Democrat Donna Branch-Gilby spoke to Tucson Weekly’s Mari Herreras about how election integrity issues inspired her to challenge Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson in the Sept. 2 Democratic primary. Find out more about the race here.
Is it difficult when running against an incumbent to get people to outwardly support you?
I’ve talked to people directly and what I’ve gotten is that people are willing and happy to talk with me and give me information and advise me on what I should read or who else I should talk to, but they are very wary of saying anything that would indicate their support of me.
Why is that?
She has a vote that would send money their way for either a community development project or some other item which is going to come before the board and I’ve been told, “I wouldn’t dare be seen as any thing but supporting her.”
There are a couple of people like this that I’ve known for decades that would support me, but have said they can’t do it.
When you were first vice chair of the Arizona state Democratic Party you traveled around the state teaching prospective candidates how to run a campaign. What did you learn that’s come in handy now?
I did go to some great training especially that helps with the technical side of running and winning a campaign. And then I went to Camp Wellstone, which is terrifying, because they put you there in a room and there are three people who pretend to be reporters. They remind you, “Our job is to make for a very exciting interview—are you ready?” They let fly the tough questions.
Being a county chair also gave me excellent preparation, because I found myself once a month sitting next to John Munger, on KUAT-TV, so that was great. I was very glad I had the length of time in Tucson that has allowed me to work on so many campaigns in the past. But my degree is in public administration, which helps. And I’ve always been curious about how decisions get made through government.
You’ve also mentioned being part of the building of the Milagro Cohousing development has helped, too. How is that?
The experience of building this place was definitely an education in governmental processes. We had a good team of future neighbors that all became friends, and then we had to get it rezoned which was a year and a half process, and working with the neighbors and assuring them it was not going to be a hippy commune, that we’d all have legitimate means of income.
I was also involved at the time that we made our mission statement, to find a way to live in harmony with nature and reduce our energy footprint, water use and find a social place easily and a private place easily. It took us nine years, but we have very good experiences along the way. Someone once said, “Isn’t this daunting,” but I said, “You know what’s daunting is putting all of your savings in a project and if the zoning doesn’t go through or you can’t get safe access through a land swap to get a road into the place, or you can’t get the building permits that allow you to adjoin walls, etc.—that’s what was daunting.”
Bronson has been in this office for 12 years. We’ve heard your campaign is solely based on election integrity, but this is a relatively new issue looking at Bronson’s career. Was she on your radar at all?
Not at all. Not at all. What the supervisors did was not much on my radar. I had worked mainly on city races and state legislative races Years ago I worked on the Henry Gutierrez campaign when he was first elected to the board of supervisors.
It was really when I was responsible for assuring we had Democrats that were observing the voting machines as they were coming, and working toward that and making sure people were up to speed. And after having a nagging feeling after the election in ‘04, wondering if we were being more observant and educating ourselves and being more present.
It’s very curious—we’ve gone in just about 12 years, from a citizen-controlled election process to one that is in the domain of large corporations that make these large voting machines and do the counts. I’d rather take more time and know that the results are accurate—or that they’ve been flipped.
Your opponent says she was following the law and legal advice from the County Attorney.
I’m sorry she got bad legal advice.
What do you think about what’s going on with Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer, and election security issues?
I would want to get an independent legal opinion, because Jan Brewer has an agenda, and it is not for open and fair elections. That explains all of her actions.
Do you want it to go back where the county supervisors are in charge of elections?
Yes, I would.
How do you see that happening?
I know when Larry Bahill was the director there was much more communication with the parties, there was extensive training made available to the public, and schedules for observing and performing the functions of the party were set out in advance.
I can speak from personal experience the way it is now. It is like pulling teeth to get any accurate information from Brad Nelson.
What is it that has transpired? Is it solely the supervisors not allowing themselves to have that control? I mean, is Chuck Huckelberry really responsible for all of our problems?
No. No. No. No. He definitely is not. I think it goes all the way back to (former supervisor) Ed Moore. He violated the chain of command and the basic good management principles right and left, and it was a handicap to the effective functioning of the county government. That built up over a period of time; he was not reelected. The upshot was the county supervisors frequently caught the ire of the public and at some point there was an agreement made that Huckelberry would take a lot of the heat and that the supervisors could do the nice things, like reports, cut the ribbons, and allocate the funds.
It’s quite apparent if you go to about 15 of the meetings, my opponent does not question Chuck Huckelberry. There are no questions, unless they come from the Republicans. It’s just accepted. This baffles me.