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?

Amirite?

I hope to have some video to post for y’all of Friday’s hearing put on to discuss the anti-labor bills before the legislature. In the meantime, here’s a quote from an AFSCME member that attended the hearing. He wanted to address the allegation that public employee unions are “bankrupting the state:”

I’m making less money now than I was four years ago. I want to ask who’s bankrupting who?

The legislators who attended asked all of us to call the members that represent us. It would be a bit pointless for me to do so: all three of mine (Steve Farley, Bruce Wheeler and Paula Aboud) were there.

In addition, County Supervisor Richard Elías, Councilmember Regina Romero and Pima College Board Member Sherryn Marshall were there. Elías gave the opening remarks to the legislators, and it wasn’t a big surprise that he was there: he had been a member of UFCW as a young man and his father is a union printer.

Surprising was another elected official to show up: Steve Kozachik. Kozachik described his experiences working with AFSCME as a councilmember during the city’s financial crisis and how the cooperative attitude was helpful. Heck, he actually knew the difference between collective bargaining and meet and confer. It isn’t the sort of nuance we’ve come to expect from Republican elected officials, especially when it comes to labor issues.

Well, That’s Exciting

Here’s a bit of a follow-up to something I wrote last week.

You may remember that I posted a press release from Richard Carmona’s campaign which announced that the entire Tucson City Council, including Republican Steve Kozachik, endorsed Carmona. It was my inclusion of Kozachik that raised hackles with one of my frequent commenters.

The commenter made the claim that Kozachik did not endorse Carmona, and asserted that he had talked to a member of Kozachik’s staff to verify this. I don’t know who he talked to, but aides in council offices are often non-political and don’t necessarily keep up with what electoral decisions their bosses make.

Either I misread the press release, or I made it up. He’s either saying I’m illiterate or that I’m a liar. Oh, and apparently political reporter in Southern Arizona is too.

I’ll admit that I didn’t speak with Kozachik. I wanted to since his office is walking distance from my house. I didn’t get around to it, and that’s a big part of why I didn’t write a response to the claims by the commenter.

The question in my mind was, if Kozachik didn’t like the assertion that he made an endorsement, one that was widely reported, wouldn’t he have called someone, somewhere in the local media? He ain’t exactly press-shy, and local reporters seem really like quoting him.

Well, the Star went ahead and called him. Apparently, surprise surprise, Republican party activists are up in arms over the endorsement, so this is a big deal. Well, all Republican party activists are angry except a certain district chair who thinks the whole thing was made up by me.

As it turns out, Kozachik told Rhonda Bodfield that the story was true.

By the way, I also found out that Kozachik had a hand in writing the press release.

I don’t expect an apology, but I am anxious to see a certain person claim that the whole story is still just made up or that he never really said it was fake.

(Nearly) Entire Tucson City Council Endorses Carmona

Richard Carmona’s campaign has announced that the entire Tucson City Council has endorsed him.

And by that they mean six council members, even Republican Steve Kozachik. Here is Kozachik from the release:

I know Dr. Carmona as a man of integrity, a high achiever, a man of compassion for the underserved and a man who has been giving back to the Tucson and Pima County for decades. Since he is running for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat, from a political standpoint, I don’t have a dog in that fight.

And yet, from the standpoint of wanting to see a person emerge from that primary who I believe would best represent us with a set of values that very much mirror my own, I most certainly have a dog in that fight. Dr. Carmona is Southern Arizona’s own local hero. I’m honored to be associated with a person of his caliber.

Karin Uhlich notes that Carmona believes that “government should not interfere with the private medical decisions between a woman and her doctor,” a statement likely made to blunt the questions raised by Don Bivens’s campaign about Carmona’s commitment to reproductive choice.

By the way, the Carmona folks don’t seem to be counting among members of the council newly sworn in Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, who has yet to endorse. Maybe they haven’t read the city charter.

Full release after the jump.

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Los de Rio

You may remember that last week, Republican council member Steve Kozachik sent out a scathing criticism of the Rio Nuevo board. One of his more potent arguments revolved around the $935,400 that the committee has shelled out for “administration,” ie – law firms and consultants. Money blown on consultants and law firms? It sounds a bit too much like the trouble with Rio Nuevo in the first round.

So naturally, one of those law firms sent a reply to Kozachik’s letter. Probably not the best people to put out front on this one.

The reply is not a press release, but a “public notice.” A “public notice” is the sort of thing that would go up on the committee’s website if it was ever updated.

By the way, this is a board that Rick Grinnell serves on. What council member does he plan on working with as a Republican mayor? Just curious, since it seems Kozachik isn’t his cup of tea.

By the way, reading complaints of “nasty politics” from a political committee appointed by this legislature that is engaged in a politically motivated lawsuit against the city…it’s a little like reading that Charlie Sheen is complaining about a lack of sobriety and level headedness in the world.

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At Least Their Lawyers Are Benefitting

Local Democrats have made hay of the $47 million dollar lawsuit that the state-appointed Rio Nuevo board has against the city. The question they are asking is simple: what programs will Republican Mayoral candidate Rick Grinnell, who is on the board, cut to pay for a possible judgement?

Good question, but here is mine:

What do they plan to spend the money on if they win?

One local politician released a litany of what the Rio Nuevo board has spent so far:

Let’s also be very clear about what the Rio Nuevo Board has, or has not, spent your money on since it was appointed by the Governor and State Legislature early last year:

1. Spent – Hundreds of thousands of dollars on attorney fees

2. Spent – Their current budget has over $900,000 earmarked for “Administrative Fees”

3. Has not spent – Zero on rehabilitation of capital needs to the Tucson Convention Center

4. Has not spent – Zero on any project related to revitalization of downtown

5. Have not spent – refused to pay local sub contractors for work they performed on the east entry of the TCC

Yep, they’ve paid out money to hire their friends and pay for attorneys to harass the city council, but nothing on the very projects that they are supposed to be managing. Gosh, you’d almost think that the board is just a partisan enterprise undertaken by our legislature.

By the way, that criticism I quoted there is not from Regina Romero, not from Jeff Rogers and not from AZ Blue Meanie. It’s from Republican council member and relentless critic of city government Steve Kozachik.

Someone won’t be invited to the next Grinnell for Mayor event.

I Think We Have a Talking Point

There’s that bit in the Arlo Guthrie song “Alice’s Restaurant” when he declares that three people singing in unison is a movement.

So, what about two similarly themed alarmist communiques from local Republican pooh bahs? A talking point, of course!

Below is the latest missive screed from member of the local Republican szlachta, John Munger. In it, he declares that Tucson is just like Selma circa 1959. He even goes so far as saying that “uppity” Republicans like him are being punished.

Yeah, he said “uppity.”

I usually try to have a hearty laugh at conservatives calling themselves victims. But Bruce Ash and John Munger claiming to be just like the guys that got their heads bashed in on the Edmund Pettus Bridge? There is something downright vomit inducing about a couple wealthy white guys making that comparison.

Munger, Ash and company can bloviate about the unfairness all they want, but the system Tucson has has survived several court challenges and Justice Department scrutiny (under both Republican and Democratic administrations). Also, the system elected in recent years Steve Kozachik, Kathleen Dunbar and Fred Ronstadt. All of them won city wide and all representing very Democratic wards that it is doubtful any could have been elected in. The dissatisfaction that elected Kozachik came close to electing two more Republicans, and could have had the local party been better organized to support their candidates. Heck, they might have done better in one race if they had recruited a decent candidate rather than making random phone calls to track down someone that would fill the ballot line.

The funny part is, if we went to a ward only system, you’d have four bulletproof wards likely electing very liberal candidates who would have no reason to moderate because they would never need to appeal to more conservative East Side voters. If that ever happened, Ash and Munger would likely come up with another whiny argument about how unfair life is to them and their buddies down at the country club.

Munger’s silliness is after the jump:

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Letcher and Stuff

As of yesterday morning, the word out on the street was that Steve Kozachik would try to move to fire Mike Letcher, but it would fail because Karin Uhlich would have Letcher’s back. Further, this word on the street said that there might be a motion to remove Letcher with an effective date closer to the election, but that that one would have a hard time passing because, yep, Uhlich has Letcher’s back.

That word on the street is always accurate.

One wag told me about a knowing glance thrown Uhlich’s way by Letcher after the vote. Hey, he goes into retirement with six months severance and Kozachik was denied the satisfaction of passing the motion to fire him. Maybe he did smile a bit.

NB: You may have noticed that the vote was not 7 – 0, but 6 – 0. The non-vote was Bob Walkup, who under our neutered mayor system has barely any authority over our city’s top bureaucrat. He isn’t allowed to vote on firings like this.

Breaking: Letcher Announces Resignation

City Manager Mike Letcher has announced he will be resigning August of next year. I’ve uploaded his resignation letter for your perusal, but here’s a money paragraph:

Unfortunately, I cannot change the current political and media climate in this community that focus more on blame than resolution. I know now that I can only go so far in changing the organizational climate of the city that has not seen consistent City Management since Joel Valdez. I know that I will continue to find problems to fix that expose the city to public criticism. Based on these facts I am submitting my resignation as City Manager effective August 31, 2012. This will allow me to complete one more budget cycle and for the new Mayor and Council to start a thoughtful recruitment process to select the next City Manager.

I take it from reading the letter that Letcher won’t be able asking Steve Kozachik for free Wildcat basketball tickets.

There is a rumor of a big firing to come later today. I’ll try to run that one down for y’all before I name names and look like an idiot.