The 2018 General Election in Scottsdale was full of surprises – from the overwhelming Proposition 420 victory to staggering voter turnout – but the biggest surprise might have been the bipartisan cooperation shown by the two leading vote getters in the City Council election.
Incumbent Republican Kathy Littlefield and Democratic challenger Solange Whitehead took the top two out of three spots on the City Council ballot, garnering 26 percent and 22 percent of the vote, respectively.
Littlefield’s 56,829 votes were the most by any council candidate in the city’s history.
Whitehead’s election was even more improbable as Republican voters outnumber Democrats in Scottsdale 71,393 to 41,225, according to the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office’s active voter totals.
Council elections in Scottsdale are officially non-partisan, though Littlefield and Whitehead’s affiliations were well known by the time Election Day rolled around.
Though they hail from opposite parties, Littlefield and Whitehead campaigned side by side for much of the election.
That kind of collaboration is rare, even for candidates from the same side of the aisle, Littlefield said.
“In a cattle-call election like this was, you don’t run in partnership. You run on your own,” Littlefield said.
The situation is even less likely considering the partisan nature of contemporary politics.
A Pew Research Center survey from 2017 showed that the partisan gap between Americans of opposing parties is larger than ever.
Pew looked at 10 political values the organization has tracked since 1994 and found “there is now an average 36-percentage-point gap between Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic leaners.”
In 1994, that gap was 15 points.
Another Pew survey conducted over the summer found that eight in ten Americans believe that Republicans and Democrats cannot even agree on the basic facts regarding important issues – let alone policies and plans to address them.
So, how did two candidates from opposite parties bridge the divide in an era when partisan politics seem to dominate at every level of government?
“There’s a reason it is a nonpartisan race, and it is because our issues are nonpartisan,” Littlefield said. “Everyone in Scottsdale wants clean water to come out of their taps… everyone wants their trash picked up and carted away… if you need the fire department or a paramedic, everybody wants someone available.”
“These are not partisan issues; these are issues that every resident in Scottsdale wants,” she said.
Whitehead echoed those sentiments.
“There’s no room for partisanship and it’s not even an issue,” Whitehead said. “People who want to make it an issue are not interested in what the citizens want.”
The debate over the future of the preserve also helped bring the candidates together and provided an issue that residents of a variety of political leanings could coalesce around.
The issue actually propelled Whitehead, who was an active signature gatherer in the campaign to get Prop 420 on the ballot, into the race.
“I wouldn’t have run without (the preserve issue),” Whitehead said.
Both candidates insist their pairing was unplanned and that they did not even know each other prior to campaign season.
Littlefield, who said she was watching the preserve issue from the periphery, said she heard of Whitehead because of her efforts to gather signatures to put the issue on the ballot.
“I heard of Solange because she was one of the petition gatherers and she was very adamant about the petition and getting the signatures… she was out there every single day working her tail off and, to me, that said good things (about her),” Littlefield said.
Through their chance meeting, both candidates realized they agreed on more than just the preserve issue and had similar views on the role of council members.
Whitehead said she believes the council has lost its way and no longer represents citizen interests when it comes to a variety of issues, from zoning to spending public money responsibly.
“Red isn’t the problem. Blue isn’t the problem. Green is the problem – green meaning the money buying the politicians,” Whitehead said. “I heard that from so many different people, whether they had a Trump sign in their garage or a Bernie (Sanders) sticker still on their car.”
She said she found a kindred spirit in Littlefield.
“If you listened to her (at meetings), (Kathy Littlefield) asked questions that the citizens would ask if they were up there, so you know we were definitely aligned on a lot of things,” Whitehead said.
Added Littlefield: “We have very, very similar ideas on what the job is of a councilmember and that is to represent those who elect us to this office.”
Littlefield said her job is to make Scottsdale a more livable city for residents and welcoming city for tourists – though she stipulated residents are her primary concern.
By focusing on local issues, Littlefield and Whitehead were able to circumvent typical partisan pitfalls.
In fact, Littlefield did not even know Whitehead was a Democrat when they first met because they discussed issues rather than affiliations.
That was not an uncommon occurrence.
Paul Klein, president of the Tea Party of Scottsdale, also supported Whitehead and had no idea she was a Democrat at first until he saw her on informational material for a Democratic woman’s group.
Still, he said her party affiliation did not concern him and that they were able to have a dialog with each other and find common ground on some issues, though they may still disagree on others.
“On some things we probably don’t agree, but on things in Scottsdale, things that are good for the people, that is what we do agree on,” Klein said.
Klein said he supported Whitehead’s stance on Proposition 420.
“I see her as fiscally conservative,” he said. “She wants to preserve the preserve and not squander taxpayers’ money.”
Based on the success of their campaigns, it would appear that many Scottsdale residents appreciated the back to basics approach as both candidates were embraced by members of the opposite party during the campaign.
Deborah Nardozzi, who has a leadership position with the LD 24 Democrats, endorsed both Whitehead and Littlefield.
She said Littlefield has a history of representing the interests of residents on the council and that she does a good job listening to her constituents.
“Kathy feels like most of the residents in south Scottsdale where I live feel,” Nardozzi said. “She is a good voice for the community and has similar concerns…”
Nardozzi said she was able to endorse Littlefield because the race was officially non-partisan.
Jim O’Connor, who ran in the Republican primary for Maricopa County Corporation Commission, noted:
“When we can work civilly and talk civilly to one another on issues we have in common, like what do you think about the government’s dealing on the preserve, and just have calm, reasonable discussion on solving public policy problems, there is a hopeful outcome.”
He added, “I think Solange’s campaign and victory is based on the fact that she is an example of someone coming together with those who have an ideologically different set of values.”