Many who follow politics are concerned with the trend toward combat rather than cooperation between different political parties that represent different political philosophies. It would be unrealistic to suggest that this cold war can be called off. It will end when one side wins. Until then, however, there are constituents to serve and local problems to solve that can be approached rationally — you know, like the post-enlightenment West used to do it.
A reasoned approach to governance is particularly important at the local level where people are directly affected by government actions. It has often been said that there is no Democrat or Republican way to maintain roads or collect trash, and while one can politicize basic services one can just as easily not politicize basic services.
In fact, it is the fighting of national battles by local politicians and civic groups in lieu of dealing with local issues, or hijacking local issues to fight an imagined foe in Washington, that has made life worse for Tucsonans, particularly for those in poverty.
Take, for example, the decision by the Pima County Board of Supervisors to turn down a federal government grant from its Stonegarden grant program. The Stonegarden grant would have provided $1 million to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department to facilitate a greater presence in the more rural areas of the county. It is the same grant that the same board has accepted for the last 10 or so years. What changed? Well, the board does not like the current administration in Washington, among other claims. This is one example of a local response to a national issue that hurts the local population, particularly those in poverty.
I figured the needs of Tucson and Pima County would be taking a backseat to the battle for the hearts and minds of America until that particular war was over. Then I caught wind of a new, strictly non-partisan civic group with the single focus of addressing poverty in Tucson.
I assumed that it was a front group for something other than poverty, but I knew that I would need evidence were I ever to make that claim publicly.
The new outfit is called the Tucson Advisory Group, or TAG. It is the brainchild of Mr. Craig Cantoni, a man with the energy and focus of a photon torpedo. I attended the initial formal meeting and the next. To my surprise, Mr. Cantoni is the real deal.
He is anchored in two beliefs that he and I share; first, that to affect any change in Tucson one must leave the partisan battlefield; second, that poverty is one of the biggest problems in our city.
Some people see a piece of litter on their street and ignore it, others see the litter and pick it up. Craig Cantoni not only picks it up, but begins a regular patrol to keep the street clean.
I had an opportunity to chat with Mr. Cantoni, and I asked him how he came to set his sights on poverty. He told me about visiting Tucson when his son attended the University of Arizona. He recalled driving through town and said, “Man, all of a sudden it just hits you, there is a major university here, it’s the second biggest city in Arizona, and all of a sudden you see blight... It just got me thinking,’What is going on in this town?’”
Do I think that Mr. Cantoni is some sort of super hero who will save Tucson? No. However, this is not Mr. Cantoni’s first rodeo. He has fought and won a few battles, all of which were waged outside the partisan political structure. That makes him not a super hero, but a super hopeful.