Pima County Bond Election-Democracy In Action

While Yes on Pima Bonds campaign chair Larry Hecker was “stunned” and potential bond beneficiaries like the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection were “really disappointed,” the November 3 results defeating all seven bond measures deserve a closer look.

Despite being out-spent better than 30 to 1; despite Yes endorsements from the media, from business groups, from labor unions, from churches, from the Democrat Party, from special interest groups who would benefit from the 99 bond projects; from all the power-wielders in our society; and despite negative attacks from those who should know better – voters exercised their free choice to say, “Not this time.”

Some proponents complained about “low voter turnout.”  The facts were that nearly 39 percent of eligible voters actually voted, compared with just 20 percent in the 2004 bond election, and about half of that in the 1997 bond election.  Green Valley had about a 60 percent turnout and Oro Valley nearly 70 percent – and both voted against the bonds.

It is an inconvenient truth that Tucson, for instance, is majority Democrat and reelected Democrats while turning down the bonds endorsed by the Democrat Party.

The fact is that the Yes campaign wanted the election in this off-year because they expected low voter turnout and believed they could turn out enough project beneficiary supporters to win.  Taxpayers Against Pima Bonds forced the issue into public consciousness and made it a real race.  People figured it out for themselves, not because they saw a sign along the road.

An example of actually encouraging low voter turnout was the 2007 Picture Rocks Fire District bond election.  Voters received a County notice about their polling place location, but not a word about what the election was about.  An eight percent voter turnout passed the $5 million measure.  It turned out that state law allowed water and fire districts to either send out a publicity pamphlet or publish a notice in the Daily Territorial and post it on the office door.

While the then-fire chief argued that they were just saving money for the taxpayers by not sending out information, Fire District Board Minutes showed that the Phoenix bond attorney was to get $20,000 if it passed, and only his expenses if it failed.  Asked how lack of information furthered the democratic process, the bond lawyer responded, “Democracy is optional.”

The Pima County Board of Supervisors subsequently passed an ordinance requiring any entity using County election facilities to send out a publicity pamphlet.

FAT CATS VS. GRASS ROOTS

An examination of the legally-required campaign finance statements filed a few days before the election by both campaigns tells a tale of how shallow the Yes campaign’s grass roots were despite hundreds of thousands in corporate donations and a long list of endorsers.  The Yes campaign raised $305,478, with 42 contributions over $1,000 and about the same number donating $100 or less.  Corporations like Diamond Ventures, Tuttle-Click Automotive, HSL Management Services and Tucson Electric gave $25,000 each.

Indeed, an August fund drive on the Yes website sought to raise $5,000 in small donations by Labor Day to counter charges that the campaign was funded by fat cats, many of whom stood to benefit from passage of the bonds.  They didn’t make it.

The No campaign reported only three “large” contributions, one of $2,000 from former Congressional candidate Ruth McClung, daughter of campaign manager Gini Crawford, and two $1,000 donations.  That made up 40 percent of the No campaign’s $10,000 in total contributions.  The rest came from people donating $100 or less, and they were retired people, parking lot attendants, machinists, self-employed folks and military personnel.

Sounding like sore losers, Yes campaign supporters like Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce head Mike Varney are complaining about “fear” and “misinformation.”  How the mostly-volunteer grassroots No campaign instilled “fear” is not explained.  Taxpayers Against Pima Bonds spokesperson Joe Boogaart, who carried his message far and wide, was always gentle and non-confrontational.

However:  this reporter observed Democrat Party functionaries at an ice cream social handing out Yes tee shirts go ballistic when several No supporters arrived to peacefully hand out flyers on the sidewalk to the few people who attended.  They later apologized for trying to intimidate the grassroots No campaigners.

As for misinformation, both sides can point to things they believe the label fits, and both sides may have made honest mistakes of fact, emphasis, or interpretation.  The Avra Valley Coalition took Supervisor Ray Carroll to task for a radio ad aimed at hunters favoring the purchase of $95 million of “open space.”  Having seen signs on County open space land forbidding firearms or archery, they believed those “conservation” lands were closed to hunters.  It turned out that more than 99 percent of those open space lands were open to hunters.  The Coalition issued a public apology.

SONORAN CORRIDOR REJECTED/RESURRECTED

But consider the “Sonoran Corridor:” A clear priority for the County Administrator, it was added to the bond measure late, then tied in with politically-popular road repairs, then moved up in priority while those repairs were stretched out over 12 years, then sold to federal legislators for inclusion in a transportation bill.  People noticed that maneuvering.  People don’t like to feel manipulated.

That highway, labeled “I-11” on maps from the County Administrator’s office more than once, might have won support if it simply linked I-10 and I-19 near Raytheon, the airport and the UA Tech Park. But dropping it south to gift a Diamond Ventures proposed development, and then west to link to his proposed Interstate 11 route that would destroy the communities, wildlife and archaeological riches of the Avra Valley – that inspired hundreds to stand up and actively fight the bonds to save their homeland.

And when it was clear that the bonds had been defeated, readers of the Arizona Daily Star were dismayed to see Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bronson quoted as saying, “The county should find a different way to move ahead with the road repair and Sonoran Corridor proposals rejected in Tuesday’s election.”

While the Sonoran Corridor was sold as being about jobs, a reading of ADOT’s I-11 “Corridor Justification Report” showed that it is more about exporting jobs.  R&D in Arizona and Nevada, manufacture and assembly in Mexico, where wages are predicted to fall below China’s.  I-11, the report says, can also help Mexico steal jobs from the West Coast by attracting container ships to Guaymas, now being expanded with financing from China.

Perhaps this is why so many people are responding to the “outsider” campaigns of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Bernie Sanders.  The failure of Prop. 425 marked a rejection by the people, and in a democracy the elected representatives are supposed to carry out the will of the people. Civics 101.

Congressman Raul Grijalva apparently understands that.  Informed of the voters’ decision, he voted against the Transportation legislation that included the Sonoran Corridor, while fellow Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick – running for Senator against John McCain – voted for it.  McCain and Kirkpatrick are among the bipartisan cosponsors trying to get a federal priority designation, and federal funds, for both the Sonoran Corridor and Interstate 11.

There were certainly some good projects in the bond package, and maybe they will find their way to voters again without the baggage and burden of being wrapped in corporate greed or political chicanery or misleading math.  The November 3 vote was, in sum, a failed Vote of Confidence. The Board of Supervisors must look at and deal with the maneuvering and manipulation by the chief architect of the measures, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

In this election all kinds of political lines were blurred in both the Yes and No coalitions that emerged. Those to the Right who bemoan the “Demoncrats” need to rethink their prejudices, just as those to the Left should rethink their attitudes towards “Republikooks.” What this election showed was that good people of all political persuasions can work together when they believe the cause is just, and that the voters of Pima County are not for sale.

By Albert Vetere Lannon
Avra Valley Coalition

About Albert Vetere Lannon 107 Articles
Albert grew up in the slums of New York, and moved to San Francisco when he was 21. He became a union official and labor educator after obtaining his high school GED in 1989 and earning three degrees at San Francisco State University – BA, Labor Studies; BA, Interdisciplinary Creative Arts; MA, History. He has published two books of history, Second String Red, a scholarly biography of my communist father (Lexington, 1999), and Fight or Be Slaves, a history of the Oakland-East Bay labor movement (University Press of America, 2000). Albert has published stories, poetry, essays and reviews in a variety of “little” magazines over the years. Albert retired to Tucson in 2001. He has won awards from the Arizona State Poetry Society and Society of Southwestern Authors.