Ted Simons: Nearly a million people live in the combined Tucson Nogales area, about one-sixth of the state's population. Once a month we plan to update you on news south of the Gila River in our news series Southern Exposure. Here for our inaugural segment is Jim Nintzel, senior writer at Tucson weekly. Good to have you on board.
Jim Nintzel: Thanks for having me up here.
Ted Simons: There's so much to talk about. What interests me is that Tucson is such a major player in the state, yet we don't hear a heck of a lot about it up in this region. I just found out downtown Tucson is happening. What's going on down there?
Jim Nintzel: It’s been fits and starts for a long time in downtown Tucson with the revitalization effort. In the last year we're seeing some real revitalization going on down there. It's mostly driven by restaurants, actually. Pizza chef thats up here,
Chris Bianco, that's good pizza.
Ted Simons: Fantastic.
Jim Nintzel: That's what I hear. He's announced his second pizzeria Bianco in Tucson in downtown. That has led to a big excitement about that going on there are also several other restaurants that have opened up down there. We're really bringing a lot more people downtown for the whole dining scene and that seems to have helped liven things up. We already had the Rialto Theater, with a lot of rock 'n' roll shows, the hotel Congress doing the same thing but now we have this restaurant Renaissance bringing a lot more people down. We grabbed a couple Flagstaff eateries that were going to come to Phoenix and they came to Tucson when they saw what was available. We have a Diablo burger place which is spectacular. A place called Proper, which is also owned by some Flagstaff restaurateurs. Very much farm to table local operations and terrific hamburgers.
Ted Simons: Was there a concerted plan to revitalize downtown? Was this more an organic situation?
Jim Nintzel: It's been a concerted plan for some time. The city actually took quite a lot of time to try to get it going and there were a lot of news stories about wasted money and plans that didn't come together because as things were coming together we had the economic collapse. A lot of things that were in the drawing board got canceled, museum project, science museum, things of that nature that we were partnering with the U of A. The money just wasn't there, but we also have a streetcar which has helped a lot. The streetcar construction can really slow things down while it's under way but afterwards it's supposed to do well and will link the university and the downtown area. They are thinking more university students in the downtown area, more potential university spreading out to that area.
Ted Simons: How far of a line are we talking about so far?
Jim Nintzel: It’s only gonna be a four mile line. Downtown is close to Tucson, but it will roll through the university over past our fourth avenue area, our hippy area in Tucson, then down into the downtown proper.
Ted Simons: So the revitalization, is it mostly on Congress street?
Jim Nintzel: Congress street is doing well. Stuff is sprouting up on Broadway and other side streets and the restaurants are getting written up around the country as we have, 47 Scott and CO, written up as one of the best little speakeasies in the country, the fancy cocktail bars and things like that are starting to come online. A lot more people downtown. Five years ago you would have walked around and seen nobody on the streets. Now it's throngs of people.
Ted Simons: Was there once, I mean like a generation or so ago, did Tucson have a thriving downtown?
Jim Nintzel: Oh, absolutely in the 40's and 50's. Downtown Tucson was the heart of the city, but as the malls opened up and the city has sprawled outward, just as Phoenix has, that whole -- the interest in going downtown faded away and you got more of a government center and let's face it city council meetings aren't the best entertainment in the world.
Ted Simons: No -- well, sometimes they can be if you stay long enough.
Jim Nintzel: A rare occasion.
Ted Simons: Get to the public comment session you never know. Couple of congressional races touching Tucson, of note, both seem close. I think the Ron Barber and Sally race seem like they are getting the most attention.
Jim Nintzel: That's a rematch from 2012, Martha McSally came out in 2012 in the race to replace Gabrielle Giffords when she stepped down. We have a special election down there. Martha McSally through herself into that race. Did not survive the primary, but continued campaigning. Ron Barber, former Giffords aide, won that congressional seat in the special election and then had to face Martha in the general election. It's this confusing, long campaign series. Martha came within a couple thousand votes of knocking Ron off in that race. It's a slightly Republican district. Very competitive. Gabrielle Giffords was able to hold on to it for a long time, now Barber has managed to win two races, the special and the general, but very tough race on his hands this time. It's going to be a different type of turnout than you saw in a presidential race, favors Republicans. Both sides we saw campaign finance reports, Ron has raised over $1 million, Martha has raised over $650,000. So it's going to be very competitive. We're already seeing surrogates in there. The house majority pact is running ads, American for Prosperity is running ads. The TV screens are already filling up with these things.
Ted Simons: Did I see a tea party challenger show up here?
Jim Nintzel: Martha has two primary challengers but neither have raised significant amounts of money. Neither has run for office before. I think they are more probably like flies buzzing around her head, an irritant than a serious threat.
Ted Simons: Strongholds for Barber and for McSally?
Jim Nintzel: Martha did extraordinarily well in Cochise County. This district is Pima County. Urban part of Pima County and some of the suburban parts then also Cochise County down along the border. Martha did really well in Cochise County on the last election. Barber does well in the urban Pima County area where most of the votes are. But nobody knows turnout better than the old Giffords-Barber team but at the same time this is going to be a barn burner.
Ted Simons: Sounds like it. Also the Ann Kirkpatrick versus fill in the blank. Touches parts of Tuscon. That's a humongous district.
Jim Nintzel: Gigantic. It includes the northern suburbs of Tucson, a lot of Pinal County and stretches up to eastern side of the state to Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, Indian reservations, a lot of different communities of interest within this district. Ann Kirkpatrick narrowly won that in against Republican Jonathan Payton and there are three Republicans now thinking about running in the race and you have speaker of the house Andy Tobin in the race, another state lawmaker from the Tucson area, Adam Kaufman, then an outsider, Gary Keanny, a rancher in the Springerville area is also in the race. He is a real wildcard in this. You see a lot of photos of him on Twitter at rodeos, roping calves, things like that, that will have a lot of resonance in the northern part of the state. He has raised over $200,000 for himself, so he's a player. Southern Arizona is where you'll find a lot of the Republican voters who are going to turn out in that race. I think all three candidates will have to be down in our area getting to know the voters.
Ted Simons: That's a good point. You mentioned Oro Valley as part of CD 1. Stay with the Tucson area, maybe Cochise County and other areas, but in Tucson proper, in general, east Tucson, west, north, south, left, right, give us a schematic if you will.
Jim Nintzel: Downtown Tucson and the university which is probably the more lefty part of the town. Then you have the east side of Tucson, towards Mount Lemon, the much more Republican part of the city. Then the suburbs tend to be also conservative leaning, Oro Valley, Marana, Green Valley, those are more conservative areas of the state. Tucson is ringed by a conservative area.
Ted Simons: Is there a moderate swing area?
Jim Nintzel: I think the way some of these districts are set up you do have districts that tends to -- I would say the Catalina Foothills for example tend to be Republican but moderate Republican. The Saddlebrook area, which is a retirement community north of Tucson is more of a conservative stronghold. There's definitely a mix of interesting politics going on in Tucson.
Ted Simons: It's really fascinating. Before we let you go, can't talk about Tucson without mentioning the University of Arizona basketball team. How big is that basketball team in that city?
Jim Nintzel: Huge. Huge. This is our sport. This is the sport where people will travel, follow the team. This year in particular they are 20 -0 on the season, undefeated, looking for a tough game tonight on the road at Stanford. We'll see whether or not -- I don't want to jinx anything we'll see whether or not the streak continues tonight but Sean Miller has put together an extraordinary program.
Ted Simons: Sean Miller, compare his profile now to what seemed to be the sainted Lute Olson.
Jim Nintzel: Lute is the saint of Arizona basketball. He ran that program for decades, took it to the level it was at when Sean Miller inherited it, and he will always be respected as the grandmaster of basketball in Arizona. The court is named for him and his wife, but Sean Miller has stepped up and has taken on the legacy and has done a fantastic job of putting together a squad of players.
Ted Simons: It seems as though especially when it comes to U. of A. basketball Tucson is a university town.
Jim Nintzel: Absolutely. We have tried professional sports, Triple-A baseball doesn't go anywhere in your community. Unfortunately people don't come out to the games. Basketball, minor league or hockey or any of those things don't go anywhere. The U of A. wildcat basketball program is where it's at. The football program is trying to get back into the game but the basketball game is where the people will pay money to the university to get those great seats and sit down front.
Ted Simons: Does it feel like a university town in other aspects or is it just sports particularly the basketball team?
Jim Nintzel: I teach at the University of Arizona, so it feels like a university town to me, but yes. Tucson is like the biggest small town you'll ever end up in. It definitely is struggling I think even now to find its identity as it's growing and continuing to grow but still maintaining the small town atmosphere.
Ted Simons: All right, very good. Jim, great stuff. Good to have you here. Look forward to more southern exposure, learning more about Tucson and the area south of the Gila River.
Jim Nintzel: Always nice to come up to the big city. Thanks for the invitation.