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MONKEY BUSINESS: Yet another report reveals that Arizona continues to shortchange education. Education Week magazine reported last week that Arizona is dead last in education funding. While critics of the report say it's based on 1998 numbers and that funding has improved, the bottom line remains the same: lawmakers don't have a real commitment to public education. They've spent a bundle developing education alternatives like charter schools while allowing public schools to deteriorate. The result, as seen in the recent dismal AIMS test scores: kids aren't getting much of an education.

Lawmakers seem to think they've finally found a solution to these problems: creationism. Rep. Karen Johnson, another one of those peculiar Mesa Republicans, wants to pass a law forcing teachers to "present scientific evidence that supports or is consistent with the theory of evolution, and scientific evidence that does not support or is not consistent with the theory of evolution."

"If you come from a little bit of slime out of a pool, then what's so great about life?" Johnson told the Associated Press. "I believe we are children of a heavenly father. I believe in Adam and Eve -- all of that."

Believe it or not, you can believe life is pretty damn wonderful even if you don't believe Adam was magically brought to life from clay or that Eve was made from his rib. Johnson is free to believe whatever she wants -- just as we're free to believe, as we of course do, that space aliens seeded life on this planet. But we're not asking teachers to include Close Encounters in the curriculum, and we wish Johnson and her pals would quit trying to put a scientific spin on matters of faith.


MONUMENTAL DISCONTENT: The Arizona congressional delegation blew a gasket last week when President Bill Clinton visited the Grand Canyon and set aside more than 1 million acres of land in Arizona as two national monuments. Gov. Jane Dee Hull complained Slick Willy was "downsizing" Arizona -- even though he set aside federal and not state land -- and other state lawmakers whined that the move was terrible policy.

We're happy as hell to see Clinton exercising his power under the Antiquities Act. And it seems that most Arizonans support the move as well, according to a statewide poll of voters conducted on behalf of the Sierra Club and other conservation organizations. The poll, which has a margin of error of 4.4 percent, showed an overwhelming 68 percent of voters support Clinton's decision to set aside the land.

The reaction of our state's GOP leadership just increases our skepticism about the legislature's Growing Smarter program. Lawmakers hope to put Growing Smarter proposals back on the ballot this year to compete with the Sierra Club's growth management initiative, which would set up tight urban growth boundaries around communities and force real planning for -- and limits to -- development. Even Hull conceded in a speech last year that people want to see more preservation and that a growth-management proposition is a sure winner at the ballot box.

Lawmakers will have a tricky time developing their alternative. They need to give enough to make it a palatable alternative to the Sierra Club's initiative, but to do that they need to overcome their natural inclination to make it easy for the stuccodollars to keep flowing. Can they do it? Don't bet on it.


IDLE SPECULATION: Here's another example of lousy land-use legislation at the Capitol: Rep. Steve Huffman, a real-estate agent who represents northwest Tucson and Oro Valley, has introduced a bill that would prohibit local governments from enacting environmental regulations that limit construction on vacant land.

If Huffman's bill is signed into law, you can say goodbye to a whole bunch of possible regulations -- like slope restrictions and native plant ordinances -- that could protect our rapidly vanishing desert.

A real-estate broker himself, Huffman argues that people buy land planning to use it in a certain way and that it isn't "fair" to limit that use. Well, Steve, while you're at it, why not reimburse people who lose money in the stock market? They certainly buy stock with the expectation that it will increase in value.

There's a reason buying and selling land is called speculation: there's no guaranteed profit.

As columnist George F. Will has observed in the past, our country increasingly privatizes profit and socializes loss.


THE MAIN EVENT: TUSD Board member Rosalie Lopez's potential bid to unseat Pima County Supervisor Raul Grijalva promises to be the local equivalent of New York's Hillary-Rudy Senate match-up. Lopez is a driven, ambitious candidate who has raised hell at TUSD since her election in 1998. Less than two years into her first term, Lopez is already looking for a promotion to the county Board of Supervisors. She says she'll hang onto the TUSD post even if she's elected to the county board, which may leave voters wondering which of her constituents she'll end up shortchanging.

Although she has proudly described herself as a lifelong Republican, Lopez doesn't stand a chance of winning unless she switches to the Democratic Party. Her only real shot is knocking off Grijalva in the Democratic primary, since District 5 is serious Democratic territory. In a recent radio interview, Lopez was upfront about the switch, saying she's doing it for purely political purposes and not because she's embracing the Democratic agenda, if there is one in Pima County these days. Guess we're not the only ones cynical enough to realize our political parties' platforms have become basically meaningless and interchangeable, although it's a rare pol who will come right out and admit it.


STRICT ADMISSION POLICY: When legendary football coach Ed Doherty passed away a couple weeks ago, he left behind a legacy which will probably never be equaled. Not only did he achieve incredible success as a high school coach both in Tucson and Phoenix, he was also the only man ever to coach both the UA Wildcats and the ASU Sun Devils in football.

After he retired, his health deteriorated and he had a leg amputated due to poor circulation. But he remained an avid sports fan and was a fixture at prep sports events around town.

However, one time he went to a football game at Salpointe, where he had once coached, and tried to go through a gate reserved for the teams and special visitors. Confined to a wheelchair, he was turned away and told to go through the regular gate and to pay for his admission to the game.

As mentioned, the game was at Salpointe. The Lancers play their home football games in Ed Doherty Stadium.

Apparently, that -- and three dollars, American money -- would have gotten The Coach into the game.


HOLE CUT IN STARNET: Robert Cauthorn, the father of The Arizona Daily Star's pioneering electronic newspaper and Internet provider, has left the morning daily after 16 years. In that time, Cauthorn consistently proved himself to be an invaluable renaissance man. A wonderful career for the son of slightly bohemian Tucson politicians who peddled his way -- a little later than his true generation -- to classes at the UA and lived in the deserted Temple of Music and Art.

A gifted writer, Cauthorn knew a lot about a lot. He was a leading art critic and elevated that part of the paper to heights unseen before or since. He also was a terrific movie and theater critic and great feature writer. And he could, at any time, be called into to do serious news work. He and Jane Kay were robbed, by Star incompetence, of a Pulitzer Prize for their landmark work in 1985 exposing the deaths and illness caused by the TCE contamination on the southside. Kay researched, reported and wrote those stories, a bedrock for the successful lawsuits against government and contractor polluters, while Cauthorn did the computer analysis.

Though he was the Accent section's stalwart, Cauthorn never forgot about news and what it was to be a reporter. When the foul frat rats at the UA busted out a sick party that spurred violence on a hot late summer night in 1990, Cauthorn filled in for AWOL Star cop reporters. His vision was necessary. Readers were able to learn that some cops laughed -- for whatever reason -- at the scene where a UA cop was accidentally killed earlier by a shot fired by another cop. Most hacks on the cop beat would have covered for their buddies. For his honesty, Cauthorn faced intense and prolonged threats and harassment from some of Tucson's finest.

Cauthorn, risking health and happiness, then moved on to put the Star online. He was a marathoner, working full days and full nights. And while it is far from perfect, Cauthorn beat nearly everyone to the punch.

Cauthorn has hooked up with Hearst and we wish him the best.

Joining Cauthorn on the departed list is Pila Martinez, a smart and no-bullshit reporter who did fine work on general assignment, courts and the UA. She already is being quoted in the Star as a spokeswoman at University Medical Center. Jim Maish, an assistant features editor, has had enough for the second time and his slot is being filled by writer Raina Wagner, even though much more qualified people applied for the job. And Leon Keith is leaving the city desk for the Associated Press in Los Angeles. No loss there.

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