You want important, fun or interesting political events? You’ll get ‘em this year in Tucson and Arizona.
Leaving aside the presidential race, here are four political stories I’m excited to watch and cover in 2016, plus a postscript on 2015.
Opposition to Prop. 123
The state’s power structure is already pushing hard in favor of Prop. 123. That ballot initiative would increase withdrawals from the state’s land trust for K-12 education and thereby settle a lawsuit over education funding.
As Howard Fischer reported Wednesday, supporters have already collected $483,000 in donations of $10,000 or more. Big money is supporting it, but so is the Arizona Education Association, the teachers’ union that is a plaintiff in the lawsuit and is often a reliable opponent to such Republican-led education efforts.
Even without the union, some opposition exists, led largely by Republican State Treasurer Jeff DeWit and bolstered by some state Democrats. And they have good arguments to marshal, arguments I tend to agree with, though I haven’t made up my mind on the issue.
My preferred anti-123 argument is that it unnecessarily gives legislators and the governor a way out of a voter mandate, while setting an arbitrary upper limit on school funding — all in an attempt to let the governor and the Legislature cut taxes more to further their political careers.
Will DeWit or anyone else galvanize opposition with these or other arguments? I’m skeptical, but it will be interesting to find out.
Support for marijuana legalization
The situation is almost the reverse in the case of marijuana legalization.
An initiative likely to make the ballot would change state law to regulate marijuana more like alcohol, making it OK for adults over age 21 to use it for whatever reason.
A year or two ago, I would have bet that Arizona voters would approve this measure. That’s because state voters approved the medical use of marijuana twice before the 2010 vote finally led to the establishment of a legal distribution system in Arizona.
Legalization still might happen, but the Arizona Republican Party and many of its top leaders have come out in opposition to the measure, more unified than I expected. The GOP has a libertarian wing that I thought would put up stronger resistance to the drug-war-supporting faction.
However, in this case, unlike the opposition to Prop. 123, there is big money supporting legalization. Donations of $10,000 or more from medical-marijuana businesses are pouring in to support the initiative.
That sets up a clash between big marijuana money and the state’s biggest political party.
A high-profile sheriff. The speaker of Arizona’s House. A former Arizona secretary of state. A strong re-run candidate.
In Arizona’s sprawling First Congressional District, we have a primary race for the ages. That’s because incumbent Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick is leaving her seat in the district that runs from Oro Valley, through Pinal County to the New Mexico border, the entire Navajo reservation, Flagstaff and Sedona, almost half the state.
The big district has big names running on the Republican side: Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, House Speaker David Gowan, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett and a former strong candidate, businessman Gary Kiehne. Each has strengths and weaknesses.
District 4 GOP primary
Normally, I wouldn’t think a challenger to an entrenched incumbent supervisor would stand much of a chance. But these clearly are not normal times.
The defeat of all the bond issues in November’s election, the popularity of Donald Trump and other factors make me wonder whether the conservative challenge to Republican Supervisor Ray Carroll won’t be stronger this time.
The challenger is Marla Closen, who is running on a familiar anti-tax, anti-debt agenda. It worked for Ally Miller when she ran against a more moderate Republican candidate.
A year ago in a year-end, forward-looking column, I talked hopefully about the chances for progress on four properties in the underdeveloped west side of downtown in 2015.
The four are the HSL Properties-owned Hotel Arizona and La Placita Village; the Gadsden Co. property west of Interstate 10; the “Arena Site” along the east side of I-10 owned by Nor Generations LLC; and the Bourn Cos. lot on Congress just east of Stone.
In short, the hoped-for progress hasn’t happened. Each project is moving forward, but that pace has been, in a word, slow. May it pick up in 2016.