Scottsdale's Shifting Political Winds

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

Bob Dylan
Subterranean Homesick Blues

As the city's political winds shift, some people are going with the flow. 

For the better part of two years Mayor Lane had been hesitant to take a position on the Desert Discovery Center. On several occasions he sounded as if he supported the DDC and wanted to avoid a public vote on the project because he had reservations about the ballot language that would change the City Charter. At other times his support for the desert education center seemed less than enthusiastic and he leaned toward a public vote. 

Last week His Honor announced his decision: "The (ballot) language really covers the bases. In essence, it is what I was looking for. I will vote for it."

After years of making Mayor Lane the target of relentless ridicule, the No DDC faction was caught by surprise by his support of Proposition 420. "After hurling a lot of negativity at Mayor Lane, it's time to thank him for making a good decision when it really matters most," according to No DDC Chieftain Jason Alexander. 

Mike Norton, Alexander's second banana, responded: "I am proud to say I was wrong about Mayor Jim Lane to a degree. His endorsement of Prop 420 means something. I respect his decision even if it came through a couple of years of wrangling. We all make mistakes." 

But Lane, Alexander and Norton weren't the only ones who did an about-face. 

Following the lead of Mayor Lane, Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp decided to also ride the political current. Up until last week, Klapp had hinted she thought Proposition 420 was bad public policy. Now the third-term councilwoman plans to vote "yes" on the proposition to change the City Charter.

The biggest turnaround was dealt to No DDC from the Arizona Progress & Gazette, a local blog that has been opposed to the Desert Discovery Center from the project's inception. The blog, whose publisher has made a sizeable contribution to DDC opposition, recently swooned over Councilwoman Linda Milhaven sticking to her guns and saying she intended to vote "no" on Proposition 420. 

"While we profoundly disagree with Milhaven on this issue, and have on matters concerning WestWorld too, we recommend her for re-election," according last week's editorial. "Milhaven is the antithesis of groupthink and a reminder, right and wrong, of what leadership is."

No DDC followers were flabbergasted. And they only tepidly disagreed because they didn't want to bite one of the hands that feeds their campaign. 

The three groups collaborating to pass Proposition 420 (No DDC, Protect Our Preserve and Protect Our Preserve Political Action Committee) are also working to turn the tide in the City Council election. Besides backing the re-election of Kathy Littlefield, the groups are throwing their support behind Solange Whitehead. Some believe Whitehead could be the leading edge of a new wave of candidates spawned by their opposition to Desert EDGE. 

To Be Continued: The Perfect Political Storm Shaping Up in 2020

Possibility of Political Haboobs

Time flies.
At this time last year SUSD Superintendent Denise Birdwell was busy bullying teachers and stonewalling her critics. Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale had just presented its proposal for the DDC. And Mayor Lane was growing a beard.
Now, as families have returned from vacation and parents are preparing to send their children back to school, the community is bracing itself for the political monsoon season. For the next three months the barometric pressure is expected to rise as campaigns begin gearing up for the push to the November election.
Forecasters are predicting possible political haboobs.
Two local issues will be on the ballot: increasing the sales tax and an amendment to the City Charter to regulate projects in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. The sales tax issue was referred to the ballot by a 4-3 vote of the City Council and the change in the charter issue made it to the ballot through the citizen initiative process.
Councilmembers Guy Phillips and Suzanne Klapp are coordinating the sales tax measure. The campaign is expected to be a low-key affair because there has been minimal interest in investing the necessary resources to promote raising a tax.
What the sales tax campaign will lack in energy and enthusiasm, the campaign to change the charter will more than make up for.
Following two years of taunting by No DDC that has torn the community apart, the group's affiliate, Protect Our Preserve (POP), pulled off a feat few thought possible: people, both paid and unpaid, gathered more than enough signatures to put what's now called Proposition 420 on the ballot.
If the past couple of years of No DDC's nastiness is any indication, the politicking around Prop 420 will set a toxic tone for the fall elections - including the campaigns for City Council. No DDC has already started waging a crusade to replace Councilmembers Linda Milhaven and David Smith. The intense effort to "unelect" Milhaven has been particularly vicious and it's anticipated it will be a significant part of the group's strategy to pass Proposition 420. So the worse may be yet to come.
And what's an election without what has become the tradition of an independent expenditure campaign targeting one of the candidates?
According to the political grapevine, this year David Smith, running for his second term, is the likely candidate to be in the crosshairs of a campaign financed by those who support challenger Bill Crawford, the well-known downtown business owner.
Meanwhile, after two years of chaos and corruption in the Scottsdale Unified School District, the School Board election seems anticlimactic. Pam Kirby, who was at the center of the district's downfall, has wisely announced she won't be running for re-election. Sometime soon incumbent Kim Hartmann is expected to follow suit. That means businesswoman Patty Beckman will assuredly be elected to help put the school district back on track. The second seat on the School Board is up for grabs.
Things Worth Watching:
Mayor Lane's Political Action Committee, "At Our Best." Solange Whitehead's council campaign. And the reincarnation of the Scottsdale Progress in September.

Alyssa Robis: The Rest of the Story

Alyssa Robis' appetite for politics was short-lived after she got a taste of political reality.
"Do I have any desire to run in the future? No," Robis recently told a reporter from the Arizona Republic after she aborted her campaign for a seat on the City Council.
The next time someone says, "We need to encourage more young people to get interested in politics," remember, not everyone agrees. Especially someone working on behalf of one of the candidates still competing for one of the three seats on the Council.
Robis, a first-time candidate, had virtually no name identification with voters and had raised very little money. She would have been running on one issue. Her opposition to the Desert Discovery Center.  
Makes you wonder: Who put a "concerned" citizen up to paying an expensive election law attorney to challenge the validity of Robis' nomination petitions? And which candidate would have had the most to gain without Alyssa Robis on the ballot?
While you're thinking about that ...  
One candidate's campaign manager who had seen the petitions Robis submitted to the City Clerk's Office called them a "f-ing mess." They said that Robis had not followed the letter of the law while gathering signatures, not even close -- and, as a consequence, "It was guaranteed she would have been disqualified."
Foreseeing a costly court battle, Robis decided that discretion was the better part of valor. So she voluntarily withdrew from the race.
No doubt Robis was politically naïve, and probably had no idea what running for the City Council entailed - including how to circulate legal nominating petitions. That's still no excuse, because there were people who would have helped guide her through the process.
However, it's disappointing that Robis, 28 years old, has left the race because of who and what she would have represented.
During Scottsdale's last general election in 2016, only 7% of voters between the ages of 25-34 voted. By comparison, those between 50-64 comprised 30% of the electorate. And voters 65 and older were 44% of the total vote.
If Alyssa Robis had remained in the race, would her candidacy have helped boost the turnout of millennial voters? It sure couldn't have hurt. And if she had qualified to be on the ballot, she may have been a voice who addressed the issues that matter to millennials.
But voters won't get the chance to find out.
Unfortunately, Robis didn't do millennials any favors. Her lackadaisical effort re-enforced the stereotype others have of her age group as the "distracted and disengaged" generation. And "entitled." Robis' accusatory statements after her withdrawal from the race also sent a message to millennials: "This further substantiated my belief that people or entities will do whatever necessary to prevent fresh voices from being heard."
Robis' disappointment is understandable. But she has no one to blame but herself. She blew it!
At least two seats could be open on the City Council in 2020. Suzanne Klapp will be termed out and Virginia Korte is exploring running for mayor. Guy Phillips may or may not run for re-election.
That should be an invitation for new voices and maybe some familiar faces to emerge. Maybe even a millennial or two.

The Desert "Distraction" Center

It's approaching two years that the non-stop noise surrounding the Desert Discovery Center has droned on and drowned out almost everything else.

The negativity has gone viral.    

Good people have been the target of character assassinations. City Council members have had their integrity impugned. Name-calling is now normal and finger-pointing commonplace.  Hostility has reached new heights ... or depths, depending on perspective.   

Consequently, politics are impacting policies.

One of the most egregious examples is the language for increasing the sales tax proposal that will appear on the November ballot.  Voters will be assured that if they approve a 0.10% sales tax increase for transportation projects: IN NO EVENT SHALL SUCH FUNDS BE USED FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF A DESERT DISCOVERY CENTER OR FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF ANY IMPROVEMENTS IN THE MCDOWELL SONORAN PRESERVE.

The description of the proposal is the first time in recent memory that ballot language has spelled out what funds from a voter-approved proposal can NOT be used for.

By including this peculiar and unprecedented language, the City of Scottsdale is breaking new ground - and possibly digging itself a hole for future elections.  But for now, we at least know that the bureaucrats can be bullied into bastardizing an election ballot.

Meanwhile ... people with their hair on fire over the Desert Discovery Center/Desert EDGE have helped push other important issues to the back burner.

For years, Councilman David Smith has been telling anyone who will listen that the city's infrastructure is degrading at the rate of $100 million a year.  Currently, the city estimates there are $800 million in restoration and replacement projects that should be addressed.  Smith's warnings fell on deaf ears at the polls in 2013 and 2015.  The majority of his colleagues on the City Council have also been reluctant to heed his caution about deteriorating infrastructure.   

Councilmembers say they will "consider" placing a bond proposal on the ballot in 2019 when the cost of catching up on infrastructure projects will probably be pushing $1 billion.  It would be hard to refute someone who says:  "We'll believe it when we see it." After all, this is a council that can't agree on what time it is let alone reach a consensus on something as important as a bond proposal.

The DDC/Desert EDGE isn't just dominating the political discussion ... it's also distracting the City Council and citizens from a dialogue about other critical issues like the funding for the renovations being required of Scottsdale Stadium, maintenance of Indian Bend Wash and enhancing the environment on and around the most traveled banks of our canal system.  Other issues worthy of discussion include how to finally achieve full staffing of the Fire Department to control costly overtime issues, continuing to coordinate the economic evolution of downtown and maintaining the momentum to revitalize the McDowell Road Corridor.  

There's plenty to talk about besides DDC/Desert EDGE.