Behind the Scenes:
Back in January, when I finally settled on what aspect of Pima County I was going to explore, I fully understood I was going in over my head. My knowledge of political science was restricted to what I had learned in AP US Government and AP Comparative Government, and supplemented with my experience in the executive branch at the Town of Marana in the summer after 10th grade and my time with the Oro Valley legislature on the Youth Advisory Council.
Admittedly, it’s not too shabby for a high schooler, but all of those looks were a gloss. They were superficial glances at systems much heftier in their actual activity, both politically and otherwise, and my best look was at the simplest of those – the municipal government, that least politicized and smallest, structurally. In comparison, the County Government and State Government overseeing it looked absolutely vast. Honestly, they still do.
Picture it like this. A government class starts at the level most easiest to comprehend. A federal government class might start with basic functions of each of the three branches, maybe look into how a bill becomes a law, or some checks and balances. That might represent the first layer of knowledge about the federal government. Once that’s peeled away in its entirety, the second level is open for probing – interest groups, elite and class theory, bureaucracy. That second level is the stuff you might not get in a day. It’s information that a high school textbook might hold, instead of a Schoolhouse Rock video. But the third, fourth, fifth, and the rest are significantly harder to grasp. Each little tidbit of political theory has vast amounts of study done on them, so you could dabble in interest groups for years without having to move outside them. The last levels of any issue can only be understood from experience.
That was my dilemma, but on the County level. The issue of why the bonds failed ultimately didn’t end up merely being a political issue either, as it demanded skills I’d acquired for argument, rhetorical, and historical analysis. To understand the bonding process fully, then, I couldn’t attempt to study the County as I’d studied the federal government. Instead of peeling back layers, I’d have to take a drill to them, and go as fast as I could through them, deep, only snagging necessary information, and leaving the rest where it was. Hardcore research, in other words.
Which then evokes the question – how was I researching, beyond my broad drill-digging technique? That’s a personal question, not because I won’t answer it, but because it directly ties in with my motive for doing the project. I thrive on interesting things, and the rumors surrounding county governance so rampant in the media, suggested that something was critically wrong. Or, as Supervisor Ray Carrol put it in this Arizona Daily Star piece, when referring to Supervisor Ally Miller’s alleged “brand-damaging”: “She might have 100 conspiracies that she’s thinking exist, but only one in 100 actually exists.”
“What’s that you say, Mr. Carrol?” I thought to myself. “Which one?”
It’s true – I went into my research thinking there was something amiss. If there was, my project would suddenly be very interesting indeed. Something rotten in the County of Pima, if you will. Naturally, to maintain objectivity, I had to adapt my research accordingly, so that I wouldn’t find myself trailing one idea and one idea only. So instead I adopted a different, broader tactic. I’d probe everything I could for traces of illegal behavior – corruption in the traditional sense linking officials to under-the-table deals, secret gift baskets, the like. If there was something, cool. If not, so be it. That’s why I initially started with the Bond Advisory Committee. Had the Strongpoint Survey been an unapologetic advocacy survey for bonds (not that it wasn’t, but it was unintentional), the County would have been deliberately corrupt, and show itself worthy of the distrust so obviously exhibited in the election. Had the “closed-doors” meeting been proved to be a deliberate, illegal circumvention of the BAC, the same result. The reason I investigated the BAC, Mr. Huckelberry, Diamond Ventures, SALC before I polled voters – I was looking, looking, looking for something incriminating, something that would confirm the results I already knew I’d get from the voters. How’d I know what I was going to get from the voters?
Because I voted. I voted No on all 7 bonds because it was too expensive, taxes would go up, and people around me seemed to be very skeptical of Pima County government. The controversy with the golf course acquisition in Oro Valley didn’t help either – it contributed to an overall environment of government mistrust. Logically, I knew that there had to be a deeper reason for that mistrust, but finding more out about the mistrust itself wasn’t necessarily going to be the most useful thing.
So like the Wake-Up Tucson folks, Supervisor Miller, the Town of Marana, the State Auditor General and everyone else who came before me, I went looking for something superficially sinister. “Researchers Say,” “Here Be Fishes,” “Flatlining,” my blog posts’ titles read, sensing something shady. But in reality, there wasn’t really much shady on the surface, or even legally, beyond what certain interviewees’ confusion and discordant stories suggested. And in “Conspiratorial Complications” I admitted it.
“Perception of corruption,” I said, “makes the veracity of real corruption irrelevant.”
At that point, I was prepared to throw in the towel on something grand and dark. My research had proved fruitful, as I’d intended it to. Rather than turning up some mangled skeleton, it had turned up nothing, which suggested that the sheer thought in voters’ minds that there might be skeletons and certain media outlets advertisement of that idea had brought the bond package to its knees. This idea, and only that, might have been the death knell for the bonds. That would have been the end. My project would have ended up factual, but uninspiring, and would have turned out less interesting than it could have.
I still had a month of project left, though. And as writing “Conspiratorial Complications” cleared my mind, I realized something crucial from my interviews with Frank Cassidy and Priscilla Storm. Perhaps I wasn’t looking for the right skeletons.
I’d been looking for human skeletons, only a couple years old. Skeletons that connected administrative and BAC action since 2007 to the bond failure. What I really needed to look for were dinosaur skeletons. Massive secrets that no one would have thought to dig for, buried in odd places.
I hit the newspaper archives. They only went back to 1991, but that was okay, because they cited events going back further. Most interesting of these articles were the ones that dealt directly with the history of bonding in the County, and Chuck Huckelberry’s entanglement with both bonding and the County itself. And open space. That kept turning up in the weirdest of ways.
Ultimately, all the articles led straight to 1997, and the creation of Truth-in-Bonding. Swiftly, everything came together. I had already read Chapter 3.06, but upon my second read, all the semantic stunts, tactical manipulations – all of it was suddenly relevant. I’d done the research on both the voters’ side and the officials’ side, and the four remaining issues that had seemed only tied to a perception of corruption suddenly pointed straight at the bones holding the whole affair together. BAC missteps, amortization schedules, accusations of corruption, unkept promises – they all pointed a glaring finger straight at the Truth-in-Bonding code, which, given the circumstances leading up to its ratification, could only have been created with such counterintuitive regulations by someone with intent.
It was all suddenly interesting again – the bonds had failed for a very real, very relevant reason, and what a reason it was. My presentation went off splendidly, I got on the radio, I had an absolute blast. But one thing remained.
This was all real. Sure, it went back 40 years in history, but all of that history linked up seamlessly to my actual life. In that, it was extraordinary. I had read about things like Watergate, or Teapot Dome, or Iranian government in general, but this was all actually happening. The effects of a collapsed bonding system, and a twisted government were affecting people around me. Roads wrecked suspensions daily, sometimes causing wrecks. Anger built, the government gradually lost its legitimacy. Very, very real people cursed me out at the Trump rally, and later apologized at the Wake-Up Tucson anniversary party.
It wasn’t theoretical, and yet the real reason for the bonds’ failure was and still is unknown to the citizens of the county. That’s what “Revelation” was for – condensing all my research into one final piece. I’ll be publicizing it, and trying to show this unfailingly real, human community what they’re being pinned down by. It’s my civic duty. As a citizen of America, Arizona, and Unincorporated Pima County, before I leave, I must, as Alexis de Tocqueville described, “take an interest in [my town] because [I] help direct its affairs,” “invest [my] ambition and [my] future in the town and participate in all aspects of community life.”
What they forgot when they circumvented the voter with the Truth-in-Bonding code was that the voter could still vote No and understand the necessity of doing so. Becoming educated, and allowing others to do so, in order that America can remain America – that’s crucial. And that, ultimately, is why I did it.
Pima County remains a Rhode Island-populated, Connecticut-sized entity governed as if it were a small town. What this means for general ordinance bonds is that it’s impossible for an entire package to specifically benefit one area. No matter which philosophy the BAC had used (something for everyone/everyone wants something) for the 2015 election the result would have been the same: Pima County citizens, if they wanted a project, would have had to shell out a majority of their raised taxes not for the project they wanted, but for a project they’d never feel the benefits of. This dispersion of funds from their source is one of the most basic problems I’ve seen with “big” government, and that’s just at the County level. Yet, this was instrumental in getting people to hate bonds. The fact that money was unequally diverted to South Tucson? It angered Oro Valley and Marana.
The easy solution to this is turning over the power of bonding in Pima County to the various municipalities, like in the Phoenix area, and then allowing for further incorporation in the Foothills, Catalina, Vail, Casas Adobes, Green Valley, and elsewhere across the county. Then, each municipality could issue their own bonds, and the money would remain within the community, and since people feel closer to Oro Valley than they do to the Connecticut-sized Pima County, they’d be more likely to pass, and community benefit would be more likely to occur.
And yet, Pima County only as 5 incorporated towns. Maricopa – 25. They’re almost exactly the same size, and yet Maricopa’s population’s nearly four times Pima’s. Maricopa County’s economy is booming, its cities rapidly growing. The Phoenix Metro is nearly sprawl incarnate. The Tucson Metro, on the other hand, is not.
It is my belief that all legislative and executive action in Pima County is designed with the ultimate goal to continue to limit Phoenician sprawl in the Old Pueblo.
I don’t have what I’d call proof for this belief, but I have a ton of evidence, and I’m going to lay it out quickly here.
- 1974 Bond Election had both the first open space package and was Chuck Huckelberry’s first year in Pima County government
- This 1998 Tucson Citizen article – “Huckelberry: Preservation over Growth“
- Discussions about the 2002 Casas Adobes Incorporation Attempt with Frank Cassidy
- This 2002 Tucson Weekly article – “Land Barons“
- This 127 page document from 2008 – Pima Cultural Plan: Needs Assessment and Strategies, with special note for this sentence: “People moved here because it is not Phoenix or Santa Fe. There is no interest in preservation in Phoenix – it grew like a weed, so fast. As a result they are devoid of a lot of things that we have here.”
- This award-winning 173 page document: Protecting Our Land, Water and Heritage: Pima County’s Voter-Supported Conservation Efforts by Chuck Huckelberry
- Finally, the Pima County Code of Ordinances, with special accolades for our good old Truth-in-Bonding code.
To sum it up, I believe Chuck Huckelberry’s early exposure to open space motivated him throughout his future career to make it really his issue, his ultimate goal. I suppose this because my early exposure to local government and its power in society is likely going to influence the direction of my politics for the rest of my life.
In Chuck Huckelberry’s political career, he’s made the cessation of sprawl his ultimate goal. (I’d like to note this is a fine goal. As long as it’s secondary, or tertiary, or not impeding everything else in favor of it.) In terms of transparent behavior, in 1998, he proclaimed that Pima’s urban planning model would be nontraditional, “ask[ing] first where growth should not occur” over all other planning priorities. The 1997 bond package authorized the purchase of open space across the county, without necessarily specifying where that would be. The Pima Cultural Leadership Coalition that created the Cultural Plan was rife with important people in government – Larry Hecker, Ron Shoopman, Chuck Huckelberry, the four “old guard” of the Board of Supervisors, Strongpoint CEO Mary Rowley’s husband, Jim. They came together to stop Tucson from being a Phoenician weed, and Protecting Our Land, Water, and Heritage laid out a propaganda-esque, region-wide scheme to pull it off. Time, energy, money – massive amounts of energy was spent on the transparent, public aspect of conservation.
Yet, that’s not the clincher. This is:
Open space occupies a special place in the code of ordinances. Certain sections are devoted entirely to it. But what seals the deal is its unique inclusion in the bonding code. The Conservation Acquisition Commission has no equal parallel in roads, parks, flood control, neighborhood reinvestment, public health, or tourism. Unlike those six, Open Space has a direct representative built into the code itself that’s driven by precedent. “Find what open space we buy next,” it effectively commands the Commission. And so it does.
So when the City fought against incorporation of various communities in the unincorporated County, and when a special law that would have allowed incorporated municipalities to opt out of participating in a bond package, it was promptly taken to court, and shot down as unconstitutional. It is my belief that Pima County, in order to maintain control over conservation efforts across the Sonoran Desert region, will not relinquish bonding power to cities and towns, and will most definitely not allow further incorporation. At any cost – road dilapidation? Fine. Poverty? Fine. Businesses fleeing Tucson like it’s the plague? Fine. More space. More open. More open space. The economy collapsing and Tucson going bankrupt?
It’s all good. Conservation is the priority in this town, and that’s why it’s built, explicitly, into the code of ordinances and the Truth-in-Bonding code. It’s like the Confederate States of America having a clone of the Union’s Constitution, with specific provisions added for the preservation of slavery. It was an issue-based Constitution, much as the code of ordinances is an issue-based code.
That’s all. Pima County’s direction is governed by a minority agenda, unhindered by a supposed accountability-creating document that actually dissolves all accountability. Pima County is the prime example of a government getting away with itself, and shirking its duty to popular sovereignty. It’s rogue, unshackled, and swiftly becoming unstoppable. It runs even without Huckelberry at its helm, as the Truth-in-Bonding code, fueled by precedent, will continue to churn out policy as Huckelberry would have wished it.
There’s only one way to stop it now.
November is coming, fellow citizens. Vote wisely.