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The Empty Suit

To use a well-worn paraphrase of Mark Twain, there are lies, damned lies, and campaign rhetoric. The last category includes those easily refutable throwaway little fibs that inevitably arise during a problematic candidacy.

One example of this comes involves the financials of the increasingly quixotic campaign of Ward III Republican Council candidate Ben Buehler-Garcia. As most readers know the City of Tucson has a public campaign finance system which became the inspiration for Arizona’s Clean Elections Law, which, in turn, has become a model nationally. Under this system, a candidate receives matching funds by getting at least 200 individual contributions of $10 or more from city residents. The system has been a good way of making sure that narcissistic auto dealers who live outside the city limits or sleazy political operatives from Phoenix are largely excluded from our elections.

Buehler-Garcia has not yet filed for matching funds, though he assures everybody that he has the 200 contributions he needs. He has been making this claim for weeks, though his campaign finance reports say differently. Though, at first glance, his reports seem to list sufficient contributions, the most cursory inspection shows that some contributors are listed multiple times and some live outside the city. In one case, a contribution from a Maricopa-County based PAC is listed as being from an individual.

This is all a matter of public record.

Perhaps Buehler-Garcia is sitting on contributions as a part of some sort of sophisticated strategy, an effort to lull the enemy into complacency and draw his opponent into a double-envelopment by his hidden cavalry, but this is unlikely. It is also possible, one supposes, that the candidate is simply mistaken, but given the fact that Buehler-Garcia has run before and is surrounded by veteran campaigners, he should know what he is doing.

More likely, Buehler-Garcia’s boast is a lie, and a very stupid one. It is stupid not only because it is easily refuted, but also because it seems so petty, like the sort of thing that only concerns political insiders. However, it is significant because it speaks of a larger problem with his candidacy, and not simply because makes him look inept. While Republicans trumpet Buehler-Garcia as a respected community leader with broad support, this goodwill, if it actually exists to the extent they say it does, has failed to materialize for his campaign. The apparent lack of enthusiasm among city residents for Buehler-Garcia not only tends to make him look weak, but also undermines the very premise of his candidacy.

It should be pointed out that all three Democratic incumbents have qualified for matching funds. Even Buehler-Garcia’s fellow Republican, Ward V candidate Mike Polak, whose troubled campaign had a slow start and who has been ignored by nearly everybody, has applied for matching funds.

We keep hearing that Buehler-Garcia nearly defeated Democratic incumbent Karin Uhlich in 2009. It might be more accurate to say that Buehler-Garcia lost a race against an incumbent member of a then-unpopular City Council despite the fact that the year was otherwise good for Republicans. His difficulty with regard to matching funds is another example of the shallowness of his support and the hollowness of his candidacy, and gives us some insight into why he is  waging a re-match as a challenger rather than running for reelection.