Councilman Steve Kozachik, representing central Tucson’s Ward 6, is a dynamo of energy to say the least. In addition to his post on the City Council he serves as Assistant Director for Facilities and Project Management for the UA Department of Athletics and has worked with that Department since 1988. Being relatively new to Tucson, I first became acquainted with Steve through a gun buy-back he organized, followed by a very successful political forum he convened at “The Loft” early in January. As Steve is currently campaigning for reelection, I was fortunate to be able to interview him concerning his performance during his first term and what he hopes to accomplish in his second term. The following text is based on this interview.
Healing Tucson: Since I’ve been following you, Steve, I’ve formed the distinct impression that you are a hard working guy who is totally dedicated to the welfare of people both in your Ward and throughout our community. You also come across as bending over backwards to thoroughly examine both sides of the issues you choose to take on. Would you care to comment on this?
Steve K: I strongly believe, John, that each constituent brings to the table a unique set of life experience, knowledge and expectations, and that his or her voice needs to be heard and given full and fair consideration. Any politician who believes that their stakeholders are a “blank slate” is sorely mistaken. Particularly in dealing with controversial issues, of which there are many, I attempt to get everyone into the room – the Hatfields and the McCoys, so to speak – in order to hear everyone out and work together with them to move toward a consensus. I believe it is essential for any government official to make an earnest effort to get a feel for the pulse of the full spectrum of his or her constituents.
Healing Tucson: Steve, I’ve also noticed that you come across as a champion of citizen’s taking an activist stance and being directly involved in important issues at the local level. In your most recent newsletter you go out of your way to credit direct citizen participation as a critical factor behind the City Council’s recent victory in convincing the State to deny Walmart’s request for a liquor license at their El Con location. Could you comment on your overall role as a champion of citizen involvement in the political process, both in general and with particular reference to the Walmart liquor license issue?
Steve K: I believe that the local level of government provides a unique opportunity for citizens to have a direct impact on the political process as it affects themselves and their families, their neighborhood and their community. As I jog down the street in the morning and ride my bike throughout our community I try to embody my belief that I am my neighbor’s neighbor. I take very seriously my obligation to be both accessible and responsive to all of my constituents.
The recent hearing by the State Board concerning whether to grant Walmart a liquor license at their El Con store provides a great example of how residents’ participation at the local level can shift the balance in their favor. There was broad and well studied involvement by residents on this issue, and the Board came to Tucson where they had a full house of my constituents seated in the room throughout the entire 7 ½ hours of this hearing. As it was, the Board affirmed the City Council’s recommendation for denial of a liquor license at this location. I firmly believe that hearings of this nature have a better chance of being decided in a way that reflects the will of the people most impacted by the results when the Board holds the hearing here in Tucson and when constituents are actively involved in both the preparation and conduct of the hearings.
Healing Tucson: Speaking of community outreach and facilitating constructive dialogs been our citizens and community leaders, I note that on the evening of Sept 5 your office will be hosting a “meet and greet” town hall meeting to introduce both Dr. HT Sanchez, incoming head of the Tucson Unified School District, and Dr. Lee Lambert, incoming President of Pima Community College. Steve, could you comment on this event and what you hope it will accomplish?
Steve K: The educational framework is key to the quality of life in our community and plays a vital role in attracting business to Tucson and in supporting our youth. As we are all well aware, both TUSD and Pima College have had a rough time over the past several years. Both of these institutions are essential to the success of our community. I hope that the new leaders of both institutions will leave the meeting with the feeling that they have touched the lives of the people they are committed to serving, and that a constructive mutually beneficial exchange took place. Again it’s all about bringing citizens together with our leaders in a manner that provides each perdon with an opportunity to have an impact.
Healing Tucson: Let’s turn now to animal rights. I know that you have been a vocal advocate of rescuing animals who turn up at the Pima County Animal Shelter, where you state that 11,000 animals were euthanized last year. Can you comment on why you have chosen to take on this issue, and specifically comment on your support of “No Kill Pima County”, a grass roots group that recently came together to implement non-lethal outcomes for animals that end up at the shelter?
Steve K: A simple answer to your first questions is – I love animals! As an animal lover I believe that we must do a much better job of educating the public that spaying and neutering pets is essential to curbing the euthanizing of over 10,000 animals in Pima County each year. While it is heartening to witness the hundreds of dedicated volunteers associated with the shelter who donate their time out of their love for these creatures, it is sad to witness them beating their heads against the wall knowing that far too many of the animals will never leave the shelter alive.
As a believer in constructive collaboration between various levels of government, I have advocated that the city earmark a portion of its budget to support spay and neuter programs in conjunction with the county animal shelter. It is especially important that assistance in this area be available to low income pet owners.
“No Kill Pima County” is a coalition of 20 different rescue groups that provide short term care for animals in jeopardy of being euthanized, while seeking either foster placement or permanent adoption for them. As I mention in my newsletter “No Kill Pima County” will be holding a public information fair at St. Phillips Plaza from 6 pm to 8 pm this coming Saturday. Essentially these volunteers will be educating, informing and inspiring potential foster care givers to help by “pet-sitting” an animal until they are able to find a permanent home.
Healing Tucson: I like the idea of encouraging folks to provide foster placement for these animals. It’s kind of like taking a pet for a “test drive” before making a permanent commitment to adopt the animal. I’ll bet that a lot of these pet-sitters eventually end up adopting their charges.
Steve K: Probably so – However there is absolutely no obligation to adopt an animal that you provide foster care for.
Healing Tucson: Steve, on July 9 you posted a “Letter from Steve K” which among other things highlights your leading the fight against the state for Home Rule as a major focus during your first term. This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, particularly in reference to gun control. Can you comment on why the Home Rule issue is so important to both our city and our county? And realistically, what do you see as the prospects for our freeing ourselves from the constant “meddling into our affairs by the Phoenix Crowd” in the foreseeable future”?
Steve K: I firmly believe that home rule is essential to any local governmental unit in carrying out its rightful mission of positively engaging citizens in the process of attempting to resolve issues in a manner that best serves the overall community. The city of Tucson has a charter which under the law serves as the equivalent of a constitution. As a charter driven city, our charter contains numerous provisions that cannot legitimately be pre-empted by state law.
Gun control is a perfect example. It is totally absurd for someone in Phoenix, Prescott or Flagstaff to dictate to Tucson what we can and cannot do in this area. You may recall, John, that a primary purpose of the gun buy-back I organized was to provide citizens owning guns they no longer wished to possess with the opportunity to sell these weapons with the understanding that they would be taken out of circulation. In response to the buy-back, however, our state legislators voted to change the law after the fact by forbidding Tucson and other communities to take out of circulation guns acquired through a buy-back sponsored by a local governmental unit. In my opinion, this represents an illegitimate usurpation by the state government of a local community’s prerogative to provide a mechanism of taking unwanted guns out of circulation for citizens who wish to exercise that option.
I am currently taking a proactive stance to support a City Council proposal that would bar riders from carrying a loaded weapon on public transportation. To date the state has blocked Tucson from enacting and enforcing such legislation. I am currently working with a citizens group called “Moms Demand Action”, which is organizing a rally to be held on busses running between Tucson and Phoenix to protest this obstructionist posture.
Healing Tucson: Steve, early this year you surprised the hell out of many folks by “jumping over the fence” from the GOP to the Democratic Party. Can you share with us your basic reasoning behind that decision? Also, in view of the upcoming primary and general elections, what would be your response to Republicans in Ward 6 who fear that they may lose their voice in local government if you are re-elected?
Steve K: I have long recognized that my approach to governance supersedes party affiliation. While I ran as a Republican candidate in the previous election, I was not elected by the Republican party. I was elected by a strong coalition of voters involving Republicans, Democrats, Independents and totally unaffiliated voters. I consider myself to be a strong centrist advocate for the welfare of the people who make up the community I serve. I believe my record speaks to my wholehearted commitment to thoroughly study the issues from all sides, and provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to influence the ultimate outcome, regardless as to their party affiliation or lack thereof. My decision earlier this year to cross over to the Democratic party resulted from considerable soul searching in which I wrestled with the question “Which party in this State more fully reflects my own core values?” As was the case with my previous election to the Council, I believe that my reelection this November will again reflect strong cross-over support involving all three major groupings of constituents.
Healing Tucson: Steve, I’d like to shift our focus to a statewide issue that has major ramifications affecting our community. I’m referring to the recent landmark victory in passing the Governor’s Medicaid Restoration law that came about as a result of the efforts of courageous legislators, including Victoria Steele and Ethan Orr, the Grand Canyon Institute, the hospital and business communities, and thousands of rank and file citizens including myself. In the wake of this hard won victory, I am dismayed by the efforts of Frank Antenori to file a voters’ petition that would force a public vote to ratify passage of the Governor’s bill. What’s your take on this?
Steve K: First of all, I think that our friend Frank Antenori is up to his usual grandstanding. I don’t believe he’ll be able to get enough signatures to force public ratification on Medicaid Restoration. Citizens throughout the state have cast strong votes in favor of expanding Medicaid eligibility on two separate occasions. As you and I have discussed, if he manages to get the issue on the November ballot, this will delay implementation of expanded benefits, with 90% financing from the Feds, for another year. Over 300,000 Arizona residents will unnecessarily suffer and safety net hospitals will continue to bear an inordinate cost burden of uncompensated care.
You will be interested to learn, John, that here in Tucson our City Council has joined forces with the hospital community to minimize the damage in the event that ex-Senator Antenori gets his way. Awhile back we were approached by local hospitals with a proposal that the city access a fee on the hospitals, which in turn would be channeled to the state to be used as our quid pro quo for accessing 2:1 federal matching dollars to provide expanded Medicaid eligibility in our community.
Healing Tucson: What an innovative proposal. I guess that as the saying goes there’s more than one way to skin a cat! (No offense intended to “No Kill Pima County”.)
Healing Tucson: Steve, can you sum up for us your major accomplishments during your first term, and what you hope to accomplish during your second term? Why should we Vote to Re-Elect You in the upcoming primary and general elections?
Steve K: During my first term we’ve managed to fundamentally change the level of conversation at the City Council table through involving our citizens in exhaustive research to get a better handle on both sides of a number of major issues. In particular, the Council has been instrumental in forging creative public-private partnerships to tackle issues impacting Tucson’s economy. We are definitely turning a corner in terms of providing much needed incentives for private sector development in our community. We’ve streamlined the building permit process and there is currently $80 million worth of private sector construction underway in the central district on projects designed to benefit our entire community. Our Council has spearheaded efforts to establish an Economic Development division within the City Manager’s office to help coordinate these efforts. I have personally been a strong advocate for a responsible water usage policy and for fixing the 911 response system.
If reelected I will continue pressing for us to move forward on these and other major issues to improve our community’s economy and the quality of life for all residents. I will definitely continue to serve as a champion of the “workaday folks” who comprise the backbone of our community and who all too often get lost in the political conversation due to an over-focusing on demands of the various well-heeled vested interests.
Healing Tucson: Steve, I want to thank you for this opportunity to interview you today for my column “Healing Tucson and Our Nation” – and to wish you the VERY BEST OF LUCK in both the primary and the general election. For me this interview has reinforced two basic beliefs concerning you and your approach to government – that you are an extremely hard working guy who is dedicated to the people’s welfare, and that you obviously LOVE YOUR JOB !
In closing, I would also like to refer our readers to your website cms3.tucsonaz.gov/wardsix, as well as to your Ward 6 Newsletter which can be accessed at cms3.tucsonaz.gov/ward6/newsletter. I would also like to remind readers that “Vote Koz 2013” welcomes both contributions and volunteer assistance to help with Steve’s re-election campaign. They can be reached at email@example.com.
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