You can't write about the late Lou Benson without telling the story of Tortolita. Louie would want it that way.
A dozen years ago, a rare burst of local self-determination occurred east and west of Tangerine Road roughly between La Canada and Shannon. The legislature had repealed the requirement that new incorporations secure the permission of other incorporated towns within six miles of its proposed border. Several groups attempted it, the most serious were Tortolita and the much larger Casas Adobes area.
Tortolita chose incorporation by petition, gathering 72 percent of the close to 2,000 registered voters living there. Lou and Robyn Benson personally gathered the most signatures.
The Board of Supervisors approved Tortolita on a 3-2 vote, exemplifying the multiple attitudes and political schizophrenia the town's creation caused. Republican Ray Carroll and Democrats Sharon Bronson, who then represented the area, and Dan Eckstrom, a former mayor of South Tucson sympathetic to small towns, voted aye. Republican Mike Boyd, siding with developers concerned about potential loss of re-zonings, and Democrat Raul Grijalva, siding with fellow central control freak Tucson Mayor George Miller, voted no.
Court fights ensued, the repeal statute was ruled unconstitutional, the legislature failed to alter it, and the town was eventually dis-incorporated, but it was a textbook lesson for those who participated that all politics are local. Tortolitans held a town meeting attended by close to 400 citizens, to choose its first council. For those in surrounding communities who claimed we were "illegitimate," that's a higher turnout than you get in a general election.
Fourteen people ran for seven seats and the winners just happened to be four Republicans, two Democrats and a Libertarian. We also filled the statutory position of town marshal and unanimously picked Louis Edward Benson II. My family is very proud that the nomination came from Councilwoman Kathleen Franzi.
Louie was born in upstate New York in 1949 and was but 60 when liver cancer took him. Moving to Florida at age 10, he went off to Viet Nam in 1969 and was a combat veteran of the Fourth Infantry Division in tank and vehicle recovery. Honorably discharged in 1971, he was a proud member of VFW Catalina Post 4903 and Veterans for Peace. He served his community in a variety of capacities and was a superb example of a good citizen. He and Robyn ran, and she and son Jonas will continue, Lou Benson Construction and built a number of custom homes and additions, including the porch on the front and side of ours. Thanks, Louie, for recommending that long ramp in place of the stairs.
Obviously, the Bensons and the Franzis often cancelled each others' vote. What is less evident is our sharing not only a deep love for the area we lived in for years, but the belief that the most important of all political decisions, something more relevant than taxes or schools or crime, is the fundamental question of who shall govern. On that one, we were on the same page. We were also aware that many others, from left to right, aren't.
We've heard the grumbles that "you were never a real town." By that logic, Bobby Lee and Stonewall Jackson were never real generals.
We were proud to call Lou Benson our friend. We are even prouder that he called us his.
A celebration of Lou's life will begin at 6 p.m. at the Audubon Society Mason Center, Thornydale and Hardy, Saturday, June 27th.