Going for the Gold
This November, one election is more unique than all the others. Arizona voters will choose a State Mining Inspector, the only in the country, at the polls.
Arizona’s mine inspector race is often overlooked and easy to miss in the confusion of what some might call more important campaigns. This year, though, the race is drawing attention. Democrat Bill Pierce, 70, will challenge Republican Joe Hart, 74, the first competitive race in eight years.
Mine inspectors are responsible for overseeing the regulation, training and legal compliance of Arizona’s mines according to James Werner, assistant director for UA’s San Xavier Mining Laboratory.
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According to Werner, Arizona has 600 active mines and an estimated 100,000 or more abandoned mines. With a majority of these mines being over 100 years old, mining inspectors are responsible for monitoring and securing these mines.
Mining remains relevant and critical to Arizona’s economy to this day, especially in Tucson, which is home of many of the state’s copper deposits.
Arizona is the only state in the country that still elects a state mining inspector.
“The State Mine Inspector in Arizona, being an elected position and not an appointed position like in other mining agencies in other states, is an effort to free the inspector and governor from pressures from interest groups,” Werner said.
For John Lacy, UA director for the Global Mining Law Center, Arizona electing its mine inspector is deeply rooted in Arizona’s history and the spirit of those involved in the mining business.
“Miners have classically implemented their own rules, and so the idea of having a state mining inspector elected is probably an outgrowth of that,” Lacy said.
While electing mine inspectors may politicize the office, Lacy believes that for this particular race, qualifications trump political affiliation in the minds of voters. According to Lacy, candidates usually come from a background of mining labor organizations or have other qualifying experiences.
Electing a mine inspector also provides other benefits Lacy said.
“I think with a lot of offices like these, an elected official is more likely to pay attention to public opinion opposed to someone appointed by the government,” Lacy said.
Meet the Candidates
After witnessing a fatal mine accident while working in 1985, Pierce became an activist for mine safety until his retirement in 2012. Pierce decided to challenge Arizona’s current mine inspector, Hart, because he said he believed his experiences and qualifications would be more beneficial to the public and to make the race for mine inspector a competitive one.
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“I would love the opportunity to look for violations in the mines, and [to do] my part to help clean up the air, the groundwater and to reduce the injuries in accidents,” Pierce said. “I want to help not only save lives but work with mining companies and various entities involved in mining to maintain their profitability while keeping their actions clean and environment-friendly as they can.”
Hart has been Arizona’s state mining inspector since 2006. He has worked in many aspects of the mining industry for decades, including as safety inspector for Duval Mining Corporation. Hart echoed Pierce’s goals of safety and service during his campaign.
Both Hart and Pierce strive to fulfill the Arizona State Mining Inspector role’s motto: “Committed to safety. Protecting the lives of Arizona miners.”
General election voting in person starts Tuesday, Nov. 6. For more information, visit Arizona Clean Elections or Arizona State Mine Inspector websites.
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