The titans of Tucson industry are tangling in a way we’ve never seen before.
Eager to influence who wins the majority on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, two groups apparently dominated by local business interests are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into outside-expenditure efforts.
These outside groups, in turn, are sending out thousands of expensive mailers, posting signs, setting up websites and preparing to advertise on TV and radio.
Their focus is the race in District 3 between incumbent Democrat Sharon Bronson and Republican challenger Kim DeMarco. But the broader issue is control of the board.
Although both appear to be funded by so-called “dark money,” one side was willing to tell me a bit about its intent.
Don Diamond, the legendary local land investor, helped found the group Our Southern Arizona, he told me last week. He and others are planning to fund it to the tune of — get this — $175,000. Their aim: to re-elect Bronson and maintain the three-member Democratic majority on the board.
This amount is unheard of in local supervisors’ races. But it is probably being equaled — if not exceeded — by the other group, called America Revived PAC.
Of his involvement, Diamond said he thinks county government has made some mistakes in the past, but that he is pleased with the work it’s been doing lately, crediting it with helping the metro area “turn the corner.”
“I made up my mind to do whatever I can do to protect Sharon Bronson and keep Chuck Huckelberry in,” he said, referring to the longtime county administrator.
“Money is not an object,” he said. “The objective is good government.”
Plus, as he acknowledged slyly, “Selfishly, I own a lot of land.”
Diamond is partnering with attorney and Democratic insider Larry Hecker, commercial real-estate broker Mark Irvin and others in the effort. They’re responsible for the signs, posted next to campaign signs for DeMarco and Republican Supervisor Ally Miller, that say “Shhhh.....shesgotasecret.com”. If you go to that website, it describes Miller and DeMarco as erratic allies obstructing progress in Pima County.
The other group was more skittish when I went seeking information . Revived America PAC has sent out thousands of mailers against Bronson. She, Diamond and others told me they believe auto dealer Jim Click, a big Republican donor, is behind the effort. Click did not return a call or email seeking comment.
Earlier this year, Hank Amos, of Tucson Realty and Trust, convened a group of business owners to persuade them to work to overturn the board majority. Amos, who is also heading Steve Christy’s successful campaign for supervisor (he has only a Green Party general election opponent, Joshua Reilly), did not return my call seeking comment.
Neither did Bill Assenmacher of CAID Industries, who is out of the country, nor David Mehl of Cottonwood Properties.
America Revived registered with Pima County on Oct. 7. Charles Coolidge and Nathan Sproul of Lincoln Strategy Group in Tempe are the chair and treasurer. Sproul is a political consultant whom Click has often hired, going back to Tucson City Council races in 2003.
It is likely that any money received by the PAC will have come from dark-money groups — those that don’t have to disclose their donors. So we may never know who donated how much.
But Diamond and Bronson, looking at the money their opponents have spent so far, estimated that Revived America’s efforts will cost at least $200,000.
“I do not know who is behind the IE (independent expenditure) that is supporting me. But I do appreciate their help,” DeMarco told me via email. “They are pointing out the real issues in Pima County.”
The Revived America mailers criticize Bronson for tax increases the county board has passed and the debt burden the county has taken on. They also point out that she supported the bond issues that failed last November.
The reason for the pro-DeMarco spending is likely that the big billfolds think they can make a difference. The results of the bond election gave many Republicans hope.
Now, the few polls conducted have suggested the race in District 3 is close, Pima County GOP Chairman Bill Beard said.
“Every poll I have been privy to says it’s down to 1 or 2 points,” Beard said.
If true, that would be extraordinary. The most recent voter tallies show there are about 12,500 more registered Democrats than Republicans in District 3 — a 12 percentage-point advantage.
The stakes are high: If Christy, DeMarco and Miller are elected, they will almost certainly remove administrator Huckelberry from office as soon as possible. They could also unplug some of the economic-incentive deals that the county has made to persuade companies to locate or expand here. Likely, they would make repairing roads — Miller’s constant refrain — a top priority as well.
Re-electing the Democratic majority — incumbent Democrats Ramon Valadez has no challenger and Richard Elías has only a Green Party challenger, Martin Bastidas — would likely mean the status quo prevails. Huckelberry would probably remain administrator for some time, and the incentive deals would stay in place as long as the courts allow them.
What’s permanently been altered is our political culture. The unprecedented spending of at least $40,000 by outside groups in the Tucson Unified School District board race pales in comparison to the $400,000 or so likely to be spent fighting over control of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
In that game, only the people and groups with big bucks can play.