Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson Announces Resignation After 27 Years

After 27 years as a Pima County Supervisor, Bronson’s resignation concludes a historic and consequential career. A Democrat elected in 1996, she is the longest-serving supervisor in the county’s history, and was the first woman ever elected to represent District 3 — a 7,400-square-mile expanse that sprawls from Tucson’s west side to the Yuma County line. The mostly rural district covers 83% of Pima County.

Bronson became the first woman ever to serve as board chair in 1999. She was elected chair three additional times over the course of her career, spending more time as chair than any other Pima County Supervisor. She chaired the board during a portion of all but one of her seven terms in office.

An environmentalist and a pragmatist

In her first term, Bronson ushered a new era of environmental stewardship into County governance by backing the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, a comprehensive environmental protection plan aimed at preserving native desert habitat in and around the rapidly growing Tucson metro region.

To this day, the SDCP continues to guide County policy in areas ranging from land use to wastewater, shaping hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of public investment, and protecting thousands of acres of undeveloped Sonoran Desert.

Although environmentalism was an early defining feature of her career, Bronson earned the respect and support of business interests through big-picture pragmatism and developed a solid record of advocacy for economic development.

During her first year in office, she defied some of her environmentalist supporters by voting for a 500-home rezoning west of the Tucson Mountains, arguing that the impacts of unplanned growth in the area, where mobile homes and wildcat subdivisions had proliferated, would be worse. The same year, to the satisfaction of conservationists, she voted to increase development impact fees, and helped stop a proposed rezoning to build 300 homes near Honey Bee Canyon, home to the endangered cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.

In November 1997, with Bronson’s support, voters authorized a $257 million bond package that included $36 million for open space, the first major funding for open space purchases under the SDCP. In 2004, again with her support, County voters approved a $582 million regional bond package, with $174 million for open space.

A regional vision for economic development

Bronson, whose educational background is in business administration and accounting, pursued an economic development vision for Pima County that leveraged regional strengths while encouraging collaboration between local jurisdictions, and prioritizing workforce development.

In 2005, she joined Tucson mayor Bob Walkup in co-founding Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, or TREO—a nonprofit economic development group whose nine-member board of directors included Bronson and Walkup, along with leaders from the University of Arizona, Pima Community College, the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and four of the region’s major private employers. TREO changed its name to Sun Corridor Inc. in 2015. Bronson, a past co-chair, has served on the organization’s board since its inception.

Her economic development work was the focus of the Arizona Daily Star’s endorsement of her in 2012, when she easily won a fifth term. The newspaper credited her support for property tax incentives to entice the biotech firm Roche to expand its Oro Valley campus, and for a leased-space deal that allowed Denver-based Accelerate Diagnostics, Inc. to relocate its headquarters to the top floor of the Abrams Public Health Center.

Noting that local governments would receive an “immediate payback” from the newly created high-tech, high-paying jobs in the form of income, sales, and other taxes, the Star’s editorial board opined that Bronson “understands how government can prudently encourage economic growth.”

A watchful eye on the criminal justice system and the County budget

Bronson advocated for criminal justice reform throughout her career. During her 2000 reelection campaign, she questioned the County’s spending on juvenile detention, and called for performance-based audits that would compare criminal justice spending in Pima County to that of other jurisdictions.

As co-chair of the U.S./Mexico Border Counties Coalition, she criticized the U.S. government for immigration policies that saddled local jurisdictions with unreimbursed costs.

In 2018, Bronson took a stand against the Sheriff’s participation in Operation Stonegarden, a federal grant program that provided funding to local law enforcement agencies in exchange for their assistance with immigration enforcement efforts. Her opposition was blasted by immigration enforcement activists, including her two Republican colleagues on the Board.

She did not back down.

Arguing that that Sheriff’s operations funded by the program were ineffective against border conditions, and created additional County costs associated with incarceration and courts, she urged her colleagues to reject the funding. She ultimately prevailed: in February 2020, her colleagues Richard Elías and Ramon Valadez joined her in rejecting the funds, which the Sheriff’s Department had been accepting for 12 years.

A steady hand during times of uncertainty

Bronson stepped up in January 2021 to lead the board as chair during a period of extraordinary challenges for Pima County. In addition to the public health and economic crises of COVID-19, the year 2020 was marked by the sudden death of her longtime colleague Richard Elías and an election that seated new members in three of the board’s five districts. Bronson’s leadership gave a new board, elected mid-pandemic, a running start during a critical time.

In her fourth and final stint as chair, Bronson presided over a board whose majority found itself frequently at odds with state government over decisions about public health during the coronavirus pandemic. Questions about mask and vaccine mandates forced the Board to deal with the dilemma between putting public safety at risk and putting Pima County in fiscal and legal peril.

In addition to being a time of hard political challenges, the years 2020 and 2021 brought logistical and practical challenges to carrying out County business. The Board of Supervisors have had to adapt to new physical office space and adjust to conducting their meetings in the virtual space of the Internet. Bronson’s calm demeanor and wealth of experience helped keep tensions in check during a time of unexpected obstacles and unprecedented stress.

A legacy of leadership

In addition to her service on the Board of Supervisors, Bronson served on the boards of Visit Tucson and Sun Corridor, Inc. She was also a member of the Sun Corridor Chairman’s Circle, and was Pima County’s representative to the Arizona Border Counties’ Coalition. She is a past president of the Arizona County Supervisors’ Association and the U.S./Mexico Border Counties Coalition.

Bronson has received numerous awards and honors for her service to the community, including the YWCA’s “Women on the Move” Award, the Metropolitan Pima Alliance’s “Common Ground” Award, the Pima Trails Association’s “Friend of the Trails” Award, the Tucson Soccer Academy “Game Changer” Award, and the Tucson Mountain Association’s “Elected Official of the Year.”

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