Nucleus Meltdown: A Not Quite LiveBlog of the Debate Between Democratic Candidates for the Pima County Board of Supervisors

Two incumbents on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, District 3’s Sharon Bronson and District 2’s Ramon Valadez, met their respective Democratic challengers, Donna Branch Gilby and Robert Robuck, at a meeting of the Pima County Democratic Party’s Nucleus Club last week. Supporters cheered and applauded; critics booed and hissed. Here’s a recap of the raucous caucus.

6:01 p.m.: Moderator Ash Silverberg introduces the candidates. Pima County Supervisor Ramon Valadez talks about growing up in Pima County and getting his start in politics when he interned for Dan Eckstrom, the previous District 2 supervisor and kingpin of southside politics. Valadez mentions that he also served in the Arizona Legislature and as an aide to Gov. Janet Napolitano. He says the county has made a lot of progress with conservation, sustainability and transportation. He gets big applause.

6:04 p.m.: Robert Robuck explains that he moved to Sahuarita from California because his wife grew up here. He says he got worried about local politics when he learned about plans to mine copper in the Santa Rita Mountains. Robuck decided to run for office when Valadez wouldn’t return his call regarding the mining proposal. He mentions that election integrity is a big issue in his campaign. The crowd goes wild with applause.

6:07 p.m.: Donna Branch-Gilby says she running against Bronson “because it was time to stop asking, stop lobbying, stop explaining about the necessity of really being sure we had an accurate election in a democracy and it was time to do something about it.”

Branch-Gilby gives props to Bronson for her work on the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan before calling Bronson “the leading obstructionist” on the election-integrity issue. She also complains that the supervisors didn’t spend enough time talking about the county budget this year. Branch-Gilby gets big applause.

6:11 p.m.: Bronson takes the microphone and goes all Oprah, stepping out from behind the table. “I hate standing behind a podium,” she says. “I think we all need to be talking to one another and we don’t do that by standing behind something but by confronting the issues.” Bronson bureaucrats that she’s proud of “moving us from divisive politics” to “a paradigm where there’s collaboration and consensus.” She says she has worked on environmental issues and find ways to help the city and the county work together on issues such as water. Bronson gets a round of applause.

6:14 p.m.: Your humble correspondent, having noted that Branch-Gilby has suggested that the county is spending money on outside agencies rather than on the sewer treatment plant, asks which outside agencies the county is wasting money on.

Branch-Gilby complains that I’ve asked a trick question. Then she explains that she’s upset that the county has dire need for a new landfill and improvements at the Roger Road Treatment Plant, but is spending money $4.5 million on the tourism bureau. She adds that none of the spending she’s complained about is a waste: “It’s just that in this environment of reduced income and fiscal challenge, I would have liked to have seen a transparent discussion” of the budget. Big applause.

6:27 p.m.: A woman named Barbara complains that she can’t find a disaster plan related to the upcoming climate catastrophe that’s set to hit Pima County. She accuses Bronson of telling her that the county had developed a response to a Day After Tomorrow scenario, but a subsequent search of the county’s Web page had yielded no such plan.

Bronson snaps: “Actually, if you had listened, what I said was, after 9/11, we had a disaster plan as we were required.” She says not all disaster plans are public record “because of reasons of security.”

6:30 p.m.: Valadez says the county has planned for disasters and is working to lower the county’s carbon footprint to fight global warming.

6:32 p.m.: Robuck calls for the government to have more drills for disasters and for more information on county Web sites regarding what to do if, say, hazardous waste gets into our water supply.

6:34 p.m.: Branch-Gilby says the county needs more leadership in planning for the disasters that will accompany climate change.

6:35 p.m.: Bruce Wheeler, a former city councilman, asks why supervisors have not had meetings of a citizen advisory committee on the county budget.

Bronson says the citizen committee wasn’t very useful and talks about the audit and budget process that the county has in place. She says citizens should be involved in strategic planning for the county.

6:37 p.m.: Valadez says the supes have the final say on the budget but there should be public input. He pauses and Bronson suddenly begins to feed him lines, murmuring that budget information is online. Valadez repeats her words. Bronson adds that we’re the only county in Arizona that does it. “We’re the only county in Arizona that does it,” Valadez repeats.

6:38 p.m.: Robuck has praise for Bronson: “Sharon, I almost didn’t see your mouth moving while he was talking.” The audience responds with a hearty laugh.

“We’re collaborative partners,” Bronson shoots back from her seat.

Robuck calls for more public input in the budget, then calls for the board to meet more often in study sessions. Patrick McKenna, an aide to Republican Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll (who is using Robuck and Branch-Gilby as his swords of vengeance against the board’s Democratic majority), yells out: “Yeah!” McKenna is applauding so loudly it sounds as if he is pounding two bricks together. I have never seen such excitement over the idea of yet another Board of Supervisors meeting.

Robuck mentions again that Valadez wouldn’t take his calls and complains that incumbent has hired Jennifer Ecksktrom, the mayor of South Tucson and the daughter of former District 2 Supervisor Dan Eckstrom, as his chief aide.

“That’s like having my wife working in my office,” Robuck says.

The statement brings an angry rebuttal from Jennifer Eckstrom, who is sitting with her father at a table in the corner of the room. “Excuse me, but we’re not married!” yells Eckstrom, who gives Robuck some serious skunk eye.

6:43 p.m.: Branch-Gilby says the county needs to do more strategic planning, which she did as a state employee. She complains that there were only two public budget meetings and there was no study session. While she appreciates that the entire budget can now be found online, “it doesn’t offer the kind of two-way communication that is needed to understand a very complex budget.”

6:45 p.m.: Attorney Bill Risner, who has led the legal action that has forced the county to turn over election databases and is one of the activists alleging that the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election may have been fixed (see this week’s Skinny for details), asks the supervisors to commit to recounting the RTA ballots if there’s a legal option to do so. He gets huge applause; McKenna is now whooping like a WWF fan. All candidates agree that they would support a recount.

6:50 p.m.: Longtime environmental activist Gayle Hartmann asks what supervisors would do to limit population growth.

Robuck, who recently built a house on two acres of land near Sahuarita, complains that new residents are contributing to sprawl, while Valadez says we need to “look very seriously at growth issues” and says the county should examine “creative things.”

Branch-Gilby says “climate change is coming our way” and says that it’s theoretically possible to limit citizens to 53 gallons of water a day. She says Tucsonans have a way to go before reaching that stage. She calls for requiring citizens to install cisterns and rooftop rain-collection systems.

Bronson says the county is asking developers to provide water plans with new developments. She says a moratorium on growth is legally dubious, but the county needs to explore its options.

6:55 p.m.: A gentleman named Maurice asks why the supervisors didn’t turn over the electronic databases that were requested by the Pima County Democratic Party rather than forcing the party to sue the county. The room explodes into applause.

Bronson blames the mess on the lawyers for both sides. “Let’s kill all the lawyers,” she Shakespeares before the audience begins booing and hissing.

“In hindsight,” Bronson notes, “this should never have been adversarial.”

Valadez weighs in, saying that the supervisors listened to what may have been bad advice from their attorneys and the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. He says that supervisors have reformed ballot-counting security based on suggestions from election-integrity activists. The crowd begins to hiss again.

Branch-Gilby reminds the audience this is the issue that got her to run. Deciding to run meant that she had to pass up her chance to be a super-delegate at the Democratic National Convention: “I said, ‘Oh my God, I have to give up my seat to the convention because this cannot go unchallenged.’” She calls for new management in the elections department.

Robuck complains that the county didn’t need to protect the databases and criticizes lax oversight of the elections division.

7:04 p.m.: Jeff Latas, who built a name for himself in local politics while unsuccessfully running for Congress in 2006, asks if any of the supervisors have accepted campaign contributions from politically powerful developers. Valadez and Bronson both cop to taking money from developers, but say they have a wide fundraising base; Robuck, who had only collected about $1,500 as of the end of May, says he has not gotten money from the Growth Lobby, adding “I don’t have a lot of campaign contributions”; and Branch-Gilby says the only builder on her finance report is her ex-husband.

7:10 p.m.: Closing statements already! Branch-Gilby reminds the crowd that Bronson resisted the release of election records, even though some of her fellow supervisors disagreed; she adds that she wants to amend the county’s general plan based on global warming and the subprime meltdown.

Bronson mistakenly takes credit for implementing the county’s first impact fees, which had been approved before she was elected in 1996. She talks about cooperating with the city of Tucson and working toward a sustainable environment and economy. She says she works cooperatively with everyone and doesn’t engage in adversarial politics.

Robuck says he opposes the Rosemont mine and supports election integrity. He also says too much pork is secretly being hidden in the budget. He complains that the county is wasting $110,000 on a dead-end road in South Tucson. He wants a simpler version of the budget put on the Web so he can “look at the budget online and figure out what hell the the money goes for.”

Valadez, who seems genuinely upset to have faced such a hostile crowd, talks about his experience in public office. “You know, there is a very big difference between someone coming to a community and telling us what we need to do and doing what—doing what it takes to make the difficult decisions,” says Valadez, who boasts about better relationships with local municipalities under his leadership.

7:18 p.m.: Ash Silverburg thanks the candidates and the audience.

“They were super,” he says, “and so were you.”

3 Responses

  1. Great liveblog coverage of the nucleus event. I couldn’t be there but the way this is written I feel as though I was in the room.

    The one candidate that really stands out is Bronson. Her theme seems to be, “I am not accountable for any decisions I make if they are bad. It is everyone else’s fault (i.e. they gave me bad advice). However, I will gladly take credit for all the things I had nothing to do with that worked out well. Even if I wasn’t even in office at the time.”

    I hope Donna Branch-Gilby kicks her behind in the Primary and we can look forward to a good Democrat running against a good Republican in the General. I am tired of lying, unethical, unaccountable supervisors. Of the current board, the only one tolerable is Ray Carroll.

  2. There is video of the debate posted on Robert Robuck’s site:

    And Frank, I agree with you about Ray Carroll.

  3. Right on Frank and Anna! Good luck to Donna Branch-Gilby and Robert Robuck for the good fight.

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