Tucson Progressive

Pamela Powers, a progressive voice for Arizona

Spending Labor Day with Republicans: An educational experience for all

Informational tents erected by Connect the Dots, Progressive Democrats of America, Jobs with Justice, and political campaigns drew in many interested people.

Labor Day 2011 in Tucson was a blend of old fashioned games and old fashioned politics.

As a volunteer with the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) booth, my job was to work the crowd and attach as many “Healthcare not Warfare” stickers to as many people as possible. This task afforded me the opportunity to engage in multiple conversations about universal healthcare, ending US military adventurism, and other political issues with dozens of people during the course of the day.

Two of the more extended and spirited discussions I had on Labor Day were with  Republican City Council candidate Jennifer Rawson and Republican Mayoral candidate Rick Grinnell. (I’m not sure if they were tag-teaming at the Labor Day event, but they passed by the PDA and Connect the Dots booths one right after another. Little did they know what they were stepping into.)

Rawson wandered by first, then Grinnell. They both accepted my “Healthcare not Warfare” stickers, and began to tell me who they were; but, of course, I already knew. I started my conversations with both of them with the same question:

If you are elected as a City Council person [or Mayor], how would you reduce the poverty rate in Tucson?

“Create jobs!” Rawson responded enthusiastically.

“How?” I asked.

At this juncture, Rawson shifted the topic from jobs and poverty to a story about a small business owner who received a bill for $5000 from the city for a light pole erected on her property. Boo hoo for the business owner was Rawson’s message. Of course, she didn’t offer anybackground information on this story– such as whether or not the small business owner has asked the city to erect the light pole on her property. Details, details. Instead she went off on the city and the fees…yada, yada, yada.

“Fix city government. It’s full of corruption. We really need to clean house!” was Grinnel’s answer to the poverty problem. (Well that didn’t answer my question at all. Ironically, when I checked Grinnell’s website today, I realized that he is on the Rio Nuevo Board… hmmm… city corruption… pot calling the kettle black?)

“So, do you want to know my ideas for creating jobs in Pima County?” I asked them both. Not allowing either of them to answer my rhetorical question, I launched into my ideas. I told them both that the Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (better known as TREO) and the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau (MTCVB) were a waste of money because they have been ineffective in their strategies to boost the Tucson economy or create jobs. Here is what I told them…

TREO’s tactic– also employed by economic development groups in dozens of cities– is to chase large corporations and sports teams with tax breaks, free land, and taxpayer-funded facilities (ie, ball parks, industrial parks, convention centers, etc.) This strategy benefits businesses, for sure, but it is was not producing long-term, good jobs in Tucson (remember IBM? remember Wiser Lock? remember spring training?)– or anywhere else– because these companies and sports teams are not loyal to the location. They are just looking for the best deal, and the cities and politicians are so desperate to look successful at job creation that they break the bank with the deals they offer. (I didn’t realize when I was dissing chasing sports teams that Grinnell used to do just that!)

The way to grow jobs– and help small businesses– in Tucson isn’t to give tax breaks to relocating corporations or to excuse fees levied on existing business; it’s to invest in businesses that are “born and raised” in Tucson — like Gadabout, Bohemia, Patio Pools, Technicians for Sustainability, Nimbus Brewery, Thunder Canyon Brewery, eegees, etc. Instead of spending $1 million to bring in another call center or baseball team, why not offer 50 – 100 individual $10-20,000 low-cost loans or grants to different local businesses with innovative ideas or well-crafted business expansion plans? (I’m talking real plans– not just “Hey, if we give you a $5000 tax credit, could you maybe hire someone someday?”)

With a $20,000 investment, would Gadabout start a skin care line? Would Nimbus or Thunder Canyon improve expand distribution to other states or start a spin-off business? Would Technicians for Sustainability start manufacturing their own line of solar shingles? Would Bohemia start marketing local art on the Internet or open another store or reduce their consignment fee (thus helping local artists make more money)? Who knows? At any rate, investment– not giveaways— will grow businesses (and jobs) because it fosters innovation and expansion– not just increased profits for the business owner.

After promoting Local First and trashing TREO’s ineffective strategies, I moved on to MTCVB. Tucson has a vibrant arts and music scene. Our musicians and artists are every bit as talented as Austin’s or New Orleans’. Tucson also has great musical events– the blues festival, the folk festival, Club Crawl, HoCo Fest, just to name a few– and local music in clubs nightly, but you won’t learn about any of these attractions on the MTCVB website. It’s all mariachis, golf, swanky resorts, rodeo, baseball(?), the Gem Show, cacti, and sunsets. On the MTCVB website, the only art represented is David Dominguez Gallery, Tohono Chul Park, the Tucson Museum of Art, and the Open Studio Tour. Huh? No mention of Dinnerware, Raices, the warehouse district galleries, or the Central Tucson Gallery Association. MCTVB is promoting business– not Tucson and Tucson’s cultural, artistic, and musical assets.

TREO and MTCVB should be de-funded, and their missions and tactics re-tooled. Their strategies are not working; it’s time to think forward.

What is our shared vision for Tucson and how do we realize it? Grinnell and Rawson offered me canned Republican answers to my sincere question about jobs and poverty. Is continued Democratic Party rule the answer? I’m not so sure about that; the Democrats have perpetuated the inept policies of TREO/MTCVB. Stay tuned for more…

Teams representing different labor unions prepare to push a giant ball back and forth across the field. Is this game an analogy for the political struggle between local Democrats and Republicans?

5 comments on “Spending Labor Day with Republicans: An educational experience for all

  1. Jim Hannley
    September 6, 2011

    Well done, Pamela! Why continue to fund TREO? Cronyism? What have they produced for their $1M/year funding? I’ll bet they would be hard pressed to find a total of $1M in new revenue for the City or County since they started up. It is also amusing to read how neither Grinnell nor Rawson have any idea (or desire?) to address the shameful amount of poverty in our city. 


  2. kane O
    September 6, 2011

    Pamela, thank you for writing this piece. 


  3. Don
    September 7, 2011

    You can thank George W. Bush for the fact that, 10 years after 9/11, life at home is secure enough and undamaged enough that you can spend a holiday handing out stickers (“Healthcare Not Warfare”) that make it seem as if the real world’s dangers are imaginary.
    You also seemed dismissive of Grinnell’s and Rawson’s ideas.  So, don’t be surprised if we conservatives are dismissive of yours. (How long are we supposed to wait for your little cottage industries to grow big enough to employ more than just a few Tucsonans?)
    This city has been run by a Democratic-majority city council for years.  Take a look around—do you like what you see?
    Last year I convinced the government agency I support to hold its semiannual conference here in Tucson.  As I drove the advance party by the Ronstadt Bus Station, one of my colleagues pointed to all the empty storefronts and said in disbelief  “This is your downtown?”
    I like your idea about subsidizing cottage industries with microgrants—but that only goes so far.  It’s not enough to have businesses that you approve of—we need enough businesses, of large enough size, to provide a stable employment base.


  4. pamela
    September 7, 2011

    Don, no, I don’t like what I see. We have wasted millions on TREO, MTCVB, and their failed development policies.I am all for marketing Tucson (which is what they are doing) but it is not working. TREO is chasing call center jobs because AZ can’t compete for jobs that require education– thanks to the AZ Leg. MTCVB has been selling sunsets,cacti and cowboys for years. There is no microinvesting that I know of. Small businesses struggle lalong and then are thrown out of business with continuous road-widening projects (something that is not done in the east).

    Regarding vague messages from Rawson and Grinnell, the Dems’ messenging is just was vague on the city council level. Rothschild is somewhat more detailed.


  5. alohapuna
    September 8, 2011

    Don, please explain how Geo. W. Bush made it more secure for us, specifis, no rhetoric please. Although their homes may be undamaged, thousands of young men and women have been sent overseas to their deaths. We devastated a country, destroyed their homes and killed or maimed thousands of innocent men, women and children in Iraq. What did that accomplish but to possibly spawn more terrorists in the children who saw their homes and familes destroyed.
     Then not to mention the enormous drain on the U S treasury, greatly contributing to the flailing economy which has essentialy inflicted damage on millions of Americans. Conservatives whining about spending, but not during the Bush Administration, don’t like to bring Iraq or Afghanistan into the conversation.


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The Tucson Progressive: Pamela J. Powers

I stand on the side of Love. I believe in kindness to all creatures on Earth and the inherent self-worth of all individuals–not just people who agree with me or look like me.

Widespread economic and social injustice prompted me to become a candidate for the Arizona House, representing Legislative District 9 in the 2016 election.

My platform focused on economic reforms to grow Arizona’s economy, establish a state-based public bank, fix our infrastructure, fully fund public education, grow local small businesses and community banks, and put people back to work at good-paying jobs.

In the Arizona House, I was a strong voice for fiscal responsibility a moratorium on corporate tax breaks until the schools were fully funded, increased cash assistance to the poor, expansion of maternal healthcare benefits, equal rights, choice, unions, education at all levels and protecting our water supply.

After three terms, I retired from the Arizona Legislature in January 2023 but will continue to blog and produce my podcast “A View from the Left Side.”

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