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GOP Council candidates won East Side, still lost in landslides
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GOP Council candidates won East Side, still lost in landslides

In a reversal of the last Tucson City Council election, two of the Republican candidates led the vote in the wards they sought to represent but lost the overall city vote, a TucsonSentinel.com analysis showed. Incumbents Shirley Scott and Paul Cunningham trailed in the vote in their East Side wards.

While incumbent Democratic Councilwoman Regina Romero easily won re-election, claiming double the vote count of GOP challenger Bill Hunt in Ward 1 on the West Side, and rolling up a 58-42 margin overall, the two Republican hopefuls on the other side of town led the vote count in those wards.

In Ward 2, Councilman Paul Cunningham was re-elected with a 58-42 margin across the city, but lost his own district to Kelly Lawton, who led 11,513-10,179 in the count there. Cunningham had a margin over more than 12,000 votes across the city, as was Romero.

In Ward 4, Councilwoman Shirley Scott won a sixth term with a 56-44 city-wide margin, but trailed Margaret Burkholder by about 9,143-6,533 in the ward tally. The Democrat was re-elected with a lead of 9,200 votes across all the wards.

Because the election was run by the Pima County Elections Department, and officials there declined to release data breaking down the vote totals in precincts that are split between wards, the precise lead Republicans had in Ward 4 is not available. One precinct there is split with Ward 6. Data from 10 precincts was not available to be included in the city-wide analysis, including three precincts in Ward 2 and four in Ward 4.

The GOP didn't run a mayoral candidate this year, and Jonathan Rothschild coasted to an easy re-election.

Local Republicans have repeatedly challenged Tucson's hybrid elections system — in which Council candidates are nominated in partisan ward elections and then elected with a city-wide general election vote — and finally came up with a win Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the system violates the constitutional "one person, one vote" standard, sending the case back to a lower court to work out the details.

Writing for the majority, Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski said that Tucson's holding ward-only primaries and city-wide general elections for Council members was an "unusual system."

"Given the city’s concession that each council member represents all of Tucson, it’s clear that the representational nexus runs between the city and the council member, not between the ward and the council member," wrote Kozinski in the split decision.

Giving the city a route for a possible appeal, either for a re-hearing by the full 9th Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court, Circuit Judge Richard Tallman strongly dissented.

"There are certain times when a federal court may tell a municipality how to run its local elections. This is not one of them," he wrote, noting that the primary election nominates candidates to represent parties. "The Supreme Court has never before held that the same geographical unit must apply to both the primary and general elections."

"Tucson is now forced to choose between an entirely at-large method of election or a ward-only method of election despite the fact that a majority of Tucson citizens
have twice before voted against adopting these election systems," Tallman wrote. "The Constitution does not require this sort of judicial highjacking of state power."

Role reversal

Two years ago, a pair of Republican hopefuls ran against Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich and Ward 5 Councilman Richard  Fimbres, and lost both in those heavily Democratic areas and across the city.

In 2013, although Ben Buehler-Garcia won both East Side wards — 9,579 to 8,822 in Ward 2 and 7,093 to 5,575 — he fell far short, including a nearly 2-to-1 pasting in the ward he sought to represent. The Ward 3 vote went 6,011-3,324 for Uhlich, who won 58-42 overall. Four years before that, Uhlich edged out Buehler-Garcia by just 175 votes overall.

Political novice Mike Polak had a similar experience in his 2013 attempt to unseat South Side incumbent Fimbres. Polak narrowly won Ward 2, 9,150-9,050, and more easily in Southeast Side Ward 4, 6,965-5,629. In Ward 5, the incumbent councilman hammered Polak, 4,206-1,567. Overall, Fimbres swamped Polak 60-40 percent.

Cunningham, Scott lost wards in 2011

In their last races, Cunningham and Scott both trailed in their wards.

Republican novice Jennifer Rawson led Cunningham, running in 2011 after having been appointed to fill a Ward 2 seat left vacant by Rodney Glassman's resigation, by 11,478-10,212 in the Northeast Side. But Cunningham had a nearly 12,000-vote margin overall to win the seat outright.

In her 2011 race, Scott trailed Republican Tyler Vogt by 11,190-6,516 in Ward 4, but held a 2,000-vote margin across the city to hold her seat.

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