GOP challengers struggle to keep up with Democratic incumbents on the money front
Tucson is not an especially friendly political environment for Republicans, given that there are roughly three Democrats for every two Republicans. Because City Council candidates run citywide, GOP candidates have a tough time winning seats on the council.
It's not impossible for a Republican candidate to knock off a Democratic incumbent. Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik, for example, beat Democrat Nina Trasoff in 2009. But Kozachik turned out to be a big disappointment to the Republicans who supported him and ended up switching to the Democratic Party before he ran for reelection in 2013.
Other than that, you have to go back about three decades to find a Republican who unseated a Democratic council member, although Republicans have won open seats on several occasions in the modern political era.
This year, Republicans didn't field a candidate to take on Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, but they did find three candidates to challenge the three incumbent Council members up for reelection.
Those GOP candidates are struggling to raise as much money as the Democrats they'd like to replace, according to campaign finance reports filed last week that cover fundraising through Aug. 13. All of the candidates have signed contracts to participate in the city's matching-funds program, which provides a dollar-for-dollar match for qualifying candidates who agree to limit their spending to $110,367. To qualify for the funding—an important milestone in a council campaign—candidates have to collect a minimum of 200 contributions of at least $10 from city residents.
Here's where things stand as of mid-August:
In Ward 1, incumbent Democrat Regina Romero had raised nearly $53,000 and had roughly $23,200 left in the bank. Romero, who is seeking her third term, has qualified for matching funds, so she's essentially done with fundraising and could have a big check coming her way whenever she asks the city to cut it. Her opponent, Republican Bill Hunt, had raised about $7,700 and had about $3,800 on hand at the end of the reporting period.
In Ward 2, incumbent Councilman Paul Cunningham had raised about $34,700 and had roughly $16,760 left in the bank. Cunningham has qualified for matching funds, so he also has an infusion of cash available when he decides he wants it.
His opponent, Kelly Lawton, wasn't able to file a campaign finance report as the deadline because his treasurer had a medical thing, but Weston McKee, who is a consultant to all three candidates, said Lawton had brought in about $7,500 and had spent little of that so far.
In Ward 4, Councilwoman Shirley Scott, who is seeking her sixth term on the council, had raised just under $30,000 and had about $19,100 left in the bank. Scott is the only Democratic candidate who has not yet applied to qualify for matching funds.
Scott's GOP challenger, Vail School Board member and teacher Margaret Burkholder, had raised about $9,100 and had about $4,000 left in the bank. She had not applied for matching funds.
Burkholder spoke for the GOP team when she told the Weekly via email that they were "citizen candidates and will never raise as much as the entrenched politicians we are running against. Yet, they will need that extra money to distract the voters from their poor records. Tucson's poverty rate is 74 percent higher than the national average, they have thrown hundreds of millions of dollars at the roads and we still have some of the worst roads in the country, and they have actively worked to keep businesses out of Tucson. I am not surprised they have outraised three citizen candidates. The question is, have they raised enough to hide their record?"
While the GOP candidates haven't raised that much yet, they have had their campaigns boosted by the independent campaign being run by Revitalize Tucson, a political committee that is being run by former state lawmaker Frank Antenori and his frequent collaborator, Christine Bauserman.
Revitalize Arizona reported spending about $30,600 of the $35,000 it had raised, with most of the money—$30,400—paying for billboards that are sprouting up around town that criticize the council incumbents on issues such as transportation, poverty and homelessness. That might not make local Democrats vote Republican—but it could help depress turnout and GOP candidates have a better chance of winning when turnout is lower.
The money supporting Revitalize Tucson is coming from a nonprofit founded by Antenori and Bauserman called the Foundation for Responsible and Accountable Government. As a nonprofit, FRAG does not have to report its contributors.
That kind of dark-money opportunity does give some local business types a way to go after the incumbents on the City Council without getting their fingerprints on it.
Enough of this year's City Council races—let's look ahead to 2016
Former state lawmaker Demion Clinco, who lost a House of Representatives seat after being appointed to the job in 2013, is considering a political comeback.
Clinco, the executive director of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, got knocked out of office in what seems like the safely Democratic Legislative District 2 by Republican Chris Ackerly.
Now Clinco is weighing whether to run again in LD2, a district that includes downtown Tucson, Green Valley/Sahuarita and Nogales, or take a new shot in LD9, a central/northside district where he grew up.
In Legislative District 2, he'd be going up against Ackerly if he survived the Democratic primary—and we hear there are several other Democrats already considering a run there.
In LD9, there's going to be an open seat unless state Rep. Victoria Steele shifts gears and decides against seeking the Congressional District 2 seat now held by Congresswoman Martha McSally. So far, the only other candidate we hear is interested in the LD9 race is Democrat Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive blogger and political activist. The district is one of the most competitive in the state and Republican newcomer Ana Henderson is already assembling a campaign.
Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel airs at 8 a.m. Sunday on KWBA, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast systems and Channel 58 on broadcast, Dish and DirecTV. You can also hear the program at 5 p.m. Sunday on KXCI, 91.3 FM. This week's guests are Congressman Raul Grijalva and Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll.