Many in the Tucson community were surprised to learn that there won’t be a Republican mayoral candidate this year, despite it being an open seat.
It isn’t the first time there hasn’t been a Republican candidate for mayor in recent history — Mayor Jonathan Rothschild didn’t have a GOP rival in 2015 when he ran for his second term — but it represents the first time in the last 30 years that a Republican didn’t run when there is an open seat.
I’d like to point out that in 2007, no Democrat challenged then-Republican Mayor Bob Walkup.
However, a number of politically active Republicans were not surprised when the list of candidates came out and found three Democrats and one Independent in the running.
The chairman of the Pima County Republican Party, David Eppihimer, said the party was fairly active in attempting to recruit a high-profile, well-known candidate to run for mayor. They were, as he put it, unsuccessful.
Two men filed paperwork to run for mayor as Republicans, Frank Konarski, and Sam Nagy, but neither met the signature requirements to get on the ballot.
Eppihimer said the deck is stacked against Republicans running inside Tucson city limits, saying the Old Pueblo has become more liberal over the years.
The number of registered Democrats inside city limits — 115,981 — is nearly twice the amount of registered Republicans — 58,683.
There are another 80,000 registered independents in Tucson, but it is difficult to determine who they will reliably support in local elections.
“Tucson has shifted in the last two decades,” he said. “Tucson is different than when it elected Bob Walkup three times.”
Between 1971 and 2011, two Republicans were mayor of Tucson for a combined total of 28 years. Lew Murphy was mayor between 1971 and 1987 and Walkup was Tucson’s top elected official between 1999 and 2011.
With the entire city voting on who should represent individual wards as council members, that built-in Democratic advantage has made it hard for Republicans to get onto the council, which is often a precursor to running for mayor.
“In many ways, Tucson is a lost cause,” he said.
It is hard to convince prominent Republicans that they should spend a year campaigning for mayor if the deck is stacked against them. It also makes lining up Republican donors to support a GOP candidate difficult, as wealthy contributors opt to support county or statewide candidates instead.
Pima County Supervisor Steve Christy, also a Republican, said that local Republicans are all too aware that even if they were able to get a member of the GOP elected as mayor, they would then spend the next four years trying to convince a likely Democratic controlled-City Council to support their vision.
Nonetheless, Eppihimer has high hopes for the two Republicans running for council seats, Ewart Williams Jr. in Ward 2 and Michael Hicks in Ward 4.
He said Hicks is well known in Tucson for the years he served on the Tucson Unified School District Governing Board.
“We have high hopes that he has the name recognition, that he has a chance to win,” he said.
Bradley: “I escaped, not unscathed”
Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, revealed earlier this week that shortly after leaving home at the age of 13 to attend a Catholic seminary that he would become a victim of “one of the most notorious child sex abusers in Arizona history.”
The discussion was part of the debate over legislation that gives survivors of sexual abuse more time to sue their abusers.
In a powerful speech on the floor of the Senate, Bradley talked about how difficult it was to move forward years after the abuse, eventually becoming a therapist.
“I tell you all of this not to seek sympathy or redress but to let you know that the pain and confusion extends for a great period of time. I escaped, not unscathed. It took time to unravel the complex mind game that trapped me,” Bradley said.
Not everyone was so lucky, Bradley told his colleagues.
“I attended their funerals, visited them in prisons, witnessed their destruction personally and the many lives that they have touched and were adversely affected,” he said. “The abused sometimes became the abuser.”
And while his abuser was eventually brought back to Arizona to face the allegations, the statute of limitations had passed, robbing Bradley and other victims of their chance at justice.
“He was conveniently moved from the state but was arrested and returned and then released as the statute of limitations provided him freedom. Although never to be exonerated, he escaped,” Bradley said.
Earlier this week, Gov. Doug Ducey signed the legislation into law.
Tucson sets its primary date — for now
There has been some confusion on when Tucson will go to the polls in August, after a high-profile decision by the Arizona legislature to move up the primary to the first Tuesday in August.
The decision is on the books, signed into law by Ducey but it doesn’t impact the city elections this year.
That date remains unchanged — at least for now — with the primary set for August 27.
A decision by the state legislature could force the city of Tucson to move to holding elections on even years that would coincide with statewide elections.
The devil is in the details.
If turnout in November is high enough, the city can maintain its current schedule. However, the calculation is daunting — turnout must be within 25% of what it was during the two most recent statewide elections.
In practical terms, turnout in 2019 for a city election would have to be similar to turnout in 2018 and 2020.
Otherwise, the next city election could be in 2022.