BLOWING OFF THE BALLOT BOXTwo of our newest candidates for public office are asking for your vote, even though they have a bit of an aversion to the ballot box themselves.
Ephraim Cruz, who is one of seven Democrats seeking two House seats in southside Legislative District 29, has only voted three times in the decade he has lived in Arizona.
A former Border Patrol agent who was forced out of the federal agency after he complained about the treatment of illegal immigrants, Cruz is making his first run for public office.
Cruz, who moved from New York City to Arizona in 1998, didn't get around to registering to vote in Cochise County until 2004, according to county records. He voted in the 2004 primary and general elections.
Cruz skipped the 2006 election cycle and registered to vote in Pima County in 2007. He voted for the third time in Arizona in the February 2008 presidential primary.
Cruz says he didn't vote sooner because he didn't have a firm grasp on the local political landscape.
"I've taken the time to understand Arizona politics," says Cruz. "I come from a whole different world in New York City. ... Also, being the Border Patrol, I was limited in my involvement in politics."
Cruz concedes that the federal Hatch Act, which limits political activity by federal employees, did not prohibit him from voting. But he said the "tumultuous nature" of his life prevented him from updating his registration and casting a ballot.
"I had various places that I lived and only became settled in October of '06," he says. "So that's when I felt comfortable registering to vote, when I had a place I could call home, and I was stable. It took that long to get into a position of stability."
Cruz is facing Rep. Tom Prezelski, Matt Heinz, Daniel Patterson, Patricia Puig, Gil Guerra and Eric Bustamante in the Sept. 2 primary. Find out who all these folks are by visiting our new election Web site, ScrambleWatch.com.
Cruz isn't the only local candidate with a shaky voting record. Republican Joe Higgins, a local businessman who is challenging District 1 Pima County Supervisor Ann Day in September's GOP primary, has only voted in one primary since registering in Pima County. Higgins has voted in most statewide general elections, although he sat out 1994 and 2002 entirely.
Higgins says he only really started getting involved in politics a few years ago, which is why he voted in the 2006 primary.
Higgins, whose business endeavors have included a chain of barber shops and cell-phone stores, makes no excuse for not voting in the primaries.
"Just haven't stepped in, just haven't done it," he says.
Higgins also failed to cast ballots in any city primary or general elections when he was registered to vote inside the Tucson city limits between 1987 and 2004.
Higgins did vote in the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election. But he has never voted in a county bond election, even though he's critical of recent increases in property taxes--part of which is driven by voter-approved debt.
Asked if it was irresponsible to sit out the bond elections given his concerns about rising property rates, Higgins responds: "That's a good question. I don't have an answer for you there."
COMING UP A LITTLE SHORTRep. Marian McClure has made it official: She has given up on Stop Payday Loans, an initiative effort she was chairing that would have curtailed the payday-lending industry. McClure tells The Skinny that she only had about 30,000 signatures when she needed more than 153,000.
Last month, state Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, who was also leading a team gathering signatures for the effort, announced she was throwing in the towel and instead focusing on defeating a proposal sponsored by the payday-loan sharks.
That effort--known as the Payday Loan Reform Act--is likely to reach the ballot.
McClure, who has reached her term limit in the House of Representatives and is one of eight Republicans seeking a seat on the Arizona Corporation Commission, says she'll help with the effort to defeat the Payday Loan Reform Act.
McClure says the payday-loan sharks could enact most of the so-called reforms in their plan without any legislation at all.
The real reason they're pushing a ballot initiative: There's a sunset clause that automatically repeals the legislation that allowed them to set up shop in the first place. And even if they manage to get the Legislature to extend or eliminate that sunset clause, they still need to get Gov. Janet Napolitano to sign the bill.
So they're looking to bypass the Legislature completely and take their case straight to voters.
WEST SIDE STORYThe Tucson City Council, following a motion by Ward 1 Councilwoman Regina Romero, has told City Manager Mike Hein that they want some kind of timeline for the construction of a downtown museum complex on the west side of the Santa Cruz River.
While a lot of construction is taking place on the east side of downtown--the new Fourth Avenue underpass, the laying of light-rail tracks for the new urban streetcar, the MLK apartment rehab--progress is harder to see on the west side.
The plan calls for the city to use Rio Nuevo funds to help build a new UA Science Center, a new home for the Arizona Historical Society, a new children's museum and other cultural facilities.
But from what we hear, the big stumbling block isn't a city timeline. The bigger problem is whether the UA and the other partners can come up with their share of the costs.
If that's not happening--and given the budget squeeze, we wouldn't be surprised if that's the case--then Hein isn't going to be able to come up with much of anything.
SEE YOU IN COURT?City Councilman Steve Leal had no luck last week when he tried to convince his colleagues to ask voters to approve a plan to build an overpass at the intersection of 22nd Street and Kino Parkway. The project, part of the Regional Transportation Authority plan passed by voters in 2006, would extend the current Kino Parkway overpass that carries traffic above Aviation Parkway.
It's not a particularly controversial idea; Leal himself supports it. Nonetheless, the Ward 5 councilman believes the city needs to comply with the city charter's Neighborhood Protection Amendment. Passed by city voters in the 1980s, the NPA states that any plan that involves building a big ol' overpass must be approved by voters.
The rest of the council disagrees with Leal. They argue that the entire RTA plan was already approved by voters and suggest it's a waste of $300,000 to have a city election that's not necessary.
City Attorney Mike Rankin argues that the NPA might not apply in this case, because the road is a state route, which could mean it's exempt from the NPA requirements.
So will someone--like, say, former state lawmaker John Kromko, who helped cook up the NPA in the first place--file a lawsuit to force a public vote on the overpass?
We'll have to wait and see, although if he does, it could delay the construction of the project.
But Kromko has something to lose if he takes the case to court: There's a question over whether the NPA itself is constitutional, because it basically creates an automatic route to referendum that's not outlined in the Arizona Constitution.
So by dragging the city into court, Kromko could find the NPA tossed out altogether.