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BUSHWHACKED: For all of George W. Bush's skill en español, he didn't mix with la gente like Bill Clinton did with his impressive crowd-working at Mi Nidito Restaurant and along South Tucson's famous South Fourth Avenue four years ago.

And here Mi Nidito opened on a Monday on the off-chance Bush might pop in. George's loss.

This poli-coptering was meant to show that W. cares for the trees with his Healthy Forests Initiative. He really does care--to get some real logging of old-growth forest going without much scrutiny, according to loyal opposition organized at the base of Mount Lemmon by a cadre of greens, including the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.

As the enviros pointed out, Mount Lemmon doesn't have commercial logging that would be covered under the Healthy Forests. In fact, before the catastrophe struck, pleas for federal fire-prevention dollars were ignored in favor of giving Ken Lay and his corporate-scamming ilk a big tax break.

So the burned-out ruins that Bush posed in front of were just a convenient prop, and the whole trip another example of the unending stream of distortion coming out of the White House. Bush lies about the environment; he lies about the real impact of his tax cut; he lies about how he'll fix the health-care system; he lies about violating our civil rights; and he lies about why we go to war.

And people complained about Bill Clinton's honesty? The administration twists the truth like a pretzel with every press release.

Still, it was fun watching local suck-ups jockey for position and profile. Mayor Bob Walkup needs a boost, so even though he and the city have absolutely nothing to do with Mount Lemmon or Summerhaven, he grabbed some quality time. Councilman Fred Ronstadt, the self-described "bulldog" for local Republicans, was said to be snarling, panting and whining that he was being penned up, er, out.

Speaking of Fred, his name keeps popping up in one of Pima County's favorite political parlor games: the odds-making on those who want to succeed Congressman Jim Kolbe. We'd say these wannabes aren't congressional material, but then again, who ever imagined Raúl Grijalva would end up on the Hill?

Ronstadt has buddied up to Kolbe, who has even hired the councilman's wife, Pam Ronstadt, for campaign work. We don't know what kind of odds the Pentagon would lay on a Ronstadt victory, but we do think Fred could use a guest spot on the TV makeover hit Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The bow ties and the vests really have to go--unless Fred is trying to dress like a hobbit.

The latest entries into the congressional sweepstakes are all three legislative reps from District 30, who each now have three years in public office under their belt. Randy Graf, the small-time golf pro who swiftly rose to Majority Whip in the wackadoodle House of Reps, is a rising star of the right wing of the Republican Party because he'll do or say anything, no matter how backwards, reactionary or racist.

His fellow House member, Marian McClure, is also talking about her chances to succeed Kolbe. McClure, who usually uses her brain before opening her mouth, is more centrist than Graf--she believes schools aren't a total waste of money, for example--but she trailed Graf in votes in last year's election, probably because the Bible-thumpers accused her of being a baby-killer in a mailer during the campaign.

Their Senate counterpart, Republican Tim Bee, also figures he's in the line of succession. Come to think of it, his brother, Keith Bee, thought the same thing before term limits forced him from the same Senate seat. Could we see a the Bee Bros. in a throwdown?

And, of course, there's the star of W.'s Summerhaven soiree, Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll. Sugar Ray, a Republican for less than a decade, is a charmer, but he could face tough resistance from the right-wing troglodytes who dominate District 30.

And we hear John Munger, the lawyer and chairman of the Pima County Republican Party, wants a piece of the action too.

Of course, all of the guessing games are academic unless Kolbe decides he wants to call it quits. And since the GOP has discovered it no longer needs to even pretend to be fiscally responsible, why should he quit? Right now, they're free to spend all the money they want, give away fat tax breaks to the wealthiest people in America, and pay off Big Biz with all the deregulation they want. Who'd want to walk out on the all-new Gilded Age?


RELEASE THE HOUNDS! You wouldn't know it from reading the morning daily, but early voting is already underway for the Sept. 9 Democratic primary in eastside Ward 2, which pits incumbent Carol West against political newcomer Lianda Ludwig.

More and more voters are casting early ballots, driven by increasingly sophisticated campaigns that seek to lock in support as early as possible. In the 2001 general city election, Democrats completely botched the early-ballot effort, allowing Republicans Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar to win office. Both Republicans lost on Election Day, but their early ballots carried them to victory.

The last time Democrats had a contested primary in Ward 2, during 1999's four-way mayoral race, about 31 percent of the voters went to the polls. About 18 percent of those voters cast early ballots. Compare that to last year's disastrous transportation proposition, where early voting hit nearly 46 percent.

The good news for West regarding that 1999 primary: Ludwig's spiritual avatar, Molly McKasson, came in second place in Ward 2, capturing just one-third of the votes. Betsy Bolding, the more moderate Democrat, won the ward with 40 percent. The bad news for West: Her predecessor and onetime mentor, Janet Marcus, came in third with just 17 percent.

To request an early ballot in the mail or to find out where the city has set up early polling places, contact the Tucson City Clerk's Office at 884-VOTE or visit http://www.ci.tucson.az. us/hottopics/earlyvote03.html


SECOND OPINION: Remember Assistant City Attorney Dennis McLaughlin's formal opinion that appearances by candidates on local talk-radio shows constitute campaign contributions if someone on the program "expressly advocates" for victory on Election Day? McLaughlin has said certain phrases--such as "vote for" or "elect"--were forbidden under the state's Clean Elections law, which evidently trumps the First Amendment in Arizona.

Local GOP political activist Benny White, who has been complaining about McLaughlin's absurd interpretation, appealed to a higher authority, persuading Arizona Senate President Jim Weiers to ask Attorney General Terry Goddard whether such on-air appearances could be considered campaign contributions.

Goddard's recent response: Of course not. Goddard's opinion states that the law "does not apply to news media interviews or news-oriented radio programs. News media appearances and interviews do not constitute campaign contributions by the media entity, as long as the news entity is not owned or controlled by a political committee, political party or candidate."

McLaughlin, naturally, takes that to mean he was right all along--which is how things work here in the Bizarro universe.


SURELY SHIRLEY: After accomplishing next to nothing as the head of the unnecessary Fourth R program at the Tucson Unified School District, Shirley Kiser is the new executive director of the Tucson Education Association. The hire shows that TEA, the union representing TUSD teachers and other employees, still has a few tricks remaining.

Let's leave aside Title 38 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, the conflict-of-interest provisions that prohibit leaping from a public agency to a job lobbying it for a year. Kiser is a politically potent hire.

She carries the protection of the editorial page of the Arizona Daily Star. Husband Jim Kiser, a nice-enough guy who is the powerful editorial page editor of the Star, has shown no restraint in protecting his wife, her pet policies and her pals against all critics.

Look for the Star, already chewing the asses of Superintendent Stan Paz and his thin governing board majority, to become an unquestioning promoter of TEA. Look for Paz, who mishandled a badly needed reorganization that was two years late, to not catch nary a break from his the Kiser's Star.


UNCOUPLING: City Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar succumbed, again, to pressure to make the motion last week guaranteeing the light-rail proposition would appear on the Nov. 4 ballot. (So is it an initiative or a referendum now? We're terribly confused.)

But the first-term Republican showed amazing candor while appearing on the ever-fascinating Bert Lee Show later in the week. Dunbar said repeatedly that Democratic Vice Mayor Shirley Scott, who cast the lone dissent on the light-rail pass, voted "right." Meaning correctly.

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