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What the Devil won't tell you

Never mind the GOP, Tucson's new alternative may be on the Left

Yesterday, I complained about democracy being troubled because the Republicans have held a 51-year chokehold on power in the Legislature.

I’m stuck with the notion that Democracy is dead in Tucson because one party simply doesn’t want to play. 

Republicans could not find credible candidates to run for the Tucson City Council this year. One could say the same thing dating back to 2015 and really, there's been nobody the least bit competitive since 2011.

If a Republican can win the governor’s race in Virginia, one would think a Republican could make a run at the Council if they are smart.

They just choose not to try, and instead constantly bitch and moan. There is no one more oppressed than a Pima County Republican.

The Democratic majority here isn't exactly a hard target, rhetorically. "Tucson: high crime, low wages, one-party rule. It’s time for a change." The sound bite almost writes itself.

But I guess if they can’t run on "critical race theory" and "stolen elections," Republicans don’t want to run at all.

They put up barely a twitch of a fight in the 2021 city elections. Democrats swept again into universal control of the City Council. Richard Fimbres cruised in Ward 5 absent opposition, Steve Kozachik rolled in Ward 6 and Kevin Dahl won his first term on the council in Ward 3.

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A minimum wage-hike initiative sailed through. 

They're fine. Do I expect much out of them? No, because face it, they don't have to do much.

That doesn’t mean an effective rump force of sorts may not be rising in our favorite sleepy cowtown. It may be the hipsters, the wokesters, the socialists and the social justice warriors who will do the heavy lift.

The DemSoshes lost on an sanctuary-city initiative two years ago but just helped secure a 2-1 win for a $15 per hour minimum wage.

The song doesn’t say “Gotta revolution on the mind? Go pout because Congress failed to pass the minimum wage in the first hundred days and/or the Red Coats won Cowpence.”

Someone has got to hold incumbents accountable, and it’s probably time to stop the expecting the heat to come from the Right. It may have to come from the Left around here.

Money talks

If money in politics equals power in politics, then the Left is beating the Right. No cash doesn't equal enthusiasm or assure victory but it can judge how engaged certain parts of the community are in the struggle to see who runs Tucson.

This election cycle offers a glimpse into where that power lies ("where the power lies" is a pretty good bumper sticker for a political opposition, too).

The Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee was good for about $7,000 this go-round.

The Tucson Fraternal Order of Police raised $10,000.

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The Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association, once a fortress of political strength among Pima County conservatives, managed to raise just about $20,000 for this cycle.

Val Romero, the "independent" Trump-like Council candidate, pulled in $12,000.

Republicans did field one candidate: Alan Harwell, who raised $1,900 in his Ward 3 race (hint, he lost).

The whole of the Republican establishment (minus Jim Click, who seems to have completely cashed out of the game) was good for 50,000-ish dollars.

Kevin Dahl, the Ward 3 Democrat and Council-member elect, raised $64,000 all by himself.

The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona was a player to the tune of $50 grand all by themselves. You may ask: Is the Food Bank a juggernaut of political power? No. They’re not. Not even close.

But that’s what they chipped in for the Fight for $15 campaign to raise the minimum wage in Tucson.

The Fight for 15 folks raised more than $200,000. That’s 100 Harwells.

Lucy LiBosha, a challenger to Dahl who thinks the Democrats are soft and corporate, raised $12,000. That’s six Harwells. Sure, she wound up with just 12 percent of the vote to Harwells 27 percent but that's not a bad showing for a third-wheel independent.

People and power

And this is where it gets interesting because she’s not alone.

Those progressives are doing a better job of getting things done than the Republicans.

There’s the whole People’s Defense Initiative crew who came together in a failed effort to pass an ill-branded sanctuary city initiative in 2019. 

They are now a force in local power and a lot of them only vaguely identify with the Democrats.

I get it. They're annoying with all the slogans about changing everything under the sun. They've got no use for you and they don't seem to much like me, personally. They also may just be part of the team that saves the world. They aren't terribly wrong on the issues. They just push us to look at the differences between what's personally comfortable or politically possible.

To keep them from going full "knives out," the rest of us might have to figure out how to give them something.

What do we got? The Tucson City Council and the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

The City Council members and Mayor Regina Romero don’t have a lot to be afraid of insomuch as job security goes. Does this make them a bad Council? Not necessarily. The danger with this crew isn’t corruption. It’s complacency.

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The fact that "low wages, high crime" has marked Tucson for decades says something about the leadership ... for decades. 

We are told the short answers: The sun keeps our wages down and the border keeps our crime up. I don't buy either. San Diego's climate is as sunny as Tucson's and that's not a low-wage town. El Paso is snug against the border and its crime is a lot less than Tucson's.

And when is the last time our leaders ever really took on either of these issues. I mean haaaaaaard.

I'm talking about a Council issuing a clarion call: WTF Are We Going to Do About X.  I’m talking about not-kidding-around community-wide efforts. No idea is too crazy to consider. Establish short-term, medium-term, long-term plans with metrics and accountability?

I’m talking about truly organizing around it and attacking it from all sides.

A mayor of a mid-sized Arizona city once told me that issues just get recycled. If it was a problem once, it will come back. Once community leaders have been through a cycle or two of dealing with the sets of challenges their community faces, excuses not to act become reasons for the status quo.

Understanding complexity becomes an excuse for business as usual.

All the potential solutions are so fraught with previously-discussed pitfalls that policy becomes about minimalism. We were over this 10 years ago. There’s nothing we can do.

Journalists are no better. A young reporter new to a beat will be a curious lioness hunting for next fascinating bit of newsiness. A decade later, they’ve seen it all before and nothing is newsworthy.

I remember scooping the Grand Buddha of local journalism, Joe Burchell, on some county story and he looked at me and huffed. “I wrote that story already.”

I was confused. When? I didn’t see it?

“Ninteen eighty-three!”

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I laughed but 10 years later and I’m like, “That? I covered that back in ought-five.”

Sally forth

I don’t like one-party rule and never will, if it is structurally assured. Tucson’s city wide election system gives the Democrats just that.

Maybe the idea of a "A People’s Defense Party" is a bit premature but this emerging coalition of lefties can keep messing with the powers that be to force their hands on certain issues.

I bring an example: The universal basic income. Try a pilot program of $20 million per year to provide $500 a month to 4,000 Tucson families. Studies show families don’t spend it on drugs and hookers. They spend it on food and getting ahead. That’s less than a half-cent sales tax.

Give it a shot here. It probably goes down, but force the issue.

How about a rental freeze? Probably illegal in Arizona. It’s terrible economics. But it will put affordable housing front and center.

Incumbents have a way of getting comfortable when they know they are going to win. They can pay their mortgage, what does it matter if you can’t? Dems da breaks.

I’m not saying the Council doesn’t care. I’m just saying we are facing the same problems we always have in Tucson and nothing has really been done about them.

The Republican establishment here has rendered themselves next to irrelevant. The GOP insurgents are bumblers.

Someone has to bring the heat on the Council.

It looks like it’s the true progressives' turn to sally forth, eff em up and see what happens.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years, and a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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have your say   

2 comments on this story

Nov 3, 2021, 10:35 pm
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The strenth of these organizations is that they rarely concede their power to the electoral, establishment Dems. They have had numerous victories the last 4-5 years by independent political campaigns like 206, defund Stonegarden, etc., relying on grass-roots support while cowardly elected Dems oppose them like they did Sancturary. Their opposition to that has tremendously hurt their credibility with grass roots Dems, though they will deny it.

Nov 3, 2021, 8:19 pm
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The political establishment and the people of Tucson seem to be comfortable with the status quo and determined to maintain it in regard to one key element.  That is the somewhat unusual if not unique system of ward-only primary elections followed by citywide general elections. Oh yes, and of course all of these are partisan.  The Democratic candidates in conservative wards can count on citywide support in the general election even if voters in their ward prefer the Republican.
In order to make life a little more interesting in City Hall, I’d suggest ward-only general elections.  Not only might this give the city a couple of Republican Council members, it might encourage folks in outlying areas like the Catalina foothills and Tanque Verde valley to consider incorporation and full participation in the political lire of the city.  Think any Democratic office holder or cndidate will propose this change anytime soon?

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Fight for 15 organizers turn in signatures for ultimately successful minimum wage increase.


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