By Albert Vetere Lannon
Avra Valley Coalition
The campaigns for and against the $816 million package of Pima County bonds to be voted on November 3 have been fairly low-key. There have been dozens of bond forums, and speakers sent out to sell their point-of-view to potential voters. Over Labor Day weekend signs for and against blossomed all over the county. Both the Yes on Pima County Bonds and Taxpayers Against Pima County Bonds maintain active websites. It’s been a visible, but quiet, campaign.
On the eve of early voting that changed. On September 18 the Yes campaign sent out its regular Friday email to supporters, but this one was different. The email began with a series of purported quotations:
“’Pima county voters are STUPID’….’Bond projects HAVE NOT benefited citizens throughout Pima County….’ ‘They should change their name to Greed Valley….’’This [Bond Package] is one of the worst things that could happen….’” ’
The Yes campaign continued: “Those are actual statements from opponents of the Pima County Bonds. And these are the only ones fit for a family audience…Imagine waking up on November 4th and realizing that it is these extreme voices that prevailed in this election. This is a critical time in the campaign. Less than 3 weeks until early voting starts. How do you want to feel the day after this election?”
On September 19 the Greater Tucson League of Women Voters held a bond forum at the main library. Bond Advisory Committee member Joe Boogaart from the No campaign and Tucson Electric’s Senior Director of Government Relations Larry Lucero, filling in for Yes chair Larry Hecker, presented their positions before 60 League members.
During the Q&A, League Chair Judy Moll, a copy of the Yes campaign’s email in hand, spoke to the need for “civil discourse.” An audience member said that the Yes campaign should either provide the names and sources of the alleged quotations or issue a public apology.
Lucero, clearly caught by surprise, promised he would look into it and get it corrected. The Avra Valley Coalition followed up with emails to the Yes campaign and Yes chair Larry Hecker requesting proof or an apology. There was no response for the next ten days. Coalition members suspected that the alleged quotes were made up to inflame and manipulate voters. Moll said later, “There is no place in today’s political world for language like this.”
A follow-up email to Lucero September 28 brought immediate responses from Hecker and from Yes campaign manager David Steele. Attorney Hecker struck a conciliatory note, telling the Coalition that ”We have never and will never attribute this kind of trash-talk or negative campaigning to you…while I do not agree with your position, you have always been respective (sic) and civil and that is the way you can expect to be treated.”
Steele, however, was combative. “(I)nstead of spending your time and energy complaining that the YES Campaign pointed out that these comments were in fact made, a better use of your time would be to work to improve the tone of the debate coming from your side of this campaign.” He provided an anti-bonds Facebook quote from that morning by someone not connected with either Taxpayers Against Pima Bonds or the Avra Valley Coalition.
Steele also said, “A cursory internet search will reveal the sources of the quotes in the email.” A Google search for the “stupid” and “greed valley” allegations turned up no relevant hits, and no documentation has been forthcoming.
Taxpayers Against Pima Bonds campaign manager Gini Crawford, in an email to supporters, commented, “Are we really ‘extreme’ because we are against the county wasting our hard earned tax money in these Bonds and are against skyrocketing taxes and debt?! I would say they are getting frantic, to have to claim childish falsehoods to get people to vote for their Bonds and give funds.”
MOST SUPPORTERS SILENT
A request for comment from this reporter to the Yes campaign’s 11 major funders – whose reported campaign donations total over $160,000 – and to the campaign’s 11 co-chairs was mostly ignored. Tucson Medical Center’s Rhonda Bodfield said, “…we are independent from campaign operations and keep an arms-length distance. I have forwarded your concerns to the campaign.”
Jessa Turner, speaking for the UA Tech Park, said,” Our focus is on the merits of the various bond projects. We are committed to a thoughtful and respectful discussion and debate regarding the bond package.”
Those merits include a building, a road, a Y and a library for the tech park, projects that add up to $42 million in bond money if passed.
Diamond Ventures, Tuttle-Click Automotive, CopperPoint Insurance, Sundt Construction, HSL Management Services, Tucson Association of Realtors and the Western National Parks Association ignored the request for comment. Banner Health refused to comment in writing. The Yes campaign co-chairs were similarly silent.
The Avra Valley Coalition’s opposition to the bonds stems from a petition signed by nearly 800 people pledging to oppose any bonds with money for an Interstate 11 “Canamex Highway” in them. County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has proposed an Avra Valley I-11 route that critics believe threatens the communities, wildlife and archaeological treasures of the valley.
Huckelberry pushed the Bond Advisory Committee to include, and the Board of Supervisors to prioritize, a $30 million Sonoran Corridor east of I-19 that links, on his maps, to the Avra Valley I-11 route. Maps from the county administrator’s office labeled what is now renamed “Sonoran Corridor” as “I-11” for over a year prior to inclusion in the bond package.
The Pima County bonds are contained in seven propositions, Props. 425 – 431, covering 99 projects. The total of the bonds is almost $816 million, the largest in county history. With debt service (interest) and operations and maintenance costs, the total is well over a billion dollars. That is in addition to Pima County’s existing debt of $1.3 billion.
If passed by voters, bonds will be sold over the next twelve years and interest rates may rise as high as eight percent. Bond-financed projects, including proposed road repairs, will be similarly spaced out over the next twelve years. Bond payments, financed by property taxes, will run until 2043. The election is November 3.