The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
As insanity plays out in our national politics, in Tucson, we are fortunate: Tucsonans care deeply about their future, about the issues facing us and about who should represent us at city hall. This fall we will elect a new mayor and we are lucky that there are four excellent candidates who are running for the office. All four are committed to the well-being of our community and wish to govern the city wisely.
However, there is one fundamental issue in this race that has received little attention. Thirty-four years ago we created a change to Tucson’s politics that was pioneering and eventually followed by hundreds of other cities: we became the first in the nation, through a public vote amending the city charter, to create a “clean election” process.
By choosing to run “clean,” a candidate limits her or his spending to a set amount per registered voter, and in turn is rewarded by a public match of money raised by the campaign, up to the expenditure limit. In practical terms, this option takes away the role of big money in elections by limiting how much the candidate can raise, and empowers the role of small dollar contributions through public matching funds.
For candidates who choose to participate, the city’s clean elections system limits spending, and half of what is spent comes anonymously from the public. In effect, politicians owe their elections to all of us. It doesn’t guarantee the best government, or the best politician. But it does guarantee that you can’t buy votes on the governing council by funding campaigns. And that is a big deal.
Without this system, a mayoral race today would cost at least four times as much as we now spend, with the bulk of it funded by the very same interests that do business in city hall. In their recent mayoral race, Phoenix voters saw the effects of millions of dollars flooding their mailboxes, televisions and phone lines with negative attack ads. Tucsonans should take pride in that we are the only city in the state with a municipal clean elections system.
Yet, for the first time in over three decades, this fundamental change in our politics is in jeopardy. Only one of the three Democrats running in the upcoming primary election (and the one independent candidate), are running as “clean elections” candidates. Only Regina Romero, the Democrat, and Independent candidate Ed Ackerley, are running clean.
What will happen to Tucson if public funding of elections fails, and we return to the bad old days? We know the answer all too well. Special interests drive politics by doling out huge sums of money to those running for office — from the Oval Office to the local level. And it is just wrong. Under these terms special interests consistently triumph over the needs of the public. I do not mean to suggest that any of our present candidate(s) are so easily swayed by campaign contributions. But unless we keep electing candidates running on “clean money,” once this reform is lost, we will become permanently vulnerable to special interests.
So, I’m voting for the one candidate in the Democratic primary who is running “clean,” and supporting what the voters demanded from politicians in taking the initiative to pass our public funding system. Regardless of who you are supporting, I hope you will consider the consequences of ditching “clean money” in Tucson’s elections. I can’t think of anything more important for Tucson’s future than ensuring our local elected officials are held accountable to we, the people.