The former Democrat and two-term representative said he’s frustrated with the way some influential committees seem to favor the major party candidates.
“The system is essentially wired for parties,” Downing said.
The latest roadblock Downing has encountered was the decision made by the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Candidate Evaluation Committee to interview only Democrat and Republican candidates. He said that leaves independents, himself specifically, without a chance to seek support from the chamber’s members.
The committee interviews candidates to determine their qualifications and positions on key issues affecting Tucson businesses. They report their findings to the chamber’s Political Action Committee, which then decides which candidates will get the chamber’s endorsement.
Downing said he is disappointed that he didn’t get a chance to speak because the chamber represents the voice of business in the community, and the interviews can help paint a clear picture on where each candidate stands on business issues.
“In a democracy, you should listen to all voices and you can always reject them,” Downing said. “They have a right to turn off the message as they’re hearing it, but in this case they decided to just plug their ears.”
He said the state lacks a strong economic base and has relied too heavily on the construction industry. Downing said he’s running as an independent because he sees too much partisan bickering and not enough action.
“I’m against the tactics of each party creating fear against the other,” Downing said. “There seems to be no interest in dialogue, rather just hitting the other side.”
Jack Camper, president and CEO of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said the decision to interview only Democrats and Republicans stems from a lack of resources, not politics.
“There’s no big secret agenda here,” he said. “It’s simply a matter of having not enough volunteers available to do all of the interviews.”
The chamber has historically conducted interviews with only candidates from the two major parties, but Camper said the chamber may need to reconsider its format in the future now that independents and smaller parties have gained a larger following.
Edmund Marquez, a business owner in Tucson and supporter of Downing, said it doesn’t make sense to shut out the ideas of others just because they are unaffiliated with both major political parties.
“If you’re going to have a public-policy committee and have people put forth an opinion on what’s best for the city, then it’s in good interest to staff up so that you can listen to more than just Democrat or Republican candidates,” he said.
Downing faced a similar issue with the Pima County Interfaith Council, an independent organization composed of churches, schools and other nonprofits. On Sept. 26, Downing and other nonpartisan and small-party candidates were not invited to the organization’s candidate accountability session and protested outside of the Tucson Community Center where the interviews were being held.
Downing said he sees this as a statewide issue and whether or not he is elected, he plans to run an initiative that calls for nonpartisan primary elections similar to those in other states such as California, Washington and Nebraska.