Presidential election years also bring local elections for Pima County offices, the Arizona Legislature, school districts and more. In the weeks to come, Tucson Local Media will be shining a spotlight on the offices up for grabs this year. This week, we focus on Pima County, where the retirement of some longtime elected officials means new candidates will be introducing themselves to voters.
All of the members of the Board of Supervisors will be up for election, as well as nine offices such as sheriff and county attorney.
Candidates have until June to file their nominating petitions, so some of the candidates listed in this article could drop out before then, and new candidates may yet decide to join a race. Candidates who win their Aug. 4 primary will go on to the Nov. 3 general election.
Pima County Board of Supervisors
All five of Pima County’s supervisors are up for re-election in 2020.
The only supervisor who is not seeking another term is District 1 Supervisor Ally Miller.
Miller announced her retirement from the position via Facebook in December 2019 to the surprise of many community members, as she had previously announced plans to run for another term.
A number of candidates have already filed to run for the position, with several more having expressed interest.
Oro Valley councilwoman Rhonda Piña (R) has filed to put her name in the race for the heavily Republican District 1 and hopes to bring her political and business experience to the role.
Republican and former state lawmaker Vic Williams has also expressed interest in running on a platform of economic development.
Bill Beard (R), a former Pima County GOP chair, has also filed to run for District 1. Beard hopes to be a watchdog for Pima County taxpayers.
On Jan. 7, Miller endorsed another Republican candidate Steve Spain via her Facebook, writing "Steve understands how local government works, and how it doesn’t work. He acts with integrity and is a thoughtful and creative leader who will work to take Pima County to the next level."
Spain's career includes 15 years with Starwood Hotels & Resorts and he is a contributor to the Arizona Daily Independent.
The Democrats have Rex Scott and Jeff Farrell, both with backgrounds in education.
Scott has nearly three decades of experience within public education, most recently serving as principal of Tortolita Middle School. He wants to improve perception and satisfaction with the county government, as well as improve infrastructure and economic development.
Farrell is a substitute teacher and is interested in prioritizing road repair, new technologies, bike tourism and making himself available to hear constituents’ needs.
District 4 Supervisor Steve Christy faces several challengers so far.
Republican John Backer is back after he lost to Christy in 2016 in the GOP primary and has since become a precinct committeeman for Legislative District 2. His platform includes greater transparency, better roads and less wasteful spending.
Democrat Steve Diamond wants to face the winner of the GOP primary in the heavily Republican District 4. Diamond has 35 years of experience in corporate information technology and will prioritize education, the environment, criminal justice reform and economic development.
So far, three candidates have filed to challenge for Supervisor Sharon Bronson, who plans to seek a seventh term in District 3.
Political gadfly Felicia Chew has filed to run for District 3 as a Democrat. Chew has also filed to run for the Amphitheater School Board. Chew lost her race for Ward 3 seat on the Tucson City Council in 2017 and was booted from the ballot because she didn’t collect enough valid signatures for her run for the Amphi School Board in 2018. Her platform includes helping domestic violence victims, fixing roads, improving education and prioritizing local businesses.
Republican Joe Boogaart is also vying for the seat Bronson has held since 1996. Boogaart, who was appointed to the county’s citizen bond advisory committee by frequent Bronson foe Ally Miller, later led efforts to defeat the 2017 bond package. His priorities include spending accountability, road repair and infrastructure improvements to neighborhoods.
Juan Padrés, Public Affairs Manager for TuSimple, has filed to run as a Democrat for District 3. He is the president of the Tucson-Mexico Sister Cities Association, and is a Commissioner in the Pima County Small Business Commission. Padrés believes its time for new ideas and new leadership in Pima County.
District 5 incumbent Richard Elías could see a challenge from independent candidate Rachael Sedgwick. A Tucson Unified School District Governing Board member, Sedgwick believes poverty is one of the biggest issues facing TUSD and wants to eliminate wasteful spending in the county budget.
She said creating jobs and economic development are her main priorities for the county.
So far, no candidates have filed to run against District 2 Supervisor Ramón Valadez. He was first appointed to the office in 2003 and won his first term in 2004.
Pima County Sheriff
Republican Mark Napier won the race for Pima County Sheriff in 2016 after Democrat Chris Nanos, who had been appointed to the job, found his upper leadership embroiled in FBI investigations regarding a misuse of RICO funds.
Napier is seeking a second term. He has spent most of his career in law enforcement, including 21 years with the Tucson Police Department.
The sheriff is heading into the new year with a vote of no confidence from both the Pima County Correctional Officers Association and the Pima County Deputy Sheriffs Association. Union members say that Napier has failed to deliver campaign promises, employee raises and better benefits. Though this vote is non-binding, the unions asked Napier not to run in 2020.
On the Democratic side, Nanos is looking for a rematch against Napier. Nanos was appointed to the position by the Board of Supervisors in 2015 to replace Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who held the office for four decades.
Nanos announced he would run against Napier in a Facebook post, writing that after the vote of no confidence by the unions he received a number of calls that encouraged him to run.
But before Nanos can take on Napier, he will have to win a Democratic primary. Kevin Kubitsky, a Democrat with more than 20 years in the department, also announced his candidacy.
Pima County Attorney
Since 1996, Democrat Barbara LaWall has served as Pima County Attorney, running the county’s top prosecutorial agency as well as providing civil legal advice for county agencies.
When LaWall announced in October that she wouldn’t run for reelection, it guaranteed a new person will take over the office just as criminal justice reform is a hot topic in Arizona and across the nation.
County attorneys, also known as district attorneys in other states, decide whether to bring charges against defendants accused of crimes. They also have significant influence at the Arizona Legislature when it comes to bills that focus on sentencing laws.
So far, two Democratic candidates have entered the race: attorneys Jonathan Mosher and Laura Conover.
Mosher has long worked with the retiring LaWall. He started at the county's office in 2005. Since 2014, he’s served as deputy county attorney and chief trial counsel and is now chief criminal deputy in her office. He successfully prosecuted many serious criminal cases in Pima County Superior Court, from sexual offenses to domestic and gun violence crimes.
“For me, this is the next logical step to be able to carry forward my commitment to victims in the community and be able to implement, on a policy level, some of the things I’ve been practicing as a prosecutor in my individual cases for the last 15 years,” Mosher said.
Conover now works as a criminal defense attorney through her law firm, Conover Law, PLLC. Before that, she worked for a decade at the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Tucson. She sees this race as an opportunity to bring new leadership to the status quo.
“It’s the first time in my adult life that it’s been an ‘open seat,’ so to speak,” Conover said. “We’ve had two incumbents run this office from the inside for 40 years. Just two people.”
Conover also serves as vice chair of the Ninth Circuit for the Federal Bar Association, representing about 400 contract attorneys. She previously worked with private companies to help people transitioning out of prison find employment.
Both candidates place high priority in severing the connection between drug addiction and prison time. LaWall has faced criticism in the past for prosecuting non-violent offenders arrested for small drug possession charges, which created overcrowding in the county jail.
“If you can afford to get a medical marijuana card, let’s be honest, you can get one. And that means that if you have marijuana, you’re not committing a crime, at least not as far as my office is concerned,” Mosher said. “But what about the person who is homeless in the park and has a joint? Under our current law, that person is doing something illegal. To me, that’s wrong.”
He sees this as an example of larger “disparate impacts” that the criminal justice system has on the poor and on minorities. Another example: money bail.
“Money bail means if you can afford it, you can get out of jail. Why is that fair?” Mosher said. “What jails should do is protect us from people who are dangerous. So whether someone is released from jail should depend on the risk that they present to the community or to specific individuals in the community, not based on whether they’re rich or poor.”
Mosher wants to pursue a program that would allow the County Attorney’s Office to refer individuals arrested on minor drug charges to court-provided treatment alternatives, administered by the county’s Pretrial Services.
Under this system, a person who is arrested would be taken to jail, but instead of staying in jail they would be given a court date, where they could enter into a contract for treatment services, rather than a plea agreement. Mosher believes this provides prosecutors with an alternative to pursuing criminal charges.
“What I like about that type of program is that it allows prosecutors to be doing the work of assisting in connecting the drug addicted individual to services instead of connecting them to prison,” he said.
Mosher expects the new program to be in effect by June 2020. He says he and Chief Deputy Amelia Cramer have been closely involved in its creation, and that if he is elected, Cramer has agreed to stay with the County Attorney’s Office and work on implementing similar programs alongside Mosher.
He credits Cramer with pursuing the creation and funding for the county’s Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison program, also known as DTAP. Under this program, drug offenders plead guilty to a charge and then enter a community drug treatment system for three years as an alternative to prison.
This includes wraparound recovery services such as transitional housing, education, job training and placement services, counseling, drug testing, probation monitoring and regular court hearings.
Those eligible for DTAP are non-violent repeat drug offenders facing a mandatory prison sentence.
“The only criticism you’ll ever hear of DTAP is that it’s too small, which is essentially to say it’s so successful, we need more of it,” Mosher said. “What I want to do [as county attorney] is deliver more of exactly those types of programs, so working with Amelia is absolutely critical.”
Both candidates applaud the Tucson Police Department for implementing Deflection, a program that allows officers to take someone who is suffering from drug addiction or a mental health crisis to the Banner-UMC Crisis Response Center to receive treatment with no risk of jail time.
Conover says TPD is doing “incredible” work to prevent simple possession charges and addiction right in the street, but the Pima County Attorney’s Office is not on the same page.
“We’ve got to have a county attorney right up there with them and lead the charge in moving our county into modern criminal justice reform and modern policing,” she said. “And I think it’s going to have to be an attorney coming in from the outside.”
Conover believes the community is ready for changes in the County Attorney’s Office, and sees herself as the person who can come in and “re-energize” the environment. She wants to hire and train “new, talented” trial attorneys and then give them prosecutorial discretion, which she claims they have never enjoyed.
“(I will) trust them to actually run their cases which gives them job satisfaction, and gets them to stay and build a career for a lifetime,” Conover said.
She also takes issue with the number of felony charges occurring in Pima County, adding that a felony label destabilizes a person’s employment and housing for the rest of their life, creating a multi-generational problem.
“Under the current policies right now, we’re on record to file nearly 7,000 felonies, which will break the record for felonies filed in the history the Superior Court has been recording it, while at the same time our sheriff is telling us our crime rate is down,” Conover said.
The bulk of those felonies are nonviolent, low-level drug offenders, according to Conover. She believes the resources used to warehouse those people in jail could be better used elsewhere.
“I think it robs us of the opportunity to go after people who are truly harming our community,” she said. “We haven’t had a true Financial Crimes unit in that office in 20 years. So we’re allowing scamming and fraud of our parents and our grandparents and it’s like we’ve rolled out the welcome mat for that stuff because we just don’t have our eye on the ball.”
The next county attorney will have leadership over a department that comprises of 4 percent of Pima County’s entire budget (about $40 million) and has a hand in more than just criminal cases, but also legal matters spanning land use, business and transactions, employment law, victims advocacy, juvenile cases and more.
“I have 10 years of experience as a civil lawyer, and a big part of our office is running a civil division that is the largest civil law firm south of the Gila River,” Mosher said. “I am the only candidate that has significant prosecution experience, but I also have significant civil experience, which no other candidate has.”
Conover—who, if elected, would be making a move from defending individuals to prosecuting them—said she feels uniquely qualified for the position because of her diversity of knowledge across the criminal justice system.
“I love partnering with law enforcement and probation and pretrial and the bench to make the system run smoother so that we can have better outcomes system-wide,” she said. “This is the kind of background, a diverse background, that a true administrator and leader has to have.”
Pima County Recorder
Another long-standing county official to step down from her post this year is Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez. She ran the office for the past 28 years, and there is now a race between three Democrats to become her replacement.
“All events in life have a beginning and an end and this is also true with my journey as your Pima County recorder,” Rodriguez said in a statement announcing her retirement. “I have decided to announce my tenure as your Pima County recorder will end at the end of my current term as I will not seek reelection in 2020.”
The county recorder is in charge of maintaining all local records, including real-estate records and voter registration records. In Pima County, the recorder also sends out and verifies early ballots and has other election-related responsibilities.
Candidate Kimberly Challender is currently the assistant chief deputy of the Pima County Recorder’s Office, and wants to move up to the top seat.
She came to the office five years ago, starting out as an administrative specialist. Now, she has a hand in early voting efforts, managing the budget and overseeing the IT team, where she regularly works with the Department of Homeland Security to prevent breaches and maintain voter integrity, among other duties.
Before all that, Challender worked in the private sector. She says this job inspired a passion for voter registration and improving the process of voting.
“When I came into the recorder’s office, it was amazing,” Challender says. “F. Ann Rodriguez runs a very efficient, very process-driven operation. I was just so impressed.”
Another candidate, Gabriella Cázares-Kelly, has had her eye on the position for years and sees a need for alternative leadership.
As a local public school educator and community activist, Cázares-Kelly has routinely encountered issues with voter registration and the early voting system in Pima County. She says there’s large amounts of misinformation that prevent people from casting a ballot.
“As soon as I heard that F. Ann Rodriguez was retiring after 27 years, I realized that the work that I had been doing to try to bring up these issues with the county recorder (was) at risk,” she says. “I didn’t even want to, I felt a sense of duty to make sure that I changed the conversation as far as what’s accessible to people and how.”
Third candidate Consuelo Hernandez, who serves on the Sunnyside Unified School District board, takes a more moderate approach in her vision for the recorder’s office. She says she doesn’t want to “reinvent the wheel” but incorporate practices that have worked in other communities.
Her top priorities are to update voting systems, secure sensitive information and meet people where they are.
Hernandez wants to build relationships with partner agencies on the local, state and federal levels to have them perform assessments on the county’s voting and recording systems. She wants to explore new methods of communication between the recorder’s office and the public, such as sending out text messages to voters when their mail-in ballots have been received and counted.
“We want to make sure that we’re reaching everyone because it’s not really as effective when you’re calling folks if a ballot hasn’t been received,” Hernandez says.
Cázares-Kelly is concerned about the lack of clarity for how college students, tribal members and other groups can access the same voting process enjoyed by others.
“We are a college town in Tucson and we certainly have a large number of college students here in this county,” Cázares-Kelly says. “We do not have clear directions for students who live here 10 months out of the year for four years in a row. They may be discouraged from voting.”
Cázares-Kelly’s vision for the office includes collaborative relationships with community partners, or “the people who are doing the groundwork,” as she puts it. These are both partisan and nonpartisan groups who are pushing for voter registration in Pima County but haven’t had their needs met by the recorder’s office, she says.
Challender says Pima County has about 80 percent of the voter-eligible population registered to vote. She credits those same partners with keeping that percentage high.
“These groups are amazing, they do a great job,” Challender says. “When I first started we had under 500,000 registered voters, and now we’re at 570,000. We couldn’t have done that without these groups coming in, whether it’s Mi Familia Vota, NextGen, Chispa, all these groups.”
Cázares-Kelly adds the Pima County Public Defender’s Office to that list, because they host free workshops with lawyers for convicted felons to file paperwork and get their voting rights restored. She says having partnerships like that is key, because the county recorder’s website is filled with legal jargon.
“It’s discouraging, it’s not accessible, people still have questions and don’t know where to go for that process,” she says.
If elected, Cázares-Kelly would put resources toward helping previously incarcerated individuals regain their right to vote. She says there is a lack of effort on that front, while the state’s correctional system continues to disenfranchise the population.
“I think that’s really important to talk about because the people that are going through the system are the ones that are most in need of public assistance, they’re struggling to find housing, struggling to find jobs, struggling with maybe educational job training, and everyone else is making decisions, everyone else is voting but them about how the public can help that population in particular,” she says.
Another key aspect of the recorder’s job is to help craft voting-related bills coming out of the state legislature.
Cázares-Kelly would like to reevaluate voter ID laws that have made it difficult for senior citizens who no longer have the need for a driver’s license, but still want to vote.
“These are things that we really need to be thinking about and figuring out,” she says. “Are these laws that have been put in place, are they serving the needs of the community?”
Challender is also familiar with this process, since it’s part of her job to coordinate with other recorders in the state and push local legislators for bills that would benefit their office.
She says Pima County is getting closer to providing same-day voter registration. It’s an issue she would like to take up with the state legislature, if elected.
“There’s really no reason not to move forward with that,” Challender says. “The 29 day registration process where you have to register 29 days before an election—that’s just archaic.”
The recorder’s office is a small department with about 50 full-time staff. That number grows to about 150 with temporary workers during election cycles. Challender says they plan to distribute 420,000 ballots in November.
Pima County Treasurer
Pima County Treasurer Beth Ford was first elected in 2000. She is currently running for a sixth consecutive term against Democrat Brian Bickel.
The county treasurer’s office is responsible for managing and disbursing public funds, including property taxes levied by all forms of local government.
During her tenure, Ford, a Republican and a certified public accountant, increased effectiveness in the office thanks to partnerships with other Pima County agencies and introduced more automation into the daily operations, according to the treasurer’s website.
Additionally, she developed an investment program to generate income for special jurisdictions within the county, that would have otherwise been supported through taxpayer dollars.
Ford also heads the Arizona Association of County Treasurers and has served three terms as vice president of the Arizona Association of County Treasurers, where she also works as the legislative liaison. She is a member of the Arizona State Treasurer’s Investment Advisory Board.
Bickel, a combat veteran who previously ran for District 1 Supervisor in 2016, has a background in hospital administration. He believes in providing more “clarity and transparency” to the treasurer’s office.
“As treasurer, I would implement a program for the county similar to AZCheckbook.com, which former Arizona Treasurer Dean Martin started,” Bickel wrote on his campaign website. “This allows anyone to get on the Internet for daily status updates and monthly comparisons of funds available to pay for essential services.”
Bickel is also interested in implementing a “public banking function” in the office to help prevent long-term Pima County residents from getting priced out of their homes on property taxes. He describes it as similar to a reverse mortgage, “but instead of providing income it would mitigate the rising tax burden until the owner dies or sells the property.”
He currently serves as the treasurer of the Foothills Clusters HOA, the treasurer of Legislative District 9 Democrats and the president of Democrats of Greater Tucson.
Pima County Assessor
Pima County assessor Bill Staples will be retiring after four terms. Staples was first elected to the position in 2004.
As assessor, Staples is responsible for assigning values to properties as the basis for property taxes levied by the county, school districts and other jurisdictions.
Several of Staples former employees will face off for the role.
Democrat Brian Johnson started his career in Pima County in 2006 as an appraiser in the assessor’s office. In 2015 he moved to the Pima County Administration’s Finance and Risk Management Department in the Property Assessment Litigation Unit.
Johnson lost a bid to unseat Staples in the Democratic primary in 2016.
If elected, some of Johnson’s goals include developing training programs for the department, working with the IT department to create an “integrated map based portal for the public,” and working with other county assessors to develop “legislation and statewide policies where we can consistently approach valuation issues throughout the state.”
Mark Baudendistel, who currently serves as senior commercial appraiser at the assessor’s office, has also filed to run for the position as a Democrat.
Baudendistel believes in improving communication with both the department and taxpayers, and utilizing the right people and technology to ensure the best property valuations for all.
Running for the second time is Democratic candidate Suzanne Droubie. She has 20 plus years of experience in real estate, management and customer service experience, including seven years at the assessor’s office.
She is focused on “putting the service back in customer service” and thinks the biggest challenges facing the department are a lack of objectivity and a lack of respect for the taxpayer. She pointed to over 60 litigation cases involving the assessor’s office over the last few years as a sign that things need to change.
Currently, no Republican candidates have announced a run for assessor.
Editor's Note: The print version of this story incorrectly stated District 2 Supervisor Ramón Valadez was elected in 2003. He was first appointed to the office in 2003 and won his first term in 2004.