The new faces of Pinal County government

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By Chase Kamp Southeast Valley Ledger

 

After decades of Democratic domination, the 2012 election ushered in a flood of Republicans in Pinal County. With numerous County positions locked up and a 4-1 majority in the newly expanded Board of Supervisors, local Republicans have seized the limelight.

District 1 Supervisor Pete Rios, the lone Democrat on the Board, said the results were not entirely unexpected.

“I predicted 12 years ago a total takeover of Pinal County by Republicans,” Rios said. “The writing was on the wall for me a long time ago.”

Rios said the rapid growth in Maricopa and San Tan Valley was a clue he could not ignore. “The people moving in were not from out of state,” he said. “They were people from eastern Maricopa County, which is very well-known for having conservative Republicans.”

Newly elected Republican Supervisor Todd House was voted in to represent District 5, which contains areas of northern Pinal like Apache Junction and Gold Canyon. He lost a Supervisor race in 2004 against Democrat Sandy Smith and said the County’s shift to the right came as a pleasant surprise for him.

“If you would have told me we would have a majority of Supervisors eight years later, I would have said you were nuts,” he joked.

However, Rios argued most of the issues facing the County are ones he thinks will be unaffected by partisan politics. “There are issues I suspect the majority of Board members can get behind, not based on the letter behind their name but the best interests of the residents,” Rios said.

Rios said he expects the Board will primarily address issues like progress on the Picacho Peak Union Pacific yard, the continued promotion of Phoenix Mart in Casa Grande, the improvement of air quality and the fate of the Resolution Copper land exchange.

The County coffers, of course, are a different story. “For our Board, the most political item I see will be the budget,” Rios said.

Republicans also elected to the Board were former PCSO staffer Cheryl Chase in District 2 and former Maricopa Mayor Anthony Smith in District 4. House said he expects the Board to adopt a conservative agenda of decreased property taxes and what he called a more business-friendly atmosphere.

Newly-elected Republican District 3 Supervisor Steve Miller, who formerly served on the Casa Grande City Council, agreed that County government is reflecting the area’s demographics. “The county is showing its true face,” Miller said.

Balancing the desire for lower property tax rates with the necessary levels of service will be critical, Miller said. “It’s about finding out what services we’re providing that are wants and not needs,” he said, “and what service are mandated by state statute that we have to provide the funds for.”

More than anything, Miller said he aims to bolster economic development. “I think Pinal County has gotten bogged down into a municipality-type environment,” he said. “Jobs will make things get better around here.”

Miller defeated Democratic incumbent David Snider in District 3, which primarily contains the city of Casa Grande and parts of northwestern Pinal.

After a particularly hotheaded campaign, Republican Lando Voyles defeated incumbent Democrat James Walsh for the County Attorney seat with 53 percent of the vote. The fiery campaign had Voyles accusing Walsh of being soft on violent crime, while Walsh said his opponent’s co-campaign with Sheriff Paul Babeu was questionable.

Incumbent Republican Babeu was handily re-elected as Sheriff with more than 53 percent of the vote against two challengers.

A handful of Democrats did hold fast against the Republican torrent. Incumbent County Treasurer Dolores Doolittle held her seat against Republican challenger Steven Boyd, and in the LD-8 Senate race, Democrat Barbara McGuire defeated Republican opponent Joe Ortiz.

Duos of old and new Republicans reigned supreme in the state House races, however. In LD-11, incumbent Steve Smith (R) and newcomer Adam Kawasman (R) won their House seats. In a tight LD-8 race, incumbent Frank Pratt (R) won alongside T.J. Shope (R) by margins of about one thousand votes against Democrats Ernest Bustamante and Emily Verdugo.

In the County Superintendent race, Republican Jill Broussard was victorious over Democratic incumbent Orlenda Roberts, while Republican Douglas Wolf won the County Assessor seat.

Rios attributed the loss of these other County seats to party preference. “If you’re a Republican, your propensity is to vote Republican,” he said. “When you have more Republicans, it’s pretty simple arithmetic.”

Miller said he anticipates the new County government will realign its priorities and  scrutinize taxes. “I don’t have a scorched earth idea that we’re going to change everything,” he explained, “But over four or five years you’ll see a subtle change in how business is done in Pinal County.”

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