Scottsdale’s San Andreas

Once upon a time Scottsdale power brokers used to sit around a place called Mag’s Ham Bun and largely decide who was going to rule the city’s roost.

How times have changed.

Last night a grassroots movement spawned with laptops and shoe leather reinvented Scottsdale’s political landscape.  It was an earthquake. Proposition 420, a determined drumbeat of citizens to defeat the deleterious “Desert Discovery Center” not only passed by a huge margin, it created a green wave pulling Kathy Littlefield and Solange Whitehead along for the ride.  They were the top two vote getters.  The achievement registers as an 8.0 on the political Richter scale.  Here are some other random musings on last night’s results:

*In May Proposition 420, or at that time the notion of it, was polling at 78% in favor and just 15% opposed.  So after quixotically spending some $120,000 against it, opponents succeeded in barely bruising it.  Geniuses.  The campaign was perhaps the most disingenuous in city history and voters saw right through it.

*Whoever the decision-makers were at the Scottsdale Association of Realtors for spending $60,000 against Proposition 420 should be put in the stockades immediately. With pink slips.

*The defining results of the 2016 elections were the rise and result of the pro-business candidates (Lane, Klapp and Korte) winning by substantial margins.  But last night Kathy Littlefield beat the most pro-business candidate in the race, Linda Milhaven, by 11,000 votes.  Littlefield has been wiser than her husband to be more attune to Scottsdale’s rhyme and reason.  And she serves with a smile not a scowl.  Still, was Littlefield’s impressive result the beginnings of a realignment of Scottsdale towards a more Santa Barbara-style reluctance towards development, or simply a one-off due to the appeal of Proposition 420?

*Though Bill Crawford came up short he ran a good, thorough campaign. If he decides to run again in 2020 he will enter the race as a frontrunner along with Jason Alexander, a Proposition 420 chieftain.  Look for others like Christian Serena (Proposition 420 opponent) and Barry Graham to consider the race when numerous council seats will be up for grabs.  Bob Littlefield could be a Scottsdale Lazarus too, either for Council or Mayor.

*Guy Phillips The Power Broker.  In two years he may run for the Power Commission otherwise known as the Arizona Corporation Commission but in Scottsdale Phillips continued his evolution as a back bencher to a majority leader of sorts.  It was Phillips’ idea to float a temporary sales tax hike to address the city’s road needs. His idea to ask voters for a smaller package that came to be known as Question 1 proved wise as it passed, and serious doubts remain whether a bigger bond package will pass in the future.

*David Smith. Meet Wayne Ecton.  Once a councilman the amiable Ecton eventually alienated enough sides during his public service that he wasn’t left with much of a constituency.  During his last council race he finished last, like David Smith just did.  And for the same reasons.  Smith is to be commended for his service, as disappointed as he may be by last night’s results.  Smart and always available Smith can and should look back on his service fondly.  He made a difference.

*We will never know why Virginia Korte decided to die on her Desert Discovery Center sword.  At best it is a measly contribution to tourism.  At worst, well, it turned out to be the worst possible thing Korte could have done before her widely anticipated mayoral run in 2020.  She is now public enemy #1 to those behind Proposition 420. And while the Desert Discovery Center will diminish in political resonance as it is now dead as can be, Korte’s campaign has given future opponents so much locker room material it begs the question whether it is a game she should play.  Proposition 420 supporter Suzanne Klapp, if she wants it, is now the clear front-runner to replace Mayor Jim Lane who is not eligible to run again in two years.  Korte is going to have to engineer one helluva a campaign to overcome the headwinds of her own making.  Doable?  Of course.  She could even start by making the motion to terminate any more city staff time or money for the project.  But the reality is that Korte is a weaker prospect today than several months ago.  The Mag’s Ham Bun crowd isn’t around to help her.  And even if it were, it would be irrelevant in this brave new Scottsdale world.

*A final hope and message for Desert Discovery Center backers.  You made your case.  It didn’t work.  Don’t sue.  Just respect voters who overwhelmingly rejected your campaign, and your project.  It’s over. Actually it has been for a very long time but you failed to grip reality.  And you led some friends to and over the cliff. You have and you will contribute to Scottsdale in so many other ways.  For everything there is a season.  The DDC was an exception to the lyric.