The three-way race for a District 5 seat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is winding down, but the candidates are not.
Campaign activity is bustling with volunteers making phone calls, knocking on doors and picking up early ballots.
Steve Gallardo, a former state senator who left his post initially to run for Arizona's 7th Congressional District (CD7) and opted instead to run for supervisor, is running against fellow Democrat Michael Johnson, a longtime leader in the African-American community. Johnson has served on the Phoenix City Council for 12 years.
Marie Lopez Rogers, also a Democrat and the former mayor of Avondale, is also in the race and was unanimously appointed to fill the vacancy on the Board of Supervisors when Mary Rose Wilcox resigned to run for Congress.
See also: -Senator Steve Gallardo Comes Out: "I'm Gay, I'm a Latino, and I'm a State Senator" -Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton Endorses County Supervisor Candidate Michael Johnson -Marie Lopez Rogers Unanimously Appointed to Maricopa County Board of Supervisors
The cast of experienced Democrats will face off in the August 26 primary election to fill the remaining two years in Wilcox's term representing the overwhelmingly Democratic and Latino district. The winner will run in the November general election against Republican Mark Riddles.
Johnson says that based on polls he's seen, the race is going to be a tight one between him and Gallardo.
"We feel confident that we're going to win this race," he says, adding that his team is keeping busy out in the field encouraging voters to cast a ballot for Johnson.
Voters in Maricopa County's District 5 have returned fewer than 18,000 early ballots to the elections department -- a figure that seems low given the numerous competitive Democratic races.
"It's not as high as I anticipated," says Steve Gallardo, "And one week before the election, it's really low."
He says he "wouldn't be surprised if we met the same number of votes we had two years ago [when Wilcox was up for election], which is very low still in comparison to what it could've been given these hotly contested races. They usually generate excitement or interest in the community and get voters engaged in the election. Who knows? We still have five days."
Voter participation has increased in the county's District 5 over the years, according to county election records.
When Mary Rose Wilcox ran for the District 5 seat in September 2000, she received 8,182 votes; in 2004, she got 12,912 votes; in 2008, she received 15,835; and in 2012, she pocketed 23,473 votes.
In all of those races she was unopposed, although there were write-in candidates who collected a few hundred votes. Unlike the mug slinging fest that's taken place in Arizona's CD7 race, the interactions during various candidate forums and "the tone of the campaign has been very positive," says Gallardo. "I've worked with Councilman Johnson and Marie Lopez Rogers, and we all want what's best for the district."
Johnson is running to continue serving the community, and that includes most of the residents he served while representing Phoenix's Council District 8 because the city district overlaps with the county's district.
A former Phoenix police officer, Johnson is making public safety a top priority in his campaign. He's landed the endorsements of the Arizona Police Association, United Phoenix Fire Fighters, and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. He's also been endorsed by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton.
He says that when talking about law enforcement in the county, it's important to remember that it's not just about Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He says it's about the juvenile detention center, county jails, the county attorney's office, probation officers and other facets of system.
"We're not just talking about the sheriff ... but we have to look as how we can work with all of those areas, and I'm the only one who has the experience having been involved in the complete judicial process."
He said looking at option to decrease recidivism among offenders, improving detention facilities, developing programs for young people who are already in the criminal justice system.
He says he'd also play an active role in stirring economic development in the West Valley, where there are still large swath of land with freeway access that makes them attractive for job-creating corporations.
Gallardo would be representing largely the same area as a county supervisor as he did while serving as a state lawmaker because those districts, too, overlap.
He says he'll continue speaking out against the abuses that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has perpetrated on the community.
"He's done for damage to the state of Arizona and caused more damage to our community than anyone else," he says. "I've been an advocate and will continue to be. That's what makes me different from my opponents."
While Gallardo has statewide name recognition as a former state lawmaker and outspoken critic of Arpaio's anti-immigrant and racial-profiling policies -- giving him a possible edge in the race -- his recent disclosure that he is a gay man could put some hurt on him at the polls.
He says that a campaign poll showed that after his announcement, his "numbers did come down a little bit."
It shows, he says, that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to deliver equality to everyone, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Gallardo, who is the president of the Cartwright Elementary School Governing Board, says that he'll continue to push for improving education and quality of life issues in the county.
Lopez Rogers, who served as Avondale's mayor for the past decade, is the incumbent after her unanimous appointment to the board in June.
She's been tied up in county meetings, but a campaign aide tells us she'll call when she gets a break.
Johnson says that while incumbency usually has its advantages, he believes that he and Gallardo have a greater edge.
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"We have more name recognition and are out actively working and that's what making the difference," he says.
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