CRASHING THE PARTY
Things were looking up for the Pima County Republican Party when it elected Brian Miller as its chairman last December.
Miller, who made his political debut in the 2010 congressional race to unseat Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, has a great résumé: He was a former jet-fighter pilot who flew combat missions in Desert Storm, and after retiring, he continued to teach young pilots at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base as a member of the Air Force Reserve.
In the wake of the Jan. 8 shooting massacre, Miller rose to the occasion and gave the local Republican Party a positive face in the national media.
He also began updating the party's woefully outdated software and looked for ways to recruit younger people among a rapidly aging collection of party activists.
But he stepped into big trouble when he spoke out against a SWAT raid that ended in the death of José Guerena, a southside resident who responded to the raid by grabbing an AR-15 rifle—and wound up dying in a hail of gunfire.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik has defended the raid.
"There's a lot violence associated with the drug traffic," Dupnik says. "I would rather see one of the drug-traffickers killed than one of my police officers."
In the wake of the raid, Miller fired off an e-mail headlined "We Are All José Guerena."
Miller, who hails from the Ron Paul wing of the Republican Party, says he's "concerned about the militarization of our police and how they are used more frequently than ever."
That didn't set well with the law-and-order wing of the GOP, which has organized a drive to oust Miller. The chairman has lost the support of elected lawmakers, including state Sens. Frank Antenori and Al Melvin, and state Rep. Terri Proud.
The Pima County Executive Committee voted 10-2 to strip Miller of his authority to speak for the party and spend money.
"Mr. Miller's statements regarding the SWAT raid have created serious problems for our elected officials (and) money-raising efforts and have divided the party," the executive committee announced in a statement. "Mr. Miller was given repeated opportunities to either mend these fences or resign his position, and has chosen to do neither. Instead, he has continued to make controversial statements to the press."
Republican Party precinct leaders will meet at 4:30 p.m. this Friday, July 15, at downtown's Manning House to revise the party's rules to allow them to kick Miller out of the chairman's slot. If they are successful in changing the rules, party leaders hope to have a vote to remove him.
But the lingering question is this: If Miller is removed, will a new chairman be able to mend the party—or will it remain fractured, with Miller's supporters working against those who drove him out?
A GOP MAYORAL CANDIDATE?
Rick Grinnell, who has unsuccessfully run for the Ward 2 City Council seat twice, filed paperwork this week to run as a write-in Republican candidate for mayor.
Grinnell needs at least 1,060 votes in the August primary election to get his name on the November ballot so he can face off against Democrat Jonathan Rothschild and the winner of the Green Party primary between Dave Croteau and Mary DeCamp.
The two GOP candidates who tried to run for mayor this year failed to collect enough signatures and were booted off of the ballot, so the GOP's only hope to get a candidate on the ballot is via the write-in option.
Grinnell says the top three issues in his campaign will be "the economy, the economy and the economy."
To get his 1,060 votes, he plans to call voters and knock on doors.
"I'm going to run a full-blown campaign," Grinnell says. "I'm very confident I'll get on the ballot. And I'm confident I'll be able to raise some money."
Grinnell was hoping to support another pro-business candidate and had talked to Pat Darcy, who tried to run as an independent this year (after losing a mayoral bid as a Democrat in 1999). However, Darcy was also knocked off the ballot due to a lack of valid signatures.
"Pat understands business, and I wasn't worried about party politics; I was worried about a good mayor who can bring economic development," Grinnell says.
Grinnell acknowledges that now he has to deal with party politics, because he has to convince more than a thousand Republicans to support him in the primary.
However, he says he's staying out of the current fight between Pima GOP chairman Brian Miller and the Republican executive committee.
"The executive committee has to deal with whatever they have to deal with," Grinnell says. "I've gotten phone calls from a multitude of people—Democrats, Republicans, city employees and independents. I think the Republican issue will solve itself. I'm not going to get into it. I wish them all the luck in the world in dealing with that."
Grinnell has been operating a lobbying and marketing firm, Smart United Business Strategies, since leaving the employ of Metro Restaurants' Bob McMahon in 2008.
Grinnell says he will continue operating the lobbying firm while running for mayor.
"I still have to make a living," he says. "If I won the mayor's race, then I'd have to step down. I would restructure the company to be able to do certain things. ... I could keep the marketing side, but the lobbying would have to cease and desist."
His biggest client is Rosemont Copper, the Canadian firm that plans to dig tons of ore out of the Santa Rita Mountains if they can win permission to dump their tailings on U.S. Forest Service land.
Grinnell doesn't think that his work for Rosemont will be a negative for his mayoral bid.
"The work I do for Rosemont is right in line with the work I do for my company," Grinnell says. "They're still a client. I'm still going to advocate for good business positions. I'm still going to advocate for opportunity."
He added that he has about 12 clients, but he doesn't plan to reveal their names while he runs for mayor.
"The only ones that would probably be public, because of certain regulations, would be Rosemont," Grinnell says. "I don't think that's an issue. I help people with marketing campaigns. I help them understand the dynamics. I help them with e-mails and stuff like that."
Grinnell says most of his work involves doing marketing for his clients. "There are only a couple that I do political advocacy for," he explains.
MEANWHILE, IN THE MAYORAL SIDESHOW ...
Speaking of the mayor's race: Political newcomer David Karr, who is running a quixotic write-in campaign for mayor, is knocking down rumors that he will run in the Green primary rather than the Democratic primary, although he did appear with the Green Party candidates at a forum.
"I'm going to try something crazy," Karr says. "I'm going to run as a green Democrat."
Karr says he embraces Green values, because he recycles his trash and may include solar power in an ongoing remodel of his home.
Karr concedes that getting more votes than Rothschild in the Democratic primary will be an uphill battle, given that Rothschild's name will actually appear on the ballot. On top of that, Rothschild has the support of the Democratic Party, has been organizing a campaign for more than a year and has raised more than $160,000.
"I have nothing to lose," Karr says. "Might as well go for it."