Of all the races to brew a rumble: Secretary of state?

The Arizona Republic
Friday, July 19, 2002
Robert Robb

The best political brawl in Arizona has broken out in an unlikely place: the Republican primary for secretary of state.

The chief antagonist is former Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio. DiCiccio, 44, is a modern-era political entrepreneur. He has spent most of his adult life either holding or running for office, or helping others do so.

As a city councilman, DiCiccio was a useful gadfly, particularly on fiscal issues such as the financial viability of the city-built downtown garage, cost overruns on the new City Hall, and the lumbering Phoenix light-rail plan.

But DiCiccio has a talent for being irritating even when he's right, as illustrated in the secretary of state's race.

DiCiccio accuses Jan Brewer, his chief competitor for the nomination, of voting to increase property taxes while on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. And he's right.

Brewer hotly denies the charge, pointing out that the property tax rate declined while she was on the board. As it did.

But the resourceful Arizona Tax Research Association got the Legislature in 1996 to pass a bill, called "Truth in Taxation," to expose the game politicians play with tax rates as opposed to tax levies.

Property values are, of course, rapidly rising, particularly in the Valley. That means the same, or even a somewhat lower, rate can produce higher tax bills.

"Truth in Taxation" requires that the previous rate be rolled back to reflect subsequent appreciation in previously existing land and improvements. Governments then have to provide public notice and vote on increasing the rolled-back truth-in-taxation rate.

Clearly Tax Research's intent was that the truth-in-taxation rate would become the base against which the question of whether property taxes are being increased would be measured. And Jan Brewer, who was in the Legislature at the time, voted for "Truth in Taxation."

Since she has been a county supervisor, the county has fairly consistently voted to exceed the truth-in-taxation rate, and Brewer has voted with the majority. So DiCiccio is right: Brewer did vote several times as a county supervisor to raise property taxes, properly understood.

But the relevance of this to the secretary of state's race, an office that has nothing to do with taxes, is tangential at best.

DiCiccio says its relevant because Brewer has claimed to have reduced taxes as a supervisor, based upon the tax-rate ruse. Fair enough. But hardly a telling blow for an office whose primary duty is to be the state's principal record-keeper.

And therein lies the problem. Being a really good record-keeper just doesn't quicken the pulse of many politicians.

Nevertheless, the secretary of state's position has become an alluring political office, since it is next in line for succession and Arizona governors have had a habit of dying or getting themselves impeached or indicted. As such, it now attracts ambitious politicos such as DiCiccio and the Democratic contender, state Sen. Chris Cummiskey. And they tend to want more politically exciting duties for the office than improved record-keeping.

DiCiccio, for example, wants to be the new special-interest influence cop, proposing that lobbyists be required to report not only what they spend entertaining lawmakers, but also what they spend on their own internal operations, which wouldn't seem to be the government's business.

Brewer fits another traditional profile for executive office candidates other than governor: a longtime pol looking for a better pasture. She served in the Legislature for 10 years, prior to being a supervisor for the last five.

Left out of the brawl, and probably out of contention, is the third candidate in the Republican primary, Sharon Collins. Collins runs Gov. Hull's Tucson office, and Pima County hasn't proven to be much of a launching pad for statewide candidates.

The temptation is to think that DiCiccio has the inside track for the nomination, just because of his aggressiveness and obvious political drive.

But there is this telling datum: Although all the candidates want to run publicly financed, only