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.

Breaking: Frank Antenori is a Windbag

Back in January, when Councilman Steve Kozachik announced that he was becoming a Democrat after being forced out of the local Republican Party for the high crime of listening to his constituents, the perpetually constipated former State Senator Frank Antenori (R-Not Tucson) announced not simply that he was recruiting a candidate, but that there already was someone waiting in the wings to take down the incumbent:

“I don’t want to spoil it yet, but he’s an independent,” Antenori said. “He’s well liked by both Democrats and Republicans. If we can rally the Repbublicans and some of the Democrats and the independents behind this guy, I think we can beat (Kozachik).”

Even at the time, this was obvious bunk. We all know that Frank considers all Democrats to be commies, sissies, and dirty pot-smoking hippies, and it is impossible to imagine that an individual with crossover appeal is going to meet with his approval.

This being said, Frank’s imaginary friend has failed to materialize. The deadline to file as a write-in candidate for City Council passed on Thursday. This was the last chance for a challenger to emerge, and no one filed. Kozachik will have no opponent. Clearly, Frank is not nearly as well-connected in this community as some would have us believe.

Can we stop taking this guy seriously?


Tom Horne Drops The Ball. The Star Stupidly Blames The City Council.

This week, there was a settlement in the State of Arizona’s case against two Tucson Transportation Department supervisors who misappropriated at least $83000 in public resources for personal gain. They will each have to pay just $5000 to the city.

This result is a failing by state, rather than city, officials. This fact cannot be allowed to get in the way of The Arizona Daily Star‘s usual narrative about the city, so the once-great morning daily chose to write about something else entirely.

First, they create a controversy where none exists. The story states that “officials were divided on whether the restitution is adequate,” but the two quotes which follow do not support this statement. Councilman Kozachik is quoted calling the settlement “a lousy deal,” while other city officials, including Mayor Rothschild, are quoted saying that they did their “due diligence.” The two sentiments are not at all contrary, so it is hard, at least from what is written, to see evidence of this reported disagreement.

Next, they are dismissive of those who point out that this was the Attorney General’s responsibility. The Star writes that city officials “said state prosecutors and the courts were responsible,” as if this notion was merely someone’s opinion. The equivocation in this regard is particularly troubling.

The prosecution of official corruption is the province of the Attorney General. This is well established in statute and by precedent. This is not someone’s opinion, or something someone “said.” It is a well-established fact and should be reported as such.

City officials did their job by identifying the problem and handing the evidence to the Attorney General’s office. Their responsibility ended there. It is Tom Horne’s office that deserves the blame for the inadequate response. The real scandal here, the one that is missed by the Star‘s reporters in their eagerness to toss red meat to the likes of Jon LoGiudice, is what this says about what has happened to the Attorney General’s office.

During Horne’s scandal-plagued tenure, he has packed his office with political hacks, then made unnecessary and counterproductive reorganizations of his department to make room for even more political hacks. His legal problems have been more than a minor distraction, as his staff have been made to deal with them on taxpayer time. It should come as no surprise that his office is no longer equipped to aggressively pursue this sort of case. The divisions that handle fraud, civil rights, and consumer issues have been eviscerated as well. All of this is the product of having an Attorney General whose priority is grandstanding rather than actually doing the work of the people of Arizona.

Part of the settlement requires that each of the two defendants pay $1000 into a fund that the Attorney General maintains to pay for efforts to prosecute racketeering. This is ironic considering that Tom Horne’s office barely does such cases any more.

There are plenty of things for which the City deserves criticism. In this case, however, the Star‘s very pointed reporting is, as it is too often, misdirected. Once again, in their enthusiasm to make the Council look bad, they have ignored the real story.

ADI Swipes Story and Still Gets It Wrong

To quote Truman Capote: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

There is talk among the happy bunch over at Blog for Arizona that some response has to be made to a recent post at the Arizona Daily Independent regarding the discussion that happened last week after my post making a case for why my friend, Representative Chad Campbell, should not run for Governor.

There is no reason to provide a link to ADI. If you want to find the story, you are free to look for it yourself. I will also resist the temptation to point out all the things that are wrong with their article, except to say that the anonymous scribbler responsible for it outright misrepresents the exchange as some kind of effort by The Man to keep a brother down. He also misspells my name as well as Fred DuVal’s. Otherwise, it has the flaws of a typical ADI story: lousy grammar, poor sourcing, and just plain terrible writing.

The truly lazy part of their story is that it is clear that the writer made no effort to go to the original original blog posts, despite the fact that this is free of charge and it only would have taken a few minutes to do so. The story is obviously based on a single source: The Yellow Sheet Report, a regular gossip sheet which is available from The Arizona Capitol Times only to subscribers willing to pay a premium, or to those of us who still have a lot of friends who are lobbyists or capitol staffers. The story is essentially a re-working of someone else’s work, not original reporting. Some folks might call this plagiarism.

In example, this is what was written in ADI:

Campbell told a Yellow Sheet reporter that DuVal’s supporters have been trying to talk him out of the race for more than a year, and some have suggested that he run for secretary of state or another office instead. Campbell told the Yellow Sheet, “I’m the only potential candidate right now that has won a primary. I’ve won three primaries, in fact. And, in fact, I’m the only [one] who’s ever won an election, at this point, who’s thinking about running for the seat.”

This from The Yellow Sheet:

“With all due respect to Mr. Prezelski, a blog post doesn’t really mean that much to me,” Campbell told our reporter this morning. He said DuVal’s supporters have been trying to talk him out of the race for more than a year, and some have suggested that he run for secretary of state or another office instead. But he said he’s not running for office simply to run for something, and believes he would be the best candidate for governor. He added he’s not afraid of a primary and doesn’t think a contested one would be a bad thing for Dems. “I’m the only potential candidate right now that has won a primary. I’ve won three primaries, in fact. And, in fact, I’m the only [one] who’s ever won an election, at this point, who’s thinking about running for the seat,” Campbell said.

Here are the guidelines for what constitutes “plagiarism” from, an accepted go-to website on the topic for classroom teachers and others (note: these quotes constitute “Fair Use” per the website’s own guidelines):

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own
  • to use (another’s production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward.

They go on to give some examples:

  • turning in someone else’s work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)

Perhaps what ADI did does not rise to plagiarism in the legal sense, but it would certainly be rejected by most publications or even most high school teachers. The worst part is that they cribbed the story, and still made so many errors, the sort of mistakes one makes when they really do not care about what they are writing. It was sloppy and incompetent.

It would be easy to simply dismiss the ADI as so clumsy as to be irrelevant, but there are ostensibly responsible people in this town that take it quite seriously. The recent, completely fabricated, Tinkle-gate scandal story involving Councilman Kozachik made its first appearance in ADI before it was repeated on Jon LoGuidice’s radio show and elsewhere shows that the ADI has, unfortunately, been able to insert itself into the public debate. It is pretty clear that the lazy, craven and anonymous trolls behind this site do not deserve even the marginal credibility that they get.

(Note: The folks over at The Yellow Sheet have understandably been very protective of their material in the past. This blogger believes that the use of the attributed quote falls well within accepted fair use guidelines.)

Elections Are Expensive. Let’s Just Not Have Them.

It was only a few weeks ago when City Councilman Kozachik announced that he was leaving the Republican Party to become a Democrat. Among the things that led to his split with the Republicans were the Legislature’s consistent attacks on local governance, in Tucson in particular. So, it may come as some surprise that, in his newsletter, the Councilman calls for the city to abide by SB 2826. Passed in 2012, this partisan attack on local control was opposed by the city and is currently being challenged in court:

One way we could save about $2M this year has to do with the State and their Consolidated Elections bill – the one that places all elections in even numbered years. They have to go back and fix the language this session since we are due to have an election this fall. There are options they can consider, some of which include having us run for 1 or 3 year terms this fall, or skipping this year’s election altogether and synchronizing us in a 2014 election. If left to me, I’d certainly opt for that. I believe people are just suffering election cycle fatigue.

Skipping this year’s election could save us $2M if we also didn’t put on the ballot three items: a request for Mayor and Council raises (being considered by the City Manager’s office,) a request for us to increase our spending limit (Home Rule,) and the Plan Tucson document that I’ve reported on before. We don’t have to have that approved until 2014. So, skipping any ballot measures this year would save funding the election, and would allow us to defer upgrading our election equipment until next year.

It’s not a structural fix, but it would help with this year’s deficit.

First, this proposal is at the very least, mildly offensive to the legislators, lobbyists and lawyers who have expended considerable sweat and toil fighting legislation like this on behalf of Tucson. While talk like this does not necessarily undermine their efforts, such mixed signals from the elected leadership of the city shows a certain lack of respect for all the work that has been done.

Second, and much more importantly, is an all to common attitude regarding elections. The relevant paragraphs are quoted in full above to show that sound bytes about “election cycle fatigue” and “skipping this year’s election” do not improve in their original context. Too frequently in this state, there are those who lament that elections are too messy and costly. Evan Mecham once famously lamented that there was “too much democracy” in the United States, and similar sentiments seem to have been somewhere behind the Southern Arizona Leadership Council’s failed 2010 effort to amend the  city charter to shift power from elected officials to unelected bureaucrats.

The argument about cost was made with SB2826 as well, though this was somewhat disingenuous. Even the Arizona Republic recognized that the motives for the bill were strictly partisan, namely having to do with the fact that both Tucson and Phoenix elected Democratic mayors in 2011. If cost were really the only issue, then replacing elections with a system of primogeniture  would save even more money, and selecting city officials through trial-by-combat would actually present opportunities for cost recovery by offering pay-per-view.

Strangely, in the Councilman’s case, it is worth pointing out that cancelling the 2013 election would save him the trouble of a reelection campaign.

As with “Paton’s Law,” the only problem that SB2826 was meant to address was that the wrong people were getting elected. And, of course, like that law, which was overturned by the State Supreme Court even as this measure was being debated in the Legislature, this one is likely to be thrown out as unconstitutional for the same reasons. This is another legacy of the Harrison Act of 1886, which was discussed in a previous post. As has been mentioned, Tucson is part of a coalition of cities who are fighting this, and hopefully the Councilman will allow them to continue to do so.

As for the Councilman, it is unclear if he really feels this way, or if he is just engaged in a bit of Swiftian thinking out loud in an effort to stimulate a discussion. It remains to be seen if this will materialize into something substantial. For the time being, the sentiment is at the very least disturbing.



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?

A Bit of Good News

I attended the City Council’s study session yesterday. One of the items was transit, which brought out the Bus Riders Union.

For those who don’t know about the Bus Riders Union, it was organized last year by Brian Flagg of Casa Maria to represent the interests of poor and working class riders that depend on Sun Tran to go to work or shop. It isn’t a group of people that seems to have a high priority from the folks at the City’s Transportation Department or the RTA as of late.

The Bus Riders Union did not testify, but they brought in about forty members to show support for what at first seemed a minor item that Karin Uhlich was putting forward.

It gets a bit complicated, but the City’s Transportation Department (also known as TDOT) is interested in moving the payment system for the buses to smart cards, which would put it in line with plans for using smart cards for the modern street car. Part of the preliminary plan would be to charge cash customers for (currently free) transfers. It would be a while before smart cards are widely available. This would mean that many of the low income riders that are represented by the Bus Riders Union (as well as occasional riders) will be paying more for a ride than others.

Uhlich wanted to pass a motion directing TDOT not to make this part of their plan. TDOT objected, but the vote was taken anyway and it passed 7-0.

Okay, small victory, but important. First off, it’s good to see a genuinely populist, grass roots movement get a win on behalf of working people. Props to Flagg and his crew at Casa Maria for giving us all a lesson in how it can be done.

Secondly, it was a challenge to the city bureaucracy. TDOT wanted to be given authorization to formulate a plan with no direction or instruction from mayor and council, after which it would likely be presented as a fait acompli. Uhlich’s actions also allowed Paul Cunningham and Shirley Scott the room to bring up their own concerns with the city’s transit system. It was good to see the city’s bureaucrats get a reminder of who they work for, even if they don’t like the “substitute teachers.”

Something else that I noticed that is a problem I’ve seen with the way the city is run. There are some arguments against this plan. For example, the transfer system may make usage of the modern street car problematic for bus riders, and the issue of transfers may go away entirely if the city can make sure that smart cards are easy to get for everyone. The trouble is, TDOT never made these arguments. You wouldn’t make them if you think all you have to do to justify your plans is merely to say that you want to do it.

Is it 180 days already?

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild released a progress report today on his 180 day work plan. He’s touting accomplishments like appointing a small business advocate and streamlining regulatory and permitting processes.

In case you are wondering what is going on with Rothschild’s opponent from the last election, he just got booted from the Rio Nuevo board.

The Star’s headline said that Rick Grinnell was “forced out,” which makes the whole process sound a lot more dramatic than it actually was. It wasn’t a flashy Coup d’Etat; it was handled in a letter from the president of the state senate.

Under Grinnell and the now ex-chair Jodi Bain, the Rio Nuevo board seemed to think their charge was to sue the city. Given that they didn’t have any power to sell bonds, it is hard to see how the board could have done anything on their own. Of course, declaring war on the one entity they could have gone in on a bond package with didn’t help.

I’m waiting for the conspiracy theory that somehow leftists in city government arranged for this. The thing to keep in mind is that this was done by Senate President Steve Pierce. It makes me wonder if he’s embarrassed by the whole enterprise too.

Rumors of replacements are Fletcher McCusker and Chris Sheafe. I work with Sheafe on the Bond committee. He’s a solid “Chamber of Commerce” Republican (no, I don’t know if he is actually a member). I am not a fan of his politics, but I remember his being particularly frustrated about the Rio Nuevo board-style antics that Marana has engaged in lately.