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What the Devil won't tell you

What revolution? Primary is good news for Bronson

The big winner of Tuesday's primary election would seem to be (right now ... hedge, hedge) Sharon Bronson.

She wasn't challenged on the primary ballot, so the Pima County supervisor representing the Northwest Side has a clear path to the general election.

With Bronson's seat goes control of the Board of Supervisors and the 3-2 edge Democrats have enjoyed for 20 years.

If the Tea Party/Trump revolution is coming, it may be bypassing Pima County. If incumbents are in trouble, I'm not feeling it based on the results that scrolled at an insufferably slow pace on Pima County's election page.

The 2016 primary election results read more like business as usual, good-living-and-good-times, than evidence that the voters are so angry that they are ready for insurrection.

Last November, the idea of Supervisor Ally Miller leading a Tea Party takeover of the Board of Supervisors seemed less than far-fetched. The electorate handed the supervisors a stinging vote of no confidence, rejecting a slate of county bond proposals. Miller had opposed the bonds and seemed to be simpatico with voters' collective zeitgeist. She could, feasibly, turn that opportunity into victory this year.

Staunch conservatives taking control of a liberal Pima County government representing a progressive county required Miller's fellow traveler Marla Closen capturing outgoing moderate Republican Ray Carroll's seat by being the "real conservative" seeking the Republican nomination to serve a district so Republican that Democrats don't ever even field a candidate. Doable. Then Kim DeMarco would have to beat Bronson, a five-term incumbent Democrat, in the county's one borderline swing district during what seemed to be an anti-establishment year. That also looked doable.

Then the first votes came in.

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Incumbents won up and down the ballot, right and left, despite some facing tough primary challenges.

John McCain won. Barbara LaWall won. Bill Staples won. Miller herself beat back a primary challenge. Former car dealer Steve Christy beat Closen, with the far-right vote in the district split with John Backer.

Christy, considered the more moderate of the three GOP candidates to replace retiring Carroll, garnered more votes than his two opponents combined.

The advantage in incumbency swamped anger at the system. Right up north in Pinal County, it was different. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu's efforts to sustain his own political operation in Florence took a hit as his hand-picked replacement as sheriff, Steve Henry, and closest political ally, County Attorney Lando Voyles, both flamed out to Republican primary challengers.

Babeu won his five-way congressional primary, planning to be off to Washington, D.C., but he has to hope his far-right border policies will play as well in the sprawling CD1 — which stretches from the northern fringe of Pima County all the way past Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon — as they have among the voters of the San Tan Valley. His general election opponent is Tom O'Halleran, a polished Republican turned independent turned Democrat who hails from Sedona.

To be sure, incumbent victories failed the "walk-over" test. Most won with less than 60 percent of the vote. I remember U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe losing 40 percent of the primary vote in 2004 to Randy Graf and the political crowd gushing a collective "holy shit!"

Do we really think the 43 percent who voted against Miller in the primary will magically break big for a Democrat in the general election? I don't. It didn't happen to Kolbe in 2004.

Voters appear to be falling in line.

Bronson's race remains the race of races this election season because her seat is the one path to Republican control of the board.

Republicans have little hope of unseating Ramon Valadez in District 2 because Democrats enjoy a two-to-one edge in voter registration. If they are enjoying that edge, Democrats are having the time of their lives in District 5, where Republicans face a three-to-one deficit. Richard Elias is impervious in a general election. The GOP didn't field a candidate in either race.

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Bronson's seat serves a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans 37,000 to 25,000, with 29,000 independents. So it's doable in the right environment.

I just would have liked to see some evidence of voters acting atypically to think that national mood may manifest locally.

Just one local incumbent lost. State Rep. Matt Kopec. Seriously, voters? Kopec? Kopec?! Your will to challenge the system came down on Kopec's head? Kopec? He's a scrupulously nice guy, hard worker and the one thing he sucks at is shameless self-promotion.

He was appointed (when Victoria Steele resigned from the Legislature to focus on her ill-fated congressional run) and is now the third Tucson Democratic lawmaker to recently lose after an appointment: Demion Clinco, Tom Prezelski and Kopec.

The adage that lacking further information, voters pick the name on the ballot may have played out. If all voters know about a race is the difference between names printed on the ballot, they'll vote accordingly. If they know the name, they'll vote that. If they don't know the name but see the party, they'll vote party. If they see names they don't recognize in a primary, they'll vote the cues in the name. Women have an edge in "low-information" races — especially in Democratic primaries.

Maybe voters knew and loved Pamela Powers Hannley but if they didn't, being named Pamela Powers Hannley may have been the difference. I can hear an entire generation of women saying "about time being a woman was an advantage in something" and that may be but it's not the point.

The point is if voters 86-ed just one incumbent because they were following, rather than bucking, historic trends, then that is good news for Bronson.

Good news for Bronson is good news for Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. Huckelberry is the most powerful political guy in Southern Arizona. No one else comes close. I think that's a good thing because I like knowing that power is handled right and Huckelberry errs on the side of action. Those who don't like it, need help from Democrats ready to vote against type.

Miller's had her own problems involving the fallout from an employee lying about starting a sham online news site, and a long series of self-inflicted wounds Miller kept shooting into her own foot. Honestly, her biggest problem may be that she doesn't play well with others and everyone who isn't her, is the other. She and Closen had a falling out earlier this year but Closen's loss made Miller's path to power even more rocky.

(We should note, at least in passing, that Miller will face Democrat Brian Bickel in the general, but it's a pretty GOP-leaning district. Although, stranger things have happened in some elections this Trumped-up year.)

Christy beating out Closen and Backer complicates Miller's ambitions even if DeMarco manages to win in November. That doesn't seem like a good bet: Closen's losing primary campaign nearly racked up as many votes as DeMarco's unchallenged bid for a spot on the November ballot.

Christy touts his business experience running a successful car dealership, and business people are less likely than pure ideologues to go into office and start breaking things for the sake of seeing them in pieces. Christy, who has served on the State Transportation Board and the Regional Transportation Authority, isn't a bomb-thrower.

The primary election, simply put, was boring. Favorites won. Underdogs lost. The powers that be are breathing a bit easier because voters may be angry, but not so angry as to change the habits that gave us the status quo.

Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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Sep 2, 2016, 8:36 pm
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Blake, if I remember right, I was re-elected twice: in 2004 and 2006.

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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Supervisor Sharon Bronson talks to a primary-night crowd of Democrats.

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