Phoenix’s Future To Be Decided At Ballot Box

PHOENIX — Phoenix Voters will head to the polls on Tuesday, March 12. A few of them anyway.

A handful of voters will send in their ballots. But almost every eligible voter will not cast a ballot.

Why does that matter? Because over the next five to eight months, Phoenix’s future will be – in many ways – locked in, and the vast majority of citizens won’t have any say in the process.

In March, voters will pick a new Mayor; choosing either the uber-liberal Kate Gallego, or union-allied Danny Valenzuela. Yes, both are Democrats, but they are very different brands of Democrat.

Valenzuela is a classical municipal Democrat; someone who is a friend to unions, while maintaining a strong focus on the core functions of local government. Gallego is a progressive true-believer who views the role of government as redistributive, with a responsibility to promote social justice.

They may have the same Party affiliation, but there is an absolute chasm in their politics, which has led businesses, trades, and blue collar workers to line up behind Valenzuela while Gallego attempts to ride the progressive wave that washed across Arizona last fall.

At the same time, the two council offices that opened up when Valenzuela and Gallego left to run for the big chair will hold their primaries. (Phoenix uses a “jungle primary” system, where the top two vote getters from any Party move on to the runoff, unless one person gets more than 50% of the vote, in which case the election is over and there is no runoff.)

The race to replace Valenzuela in Council District 5 almost exactly mirrors the Mayoral race. Current interim Councilwoman Vania Guevara is, like Gallego, a progressive true believer, while her only significant opponent, Betty Guardado, is molded far more along the lines of Valenzuela: a traditional local-government Democrat.

Meanwhile the battle to replace Gallego in District 8 is wide open, with numerous potential contenders, though the lines there are being drawn much the same as well.

In May, Phoenix will hold the runoff elections for the two council offices, if necessary, and decide whether to retain current Councilman Michael Nowakowski, who will need to defend his seat mid-term after a bunch of ultra-progressive activists collected enough petition signatures to force a recall election.

Then in August will come a pair of ballot initiatives that have the power to massively change our City. The first, spearheaded by a group of South Phoenix residents and business owners calling themselves “Build a Better Phoenix” would stop all future light rail expansion, and use those monies to instead rebuild our terrible roads and crumbling infrastructure, increase bus services, and improve pedestrian and bike accommodations.

The second would require Phoenix to – for the first time, ever – accurately account for our past due pension obligations, as well as limit spending growth (outside of police and fire) until the City has paid for its past promises. It would also end all pensions for politicians at the City.

If voters pass both initiatives, Phoenix will be on track towards real fiscal responsibility for the first time in decades. If, additionally, voters select Valenzuela for Mayor, Guardado for District 5, and a similar traditional Democrat for District 8, voters can likely rest assured that the City’s focus will be squarely on the core services residents have come to expect.

On the other hand, if both initiatives fail, and Phoenix ends up being led by Mayor Gallego with a newly empowered ultra-progressive Council at her back, look out.

It really isn’t all that far from where Phoenix is now to the plight and blight of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland which, until recently, were pretty nice places to live. Less than a decade ago, Democrats across the country were clamoring to live in one of those places. Now they are fleeing to low-tax, conservative bastions like Arizona and Texas.

The reasons are easy to see. Phoenix has issues with chronic street homelessness. But because we continue to build new housing and haven’t put an endless series of barriers and handouts in front of developers, folks can still afford a decent place to live here.

Yes, we have issues with traffic, but we haven’t completely gummed up our streets with rail, bike lanes, 15 MPH zones, and all the other deliberate inconveniences progressives have put in the way of cars. And while Phoenix’s tax rate is one of the highest in the state, we haven’t reached a point where people are fleeing to the suburbs, or other states, to escape them.

True, the type of extreme progressive agenda that created the conditions above has been creeping into Phoenix for a long time. But voters still have time to decide whether to continue Phoenix’s left turn, or not.

Would it be better to have real conservative choices for some of these seats? Certainly. These elections highlight the fundamental flaw of jungle primaries: they more often than not end up giving voters only a marginal choice between two candidates of the same Party.

However, that isn’t in this particular house of cards, so voters need to be engaged and consider all of the options carefully. Then they need to get out and vote, which has not at all been the case for past City of Phoenix elections.

Too many voters tune out local elections. These aren’t the ones to ignore. It is entirely possible that the outcome of these votes will decide the future of Phoenix for generations to come.