Michael Hughes' life wasn't really working out, when he first hit Payson 23 years ago.
He was 20 years old, taking refuge with some friends with his kids after his marriage and his life had come unraveled down in the Valley. His prospects were bleak, looking for work in a little town in the forest.
But two days later, he got a job as a painter -- and so started a love affair with a town that saved him and gave him everything.
Tall, handsome, trim, articulate, with an touch of pensive melancholy, he worked a succession of construction jobs, rented an unheated trailer with plastic on the windows and built a stable life -- after years of bouncing back and forth between Arizona and California.
He ended up a single dad with three kids after a second "speed-bump" marriage, working hard, juggling the demands of the kids and gradually working his way up from laborer to supervisor at a hardware store, construction sites and a glass company.
Then 12 years ago, he met Deborah -- who fell in love with his kids before she fell in love with him, he says now.
A Realtor, she became his great love and his business partner. For the past 10 years, he has sold real estate and served on the Central Arizona Board of Realtors.
"Payson's been good to me," he says, to explain his run for town council. He has a platform that embraces fierce support for aggressively pursuing water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir and promoting growth and economic development -- including a repeal of many of the current growth management restrictions.
He's critical of the politics of division and Mayor Bob Edwards' embrace of two other council candidates who have formed a slate.
By the same token, Edwards has criticized Hughes' candidacy as a stalking horse for Realtors who two years ago fought a losing battle against the imposition of a 250-per-year limit on new residential units in Payson. At the time, permits exceeded 200 annually, but in the past year, have fallen to less than 100.
Hughes says that he's trying to give back to the town that turned his life around and to live up to his wife's view of him -- and his own sense of honor.
"I try to step away from my own point of view and see other's point of view so I can understand it -- and try to make it so that I can look myself in the mirror."
He says the greatest failing of the town council in the past two years has been the excessive influence of certain factions and neighborhoods and the failure to consider the needs of the town as a whole.
"You've got to look at an issue and ask what are the consequences of this decision 10 years down the road," he said.
He says that the focus on long-term priorities makes the effort to lock up rights to the Blue Ridge Reservoir and build a $30-million pipeline his top priority.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we can't pass up," he says.
"If we don't go after it now, it may not be there -- and we've still got a long ways to go."
Moreover, he would work to improve the business climate.
"Not just give lip service, but to be truly business-friendly. I think the town staff could be a whole lot more proactive. I think the town staff right now is getting pretty mixed signals" about how to respond to business needs.
For instance, the growth management plan "tells developers that we don't really want growth." But continued growth is essential to supporting the working class residents of Payson.
Moreover, the restrictions don't even control growth, since permits not issued in one year get added to the total for the next year. By the time building picks up again, so many unused permits will be available that the management plan will be meaningless. In the meantime, it sends the wrong message, said Hughes.
"The town has been so divisive as far as growth and anti-growth. These attempts to manipulate the free market just create a lot of unintended consequences."
Hughes also objected to the whole idea of the joint campaigns of Edwards, David Rutter and Tom Loeffler, running as a jointly endorsed team. All three of those candidates strongly support the restrictions of the growth management plan.
"The problem with running on a slate is it takes away your independence. You make certain agreements. I think the council needs seven independent-thinking people to come together and work for the good of the community."