There’s a visible symbol of the differences between the candidates for the District 1 seat on the Pima County Board of Supervisors: face masks.
Republican Steve Spain thinks the idea of wearing a “rag” on your face is “stupid,” while Democrat Rex Scott sees them as a necessary tool to combat the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that had infected more than 25,400 Pima County residents, 622 of whom had died after contracting the disease as of Monday, Sept. 28.
During a Republican primary debate in June, Spain told an audience that homemade face masks are ineffective and can cause hypoxia, which is a lack of enough oxygen to sustain function in a person’s muscle tissue.
“There is one place where I’m willing to wear a mask, and have consistently now since this whole thing started, and that’s a church,” Spain said. “If one person feels more comfortable going to church because everybody in there is wearing a mask, then it’s worth wearing it because right now this country—this world—needs more prayer than most any other time.”
But Scott puts his faith in public health officials who say that masks are one of the most effective ways to reduce COVID spread.
“If we had put a nationwide mask mandate in place back when the virus first hit our shores, we wouldn’t have a quarter of the global cases and deaths, even though we are only 4% of the world’s population,” Scott said. “Pima County must keep its mask mandate in place until local conditions warrant lifting it. To advocate for any other position is dangerous, selfish and irresponsible.”
The two candidates are vying to replace Republican Supervisor Ally Miller on the Pima County Board of Supervisors in District 1, which includes Marana, Oro Valley, the Casas Adobes area and the Catalina Foothills. The district is home to roughly 56,000 Republicans, 53,100 Democrats and 42,500 voters unaffiliated with the two major parties.
Despite that voter registration disadvantage, Scott believes he can pull off an upset victory. His campaign strategist, Adam Kinsey, points to the 2018 election, when Democrats for the Arizona Legislature, several statewide offices and Congress outpolled their Republican opponents.
Scott has beaten the political odds in the past. He got his first taste for public service in his 20s when he served as a Republican on the city council in Athens, Ohio. After resigning from his second term and moving to Pima County, Scott worked as a middle school teacher for eight years and then became an administrator for 19 years working in Flowing Wells, Amphitheater, Marana and Tucson public school districts. Along the way, he switched parties, leaving the GOP and becoming a Democrat.
He sees parallels between his work as a public school administrator and the supervisor position and described them both as roles that oversee the provision of services to his constituents. Scott believes he can bring a valuable perspectiveto the board, someone who has “learned the needs of this community through the eyes of its children.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic began earlier this year, Scott has been largely supportive of the decisions the board has made and how the county health department has worked with community stakeholders on safety protocols and reducing the risk of spreading the virus.
However, Scott was critical of the supervisors when they established new public health regulations on businesses. He said the supervisors rushed the process and did not consult with the business community first to see if the regulations could be “reasonably implemented,” so they had to later revise their regulations after complaints from business owners.
Scott pointed out that Gov. Doug Ducey instructed all school districts to work with their local health departments to make decisions about reopening. He has heard from several school superintendents that they are working “hand in glove” with the county health department to determine when it’s best to do on-campus instruction.
Scott praised Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia and Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen for providing their expertise to the county during this critical time.
While Scott is pleased with the county health department’s work on business and K-12 school regulations in the era of COVID-19, Spain believes local government needs to “back off” and let people return to normal daily activities. He said that Pima County has hindered the community’s ability to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I genuinely believe listening to so many medical experts, so many educational experts around the world and here within this country: kids need to be back in the classrooms,” Spain said. “Kids are suffering from depression, there’s a higher rate of committing suicide, it’s really time to get the kids out from behind a screen and back in front of their friends. They’re safer that way.”
He also believes the county’s Back to Business Task Force is ineffective, and that the best thing Pima County can do is stop controlling how businesses operate.
“We’ve got the state of Arizona issuing its guidelines, we’ve got the CDC issuing its guidelines, unless there’s some extremely exigent circumstance, Pima County really doesn’t have the expertise to add much to that.”
Spain was born and raised in Green Valley, Arizona and began his career in hospitality after graduating from the University of Arizona. He worked in IT for hotel chains such as Westin and Marriott. Spain said he enjoyed the work for many years and then took a severance package and has been doing local consulting since then.
Spain said he met with Supervisor Ally Miller at the end of last year when he found out she was not seeking re-election. They talked about the responsibilities of being a supervisor and the skills that are required.
Spain is “perpetually frustrated” with the deterioration of county-maintained roads in District 1. He said the county only spends about a third of the money they have to put toward road maintenance, and the rest goes into the General Fund.
“I will push unbelievably loudly and hard to ensure that we spend every bit of that to dig ourselves out of this hole that we’ve dug and get our roads at least in queue to get better,” Spain said.
Scott agrees with Spain when it comes to roads. He noted that 70 percent of all of the roads in unincorporated Pima County are in “poor or failed condition.”
Scott predicts that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on the county’s budget, and he offers his 23 years of experience dealing with public sector budgets to help the board make those hard decisions. Spain said he comes from a business background and knows how to “do more with what we’ve already got.”
“(Scott’s) approaches come from a ‘big government’ mindset that will hamper our recovery and make it look like another 2008,” Spain said. “We deserve better than that, we all work too hard for that to be the way Pima County handles this situation.”
But Scott thinks Spain is ignoring medical experts and he sees some of his opponent’s inflammatory statements about public health as a red flag. He’s set up a website, meetstevespain.com, that highlights some of the inflammatory comments Spain has made in radio interviews and as a columnist at the Arizona Daily Independent website, such as referring to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who spoke out against gun violence in the wake of the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting as “angry, shouty, uppity teens.”
Scott said Spain’s temperament isn’t suited to the Board of Supervisors.
“Anybody who writes and speaks with such an angry tone and with such extremism in terms of substance is likely to govern that way,” Scott said.