Can an Independent candidate win in Tucson?

Can an Independent candidate win in a Tucson City Council race?  For the first time in a long time, an Independent (Gary  Watson in Ward 3) is running for political office in Tucson.  Having reported for for 4.5 years and here at for 3.5 years, I’m trying to recall when Independents have run or been in political office.

Former Republican Pima County Supervisor Ed Moore ran for re-election in Nov. 1996 as an Independent, and lost to newcomer Democrat Sharon Bronson.  Tucson City Council member Carol West was a long time Democrat and changed to Independent, then did not seek re-election in 2007.   Former Republican Gene Chewning ran for AZ House in LD 27 in 2010 as an Independent and lost, as did former Dem AZ House Representative Ted Downing in LD 28 State Senate race. And didn’t Green Party candidate Dave Ewoldt also run as an Independent for State Senator in LD 28, to get onto the 2010 General Election ballot?  They both lost to the Democrat incumbent Senator.

So, no Independent candidate has run and won  in Tucson (as far as I know). Chewning told me after his 2010 loss, that because he ran as an Independent, he no longer had a party structure to assist in his campaigning. He got a lot more votes as a Republican for the same LD 27 House race in 2006 (11,327 to 4,526).

Firefighter /Captain of a Northwest fire station Gary Watson (I, former Republican) said at a recent AZ Independents forum at Murphy-Wilmot library that he was “not R enough for the Republican Party”, and “not D enough for the Democratic Party”.

Gary Watson

From Pima County Recorder’s Office: # of registered  voters in City of Tucson (citywide) — Democrats 106,832; Republicans 55,925 and Independents  73,841.

I posted previously about a  Nov. 2015 report on Arizona Independents by ASU Morrison Institute (  The report says that Independents due to their dissatisfaction with the political process and parties, opt to sit out from voting in many elections.

With only 3 of the Tucson City Council seats and a few propositions on the November ballot, General Election turnout is predicted to be low.  Gary Watson is facing off with Democrat Paul Durham for the open seat in Ward 3.  Will a large # of Tucson Independent voters turn out to vote for an Independent candidate? If Watson wins, it will probably be a first in Tucson for an Independent to win an election.

Two City Council candidate forums coming up on October 6 and 11 — check our Calendar for details. Vote by mail ballots go out  on October 11.

Vote wisely or or before 11/7/17.

17 thoughts on “Can an Independent candidate win in Tucson?”

  1. Independent (former Democrat) Mayoral candidate Dr. Ed Ackerley said last night at the LWVGT forum that he could make history as 1st Independent candidate to win a Tucson election. Last candidate to run independently was Gary Watson for Ward 3 Council in 2017. Updated figures for voter registration in City of Tucson:
    Democrats 117,838 Republicans 58,503 Libertarians 2185 Greens 882 and Independents 81,959 (but not an organized party, with low voter turnout).

  2. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild is stepping down as Mayor of Tucson, after 2 terms (8 years). 4 Democrats are already gathering signatures, and apparently 2 unknown Republicans, but the interesting candidate is Independent Ed Ackerley (advertising executive) to run in the General Election. Ed is the uncle of former LD 2 House Rep. Chris Ackerley, who just lost (again) to Rep. Daniel Hernandez Jr. in Nov. 2018. So we may have another Independent candidate seeking office in Tucson, assuming he gets enough signatures to be nominated.

  3. The answer is no, due to the General Election 2017 results last night. Independent Gary Watson lost 40.28% (27,373 votes) to Democrat Paul Durham’s 58.80% (39,963 votes), a difference of 18.52% points. Campaigning and winning as an Independent is harder w/o an organized political party to assist you. Watson did garner the endorsement of six labor unions, but it wasn’t enough with the large Democratic voter base in Tucson.

  4. Per Pima County Recorder’s Office, Gary Watson changed from Republican to Independent on April 13, 2017.

  5. The fact that the Pima County GOP wouldn’t back him speaks volumes. Gary Watson didn’t toe their party line, he puts the city and it’s citizens first. To me, that clearly shows that he is in fact an Independent. Many voters who have registered R or D for years are finding that we don’t like the extremes from either side. Watson is the average American voter, moderate, capable of thinking outside the party, and striving for common sense solutions. If that’s not the epitome of an Independent, I don’t know what is.

    • Thanks for your comment Heidi. Yes, it is telling when a political party rejects the beliefs of a registered voter. Gary is more independent thinking that most of my Democratic friends believe. I guess they wanted him to join their party and run in the August primary. We’ll see how Tucson votes on November 7, 2017.

  6. Sometime between 8 to 12 years ago politics changed in our country. There was a time when Democrats and Republicans could disagree on an issue and still like each other. They could engage in healthy, intelligent debate and find common ground that allowed them to legislate and lead our country. Today the parties have gone to the extreme and actually hate each other. Democrats believe Republicans are evil and Republicans believe Democrats want to hurt your children. The hatred is real and has become deep seeded with influence of social media and the ability of everyone to have a platform to spread the hate. Calling someone a Republican or a Democrat has become akin to a racial slur or sexist comment. It is ment to be negative and hurtful. The political divide in our country is seeping into our daily lives and leading to violence and death.

    Like the growing majority of Americans, I am tired of the hate. Tired of the finger pointing and name calling. Tired of politicians caring more about who is right than leading our country forward. Political parties have become about fear and hate instead of unity and leadership. After the September 11th terrorist attacks our country united, after the tragic event this week in Las Vegas political parties began blaming each other.

    Independents are the fasting growing voter demographic not because we left a party, but because the parties left us. They forgot about middle America and the blue collar working class. They forgot about the people that want to live their life and raise their family without fear of riots and protests over social ideals. They moved into theoretical politics and stopped working in the reality of the world we live in. Our streets are not safe, our poverty rate is climbing, our education system is failing. The two parties care more about blaming each other than they do about finding solutions. I am an Independent voter because I am capable of thinking for myself. I will do my own research and engage in healthy discussion to learn both sides of an issue. I will make my own decisions based on my values, ethics and morals. I believe in helping people and passing on a better life to our next generation. I don’t care who is to blame for our problems and challenges I simply care about finding solutions. I believe people are good. If the given the tools and resources they will rise up and help their neighbor and help their community. If we can provide the basic needs of food, shelter and security then our society can grow and get back to a better quality of life.

    • Thanks for your comment Gary. Yes, the divisiveness of both political parties in America has turned off a lot of voters. Many don’t even register as a consequence, which is what I hear at a lot of political gatherings — about the apathy and how to get voters registered and to cast their ballots. It is ironic especially for women, many of whom were physically beaten back in the early 1900’s in their fight for suffrage.
      Only 28% of the registered voters voted in the May 2017 special election (Prop. 101), even less in the August Primary Election (less than 21%, but only Wards 3, 5, 6), which means that most people just threw their ballots away. Good luck with your Independent campaign.

      • When I go to political meetings, I’m seeing a newfound resurgence of interest in becoming politically active. I don’t see the hatred, blaming and bitterness that Gary mentions.

        A year ago when I went to Democratic precinct committee meetings, there were maybe 25 people attending, many of them elderly. Now there are more than 100 people showing up, and many of them are Millennials. The group had to move to a larger location at the Water of Life Church to accommodate the big crowds. Before we had vacancies in the precincts, but now many of them have all the precinct captain positions filled. The Arizona Ground Game is adding even more volunteers to support precinct captains and reach independents.

        The Democratic party is in favor of funding public schools, preserving the Affordable Care Act, and passing the DREAM act. I write articles about the candidates for Congress in Tucson. They are in favor of Medicare for All, debt-free college education, and creating jobs by repairing our infrastructure.

        The Democratic Party has a lot of positive messages for a brighter future.

    • Gary, it goes a lot further back than 10 or 12 years. Take a look at how in 1994 disgraced former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, told his followers to describe Democrats: decay, failure (fail), collapse(ing), deeper, crisis, urgent(cy), destructive, destroy, sick, pathetic, lie, liberal, they/them, unionized bureaucracy, “compassion” is not enough, betray, consequences, limit(s), shallow, traitors, sensationalists and on and on. This marks the beginning the true decline of our political discourse.

  7. Make no mistake, Gary Watson is a Republican, not an independent. Watson told Tucson Weekly that he met with local GOP officials before he announced his candidacy. But he was told that the party would not be backing him because he didn’t align with their views. See

    By claiming to be an independent, he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    • Thanks Larry, I had forgotten about that Tucson Weekly article just after Gary Watson announced his candidacy, following his interview w/ the local GOP party.

  8. Most if not all of the Independent candidates you cited had first won election as a member of a political party. Each of them therefore carried the burden of a reservoir of dislike from the party they abandoned and another of mistrust from the other party. It’s not easy to win an election with a lot of people angry or distrusting going to the polls. Now did Watson belong to either party first? Never having run as a candidate before, he might not carry that burden. I haven’t made up my mind in this at all.

    • Yes, Georgia. Watson said he grew up as a Republican, but changed to run as an Independent. Apparently the Pima County Republican Party didn’t find him “Republican enough” to be their candidate in Ward 3. Interesting that you say that both parties mistrust former Ds or Rs. Try to attend one of the forums to see if you like what Gary Watson has to say. He also has a FB page:

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