Tim Steller: Southern Arizona's meddling Republicans get their own medicine

Bond-program audit boomerangs on them, laying hypocrisy bare
2013-02-01T00:00:00Z 2013-02-01T09:20:38Z Tim Steller: Southern Arizona's meddling Republicans get their own medicineTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry was acting like a vengeful dictator in the way he handled Pima County bonds, and he needed to be stopped.

At least that was the conventional wisdom last year among the freedom fighters of Southern Arizona's Republican ranks.

So they did what they often do: When they object to something a Tucson-area government is doing, they ask their bully-buddies in the Republican-controlled Legislature to take care of the mean, elected Democrats down here.

Only this time it backfired, revealing the hollowness of the opinions many area Republicans cherish about elected local governments.

In March, the Legislature responded to complaints by Marana officials, passed on by then-Rep. Terri Proud, by ordering the auditor general to investigate Pima County's bond program. The audit, released Tuesday, rejects all allegations of wrongdoing in the 1997, 2004 and 2006 bond programs. It goes further, complimenting how the county works with local governments, like Marana, to vet projects.

The audit says those bond programs "represent a uniquely collaborative effort between the county and its local jurisdictions."

It also says towns and cities in Pima County, as well as unincorporated areas, get back in bond projects roughly what they pay in taxes. Marana Mayor Ed Honea said last year that his town doesn't get its fair share of county bond projects, but the audit says it gets slightly more.

You could picture Huckelberry grinning as he twisted the knife in a Tuesday memo about the audit's results to the Pima County Board of Supervisors:

"The best investment the state could now make, based on this audit, would be to adopt statewide legislation that requires all political subdivisions of the state, when issuing debt, to do so in a manner that parallels the county's successful bond implementation program."

The hollowness of Marana's critiques should have been evident when they made them last year.

First, it was in the midst of a conflict with Pima County over a wastewater-treatment plant - and the criticism seemed to stem from that clash. Second, town officials didn't bother to ask their appointee on the county's Bond Advisory Committee whether their perceptions were true. That member, Dan Sullivan, resigned from the committee over Marana's complaints.

"I don't think the audit was necessary," Sullivan told me Thursday.

You could argue that is true with a lot of what the Legislature does to pre-empt the democratically elected governments of Southern Arizona.

Was it necessary in the early 2000s for the Legislature to try to overturn a Tucson ordinance requiring background checks for gun sales made on city property? Was it necessary for the Legislature to work against the city's billboard ordinance in 2005? Was it necessary in 2009 for the Legislature to try to overturn via state law the city's election system, rather than letting city residents decide for themselves?

I asked Jonathan Paton about this, since as a Republican legislator he backed bills to pre-empt the city of Tucson's election system and the Tucson Unified School District's Mexican American Studies program.

He argued it is the Legislature's role to protect the people of Southern Arizona, even if it means passing laws pre-empting local government.

"Typically, a lot of these come up from the constituents complaining that they're not represented," he said. "State government has the role of saying, 'We believe this freedom does exist, and you can't take it away.' "

But legislators also have a responsibility to evaluate the complaints. Ideally, they would filter out the gripes of Republicans who in essence don't like being represented by Democrats and are willing to believe anything about them. Same with town officials in a catfight with county officials.

As Huckelberry put it to me: "You need to have a little smoke before you cry fire. In this particular case, there wasn't even really any smoke."

Contact columnist Tim Steller at 807-8427 or tsteller@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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