From the Editor

John Backer

If nothing else, you’ll remember his Star Wars video…

His name is John Backer, and he’s running for Ray Carroll’s open seat for District 4 County Board of Supervisors. And, yes, he knows you probably haven’t heard his name much. He’s up against Steve Christy and Marla Closen, and they’re all Republicans. The winner of the Aug. 30 primary takes the seat, unless the Green Party guy pulls a huge upset in November.

Disclosure: I’ve known Backer about six years and he’s a friend. We don’t hang out a lot because he actually works longer hours than I do. When he said he was considering running for supervisor, I told him he might want to hold his announcement for a day — I had an inkling Christy was jumping into the race the next day. Backer waited, then jumped in anyway.

The guy’s got conviction. He’s also a man of integrity, a quick study, and he’s turned a lot of heads in his first bid for public office.

When there was a recent dust-up over candidates’ signs going missing or blocked, Backer tackled the problem with humor, creating a Star Wars-themed video dubbed “Sign Wars” that took the edge off the ages-old campaign problem. Sizing up a situation and delivering the right touch pretty much defines how he approaches most issues.

A lot of people think he stole the show at a candidates’ forum in May at Quail Creek. I think they all did well, but I’ll grant that Backer’s quick wit, instant connection with the crowd and thoughtful answers were more than I expected.

He says the failure of the Pima County bond package last year pushed him to act on a three-year itch to run for office.

“For that many bonds to go down really underscores the fact that the county Board of Supervisors needs to earn back the trust of the citizens,” he said. “They don’t trust them to spend the money wisely.”

Backer thinks the county got the message. He also thinks constituents have been well-served by 20-year Supervisor Ray Carroll, but says the business community may not agree.

Most of Backer’s community involvement is tied to the Cub Scouts, where he was a leader for five years as his son went through the program. He’s also been involved in his HOA, Habitat for Humanity and youth sports. He’s an Air Force veteran (A-10 electrician) and is a licensed Realtor and licensed insurance agent. He works for a major corporation hunting down fraud and abuse across the country, and holds a master’s degree in Information Technology. He’s 50.

On the issues

•Roads: He likes Supervisor Ally Miller’s road plan, extending the RTA beyond its 20-year life and using some of that money to repair and maintain roads. We’re halfway into the 20-year RTA plan, which is funded through a county half-cent sales tax. He’d support extending that tax via voter approval but not increasing it. Then take HURF and Vehicle License Tax money and make sure it goes toward roads. He doesn’t favor an increase in the gas tax, and says any tax increase is “a last resort.” But, he adds, “never say never. That got George Bush into a lot of trouble.”

Economic development: “We’ve (Pima County) developed a business-unfriendly reputation, and perception is reality.”

He says impact fees are unreasonable, and the county should only recoup its costs, not soak businesses looking to come here or expand. Many of Backer’s positions are shaped by conversations with everyday people, and he’s proud of that.

•Board of Supervisors and Ally Miller: He backs her, but agrees that as of late, the board has spent a lot of time wrapped up in petty issues.

“I believe that the majority feels that she’s been the voice of the people, and I think being in the minority is a tough position to be in. I believe that she certainly doesn’t need me to defend her. I believe if the same scrutiny was applied to all the Board of Supervisors, we’d be talking about far more than we’re talking about now.”

Backer thinks the long tenures of much of the board – that would be everybody but Miller – leads to bad decisions.

“I think it’s human nature to want to take care of your friends,” he said, adding that it’s also a bad idea. “… the friends they need to take care of the most are the ones who put them there – the citizens.”

•Green Valley and the GVC: Backer has lived in the GV-Sahuarita area since 2007 (Madera Highlands), and in the Tucson area more than 30 years. He thinks his mere presence in the community south of Tucson would be a plus – he’d be here to see what’s going on.

As far as the Green Valley Council and its $75,000, five-year renewable county contract, he understands the group’s value to the community but knows not everybody’s on board with the public financial support.

He says he would have voted for the GVC contract “in the short term” to make sure the group didn’t fail — they were swirling around the drain after the phone directory contract went away. But that doesn’t mean he’d back it every year after that.

•Rosemont Mine: He likes the jobs — “absolutely the first thing that pops into my mind.” But there are negatives: Water use and how it will look.

His bottom line: With Hudbay’s approach to mining (dry-stack tailings and vegetation) and their commitment to being what Backer calls water-neutral, “I just don’t see how we could say no to them. I know some people have deep-seated concerns over it but I think we have to look at the pros and the cons and make the best decision that we can arrive at.”

— Dan Shearer

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