The Great and Powerful Koz

The conventional wisdom about political parties in local elections is that they are irrelevant. The saying goes something like “there is no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage.” Emil Franzi, the one-time Republican Rasputin turned columnist best known to Old Pueblo political geezers as the man most responsible for Ed Moore’s takeover of the Pima County Board of Supervisors back in the early 1990s, once famously dismissed this notion by pointing out that Democrats generally want the garbage to be picked up by unionized public sector employees, while Republicans are usually friendlier to the idea that garbage should be picked up by private-sector vendors.

The approach to governing, or rather, the approach to non-governing, which currently dominates the Republican party is largely inconsistent with what people expect from local governments. It is no longer a matter of Democratic versus Republican ways of picking up the garbage. It has become a question of whether cities should be in the business of picking up trash at all.

This is really at the heart of Councilman Steve Kozachik’s announcement on Friday that he was leaving the Republican Party and joining the Democratic Party. Folks have been discussing this possibility for a long time, and it came as a surprise to very few on either side of the political fence, but I was always skeptical that it would happen. It sounded a bit too much like the chatter about Senator McCain switching parties back in the 1990s, or the persistent delusion among some left-wingers that Supervisor Carroll is a progressive of some kind, both of which are, of course, complete bunk. It was not too long ago that Councilman Kozachik voted against the City’s legal challenge to SB 1070, explaining his vote with a partisan rant against Congressman Grijalva which had almost nothing to do with the issue before the Council.

Democratic fans of Kozachik pointed to his public feud with State Senator Frank Antenori as evidence that the Councilman was secretly a Democrat, when, in fact, it was merely evidence that he was a thinking person who cared about his community and respected his constituents. Of course, this was the real problem.

The Councilman was elected in 2009 in small part due to Tea-Party enthusiasm, but also because of general frustration and the incumbent’s high-handed behavior which had turned off a lot of Democrats. Some Republicans assumed that this was some kind of mandate and expected the same sort of partisan score-settling and ideological lunacy that we see in the legislature. Of course, this sort of thing is precisely why Frank Antenori will be sitting out the swearing-in of the new legislature on Monday.

Congressman Harry Mitchell, who also served as Mayor of Tempe and in the State Senate, used to say that one striking difference between the legislature and city government was the relationship with one’s constituents. Decisions at the city level are made with the affected constituents in the chamber, literally at arm’s reach from the Mayor and Council. In the legislature, where members are shielded from the people that they represent not only by physical distance, but by a protective sangar built from lobbyists, pliant reporters and gerrymandered districts, they can afford partisan crusades, but at the city level, one must govern.

This is still Tucson, and Kozachik had the choice between working for his constituents or advocating for what amounts to a vocal but numerically small corps of vocal and rabid activists. Increasingly, he chose the former. Switching parties lets him avoid a primary against an as-yet-unnamed opponent whose contempt for his fellow Tucsonans would make him more palatable to the Republican base.

I suspect that Kozachik’s approach will not change much. As the cliché goes, he did not leave the party so much as the party left him. Democrats will forget his past, slaughter a fatted calf for him, and support him with enthusiasm.

This all leads to a question. Local business leaders and others supported “Paton’s Law,” which was thrown out by the State Supreme Court, saying that partisanship had no place in local government. Of course, these same people generally treat local Democrats rudely, snubbing them in favor of Republicans. They have been very supportive of the Councilman in the past. Will they remain so now that he is a Democrat?

5 thoughts on “The Great and Powerful Koz

  1. Here’s what I’ve always wondered about Mr. Kozachik. How interested is he, really, in being or remaining a councilman? This latest move strikes me as oddly timed. I agree that maybe he’s looking to avoid a primary challenge, but his outspoken “maverick” streak probably proofed him against a Tea Party challenge. A Democratic challenge though? That might have been more worrisome.

    Aside from all that noodling, however, do any of really believe that Mr. Kozachik is terribly interested in remaining on the Council? Or, as maybe us more cynical folks believe, is his stint there just fodder for his eventual run for larger office?

    I certainly could be very wrong. But it strikes me that his very loud and bustling tenure has been marked by lots of rhetoric, but little in the way of concrete acheivment. Maybe that’s just the recult of the atmosphere downtown.

    Or maybe it’s the cynical machinations of yet another local politician more interested in the job he wants than the job he has.

  2. I highly doubt that Councilman Kozachik is interested in higher office. He is going to run for re-election to the council and will win easily, which he would have done regardless of his party affiliation (even if he had run as an independent).

    Switching party affiliation wasn’t too much of a surprise but his shot at independents surely was.

  3. I agree about the shot at independents. I wonder though, who would have run against him as a Democrat? I think there are a lot of voters out there who simply vote for the D or the R. These next couple of elections, I think, are going to disply a lot or reactionary voting against the GOP in general. I think folks in local elections are especially vulnerable.

    I agree that Kozachik won’t run for higher office this time around. But I doubt he’s going to stay in the Council forever. I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. But the job pays little and has little real power other than a megaphone.

    I guess we’ll see.

  4. Tom, and others. I’m happy to clear up a couple of your questions.
    I have no interest in higher office. City Council work is challenging and is very rewarding – seeing the impact immediately and directly in the community. I have not yet decided on reapplying for the job, but will do so very soon.
    Re the SB1070 issue: I voted against SB1070 – and also voted against spending money on joining a lawsuit that had already been filed by a Phoenix cop (as I recall,) considering it duplicative and not a necessary cost to the City. As it turns out, our legal involvement was an important piece of the success in challenging the law. Knowing more of how the legal process works as it relates to challenges to legislation, I’d vote differently today – and in fact have done so when it came to challenges to our election process, as well as standing against other pre-emptive pieces of legislation coming at us from Phx. We’re a big dog in the litigation against State over-reach, and I’ve been as vocal as anybody in speaking out against their stepping into our stuff down here.
    In the political world, all too often one is not given the latitude to learn and grow, but each vote taken is forever a branded image of who you are, and what you believe. If marriages were like that, our divorce rate would be even worse than it is today.

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