental science to identify vital environmental corridors that are off limits to future development. He turned the political wheels to get a modern hospital built in Green Valley. He opposed enacting a countywide sales tax. He helped with the rebuilding of the Summerhaven community atop Mount Lemmon, after the 2003 Aspen Fire. And he push to change attitudes about the care of cats and dogs at the pound: When he was first elected, only about 15 percent of the animals in Pima County's care were adopted rather than euthanized. Today, the figure is closer to 85 percent and Pima County is building a new animal-care facility.
But there were defeats, too—including the loss of the county's $800 million bond proposal just last November. Carroll had pushed hard for the package, hoping that it would allow the county to make major investments in roads, parks, economic development, libraries, open space, historical preservation and more.
Carroll was first appointed to the board in 1997 following the death of Republican John Even, who served just a few months after his 1996 election. He landed the job with the support of Democrat Raúl Grijalva and Republican Mike Boyd, as well as the clerk of the board.
Between Grijalva's blessing and his roots as a Chicago Democrat, some conservative grousers have frequently charged that Carroll was a political stooge for the lefty political establishment. But Carroll is political charmer who has won over many of his constituents. He triumphed in a three-way GOP primary to hang on to the seat in 1998 and has easily swatted away any subsequent challenges.
In his early days, he kept his Republican cred by feuding with Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry over spending and taxes, the management of Kino Hospital and allegations of county corruption. And it was his lone opposition to instituting a half-cent sales tax that kept the Huckelberry from getting the unanimous vote he needed from the board—a political gesture that earned him the Hero of the Taxpayer award from the Arizona branch of Americans for Prosperity.
These days, Carroll is friendly with Huckelberry. "When we were younger, we tangled over some very important issues," Carroll says. "But I've grown to respect Chuck. He is one of the more knowledgeable people in county administration in this nation, but also likeable and capable. He is a good politician and a survivor. He shouldn't be demonized for it."
Carroll's new nemesis is fellow Republican Supervisor Ally Miller. Miller loathes her fellow supervisors and Huckelberry; she rarely speaks to them outside of board meetings and keeps her entire District 1 office locked down at all times to avoid the possibility of her staff interacting with rest of the 11th floor. But she reserves a special enmity for Carroll and her supporters regularly line up at the call to the audience segment to castigate Carroll for his impure GOP pedigree.
But Carroll won over many Republicans who were once suspicious of him. Longtime Green Valley GOP leader Pete Davis recalled on Friday that he didn't support Carroll in his first race—"I worked hard to try to defeat him"—but he's a huge supporter now. Davis said that Carroll could be counted on to take care of his constituents and deliver for the community.
"I can't tell you the number of people who had some kind of problem and I went to Ray and he solved it," Davis said. "He's done a great job for the Green Valley area's county roads. The new hospital is outstanding."
Davis said he didn't much care for Miller's tactics. "That crowd that is tearing him apart, especially Ally—that's breaking Reagan's rule, never speak evil of your fellow Republicans," Davis said.
The people who gathered Friday afternoon showed how Carroll's friends transcended traditional political boundaries: His longtime political mentor, Emil Franzi. Development sector godfather Don Diamond. Republican National Committeman Bruce Ash. New Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos. Former Pima County Republican Party Executive Director and onetime Carroll aide Paula Maxwell. Diana Rhoades, a former council aide to City Councilwoman Regina Romero. Katie Bolger, the chief of staff for City Councilman Paul Cunningham. Rhonda Bodfield, the former political reporter at the Arizona Daily Star.
Local environmentalists loved Carroll for leading the opposition to the proposed Rosemont Mine. He has been outspoken in his concern about the potential damage to the water that feeds the Tucson basin, but he also hates the idea of a mile-wide open pit mine forever despoiling the Santa Rita Mountains.
"The scenic Santa Ritas are just too sacred to me," Carroll said. "They will never be defiled by a company if I can stop it."
Carroll's insistence on valuing the irreplaceable beauty of the Santa Rita Mountains over a Canadian mining company's offer of jobs is exactly the kind of heresy that has so many conservatives within the GOP ready to hang Carroll high. Miller's crowd has organized behind Marla Closen, who announced her challenge to Carroll last summer.
Carroll laughed off the suggestion that he was stepping down rather than face the risk of losing a primary. "I slaughtered the last guy by 20 points," Carroll. "I had no fear of losing a primary. I enjoyed wiping up the floor with my last opponent.
Still, Carroll said that today's political environment is more toxic than it used to be.
"I've been through a transition to a less civil discourse," Carroll told the Weekly. "Diplomacy and statesmanship have been betrayed on both party fronts. Right now, you look at the presidential primary on the Republican side and the other elections that have occurred in the last four cycles and you just cannot believe the rancor and the personal attacks and the confrontational style that's pervasive."
Carroll doesn't know what his next act will be. "I'm jumping off the 11th floor without a net," he joked. "I hope there's a nice, soft landing when I get there."
But he choked up up when he talked about spending more time with his wife and kids. "Ann is a saintly woman who deserves the reverence that I hold for her," he said as he promised to travel with her to see their son Carlos play with Southern Methodist University this fall.
"Ann and I have only been to a few games in his three years thus far," Carroll said. "We're going to make them all, honey."
As he looked back on his career, Carroll confessed that he flat-out delighted in the gig.
"No one's ever had more fun than I have had as a politician," he said.
Then, after mingling with the crowd, he climbed into a '53 Cadillac driven by his friend Scott Kimbriel and drove off into the sunset.