Four out of five Tucson-area residents place a high value on accountability in their local governments, according to a new community poll.
The issue ranked higher among respondents than fixing roads or protecting the environment, the survey produced in partnership between the Star and Tucson’s Strongpoint Opinion Research shows.
The poll, conducted in early March also asked 2,581 people about their priorities ahead of the upcoming Tucson City Council race, where city residents will pick a new mayor. About half of those who participated in the poll said they lived inside the city limits.
Eighty-one percent of those who took the online poll rated government accountability as “very important” on a list of a dozen topics, which included issues like immigration, public safety, education and economic development.
It was eye-opening to see a gap between government accountability and for example, the environment, said Jeff Rogers, a former chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party. Still, he said it wasn’t a complete shock that accountability was on top of the list.
“Given the culture of Tucson, I am not terribly surprised,” Rogers said, noting residents here have long taken an interest in local politics.
Trust may play a role in why locals place such a heavy emphasis on governmental accountability, as 41 percent of Pima County residents and 33 percent of city residents say in the poll that they don’t believe local government acts in their best interest.
A lack of trust, Rogers says, helps explain the interest in transparency with government officials.
“I guess that speaks volumes as to why these bonds and road packages can’t pass at the county,” Rogers said.
County voters rejected a $430 million bond project dedicated to fixing roads in 2018 and an $815 million bond in 2015 that had more than 100 projects attached to it.
Local history also plays a role in how many residents view local government.
“I think there are some lingering elements from when Rio Nuevo was perceived as a failure,” he said.
Bill Beard, the former chairman of the Pima County Republican Party, agreed.
“That speaks volumes to me at how well the city has convinced the residents in the city of Tucson that they are spending their money wisely,” Beard said.
“It is a huge indicator that the county has a huge trust problem with the voters,” Beard said of the poll results.
Especially with county residents who live outside the city limits who rejected bonds, he said, noting that city residents passed two separate bonds in the last five years dedicated to road repair and public safety.
“Pima County has got a problem,” Beard said.
The poll also found that about half of the respondents within the city limits and those outside are “pessimistic” about a new Tucson mayor being elected to replace Democrat Jonathan Rothschild, who retires from the post in January.
Beard said it isn’t surprising to find voters skeptical of who might be the next mayor.
“You go with the devil you know versus the one you don’t know, that is just human nature,” Beard said.
A total of eight people have filed formal paperwork with the city to run for mayor, but it is too early to know how many will end up on the 2019 ballot. Candidates still need to turn in signatures to qualify for the ballot, and the city won’t accept those until next year.
Beard said that Rothschild is seen as a moderate on Tucson’s city council, keeping his fellow Democrats from embracing radical ideas.
“One of the things that Jonathan had going for him — political speaking and it is a relatively low bar — is that he was able to keep the crazies, so to speak, on the City Council from being completely insane,” Beard said.
Rogers also offered praise for Rothschild but said his popularity came from his hard work and sincere interest in leading the city forward.
“He has been able to shepherd us in what I think is probably — certainly in the 40 years I’ve been in Tucson — an almost unprecedented economic development and growth in the city,” Rogers said.