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THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD: Poor Joe Lieberman. Sometimes the Connecticut senator must feel as though he's wandered into the Twilight Zone as he watches national Democratic front-runner Howard Dean on the stump.

During his swing through town last Monday, Jan. 12, Lieberman spoke in front of about 400 folks at a meeting of the Democrats of Greater Tucson in a midtown Chinese restaurant. In his speech, he promised to cut taxes for all but the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, create new jobs, rebuild international alliances and deliver health care to all kids.

While he took his share of shots at George W. Bush, Lieberman illustrated the basic difference between himself and Dean when he invoked the Democrats' greatest modern political success story, Bill Clinton. Lieberman said that Clinton had led the party out of the "wilderness" and on to victory by showing he was tough on crime, strong on national defense and willing to cut taxes for the middle class.

The other Democrats, Lieberman charged, "want to take us back to where we were before Bill Clinton."

Compare that to Dean's standard line in his stump speeches: "You don't beat George W. Bush by being more like George W. Bush."

There you have the competing philosophies in the Democratic Party: The moderate approach of appealing to the center vs. the radical reach for the left. Unfortunately for Lieberman, whose campaign is in the corner coughing up blood, the latter strategy looks a lot more successful in the primaries.

Unfortunately for Dean, should he actually steamroll to a lock on the nomination in the next month, the former strategy would probably be more successful in November.


THANKS FOR CLEARING THAT UP: Gov. Janet Napolitano delivered her annual State o' the State message to kick off the legislative session, calling for all-day kindergarten and more health care for kids.

The suggestion drew a thoughtful response from House Speaker Jake Flake, as reported in the local morning daily: "Who has the responsibility to educate our children? It isn't the government's responsibility to educate children; it's the parents' responsibility to educate children."

Well, then, we guess conservative Republicans can stop blaming lousy teachers and start blaming lousy parents for the dismal AIMS results.


STAPLES CENTER: Bill Staples, a soldier in Raúl Grijalva's political patronage army, is gearing up for a run for the Pima County Assessor's Office seat being vacated by Democrat Rick Lyons.

Staples, 43, is a nice guy who has handled employee disputes before the county civil service commission while serving as an appraiser in the county real estate division within transportation and flood control.

He is likely to face a primary battle from George Garcia, a former county appraiser whose private practice has been helped by a number of county contracts. We also hear Bruce Wheeler, a former city councilman, is thinking about a run. Other Democrats are assessing their chances; Bill Heuisler, a hell-raising tax crusader, is seeking the Republican nomination.

Lyons, a career bureaucrat in the assessor's office, stabilized the department and the greater county tax base when he knocked off Tough Man Alan Lang, a Democrat, in a 1994 recall election.

Staples changes parties as frequently as some perennial political flakes like Ed Finkelstein. He signed up as an Independent when he initially registered to vote in Pima County in 1981. Since then, his registration looks like this: Independent/ Republican/Independent/Democrat/ Independent/Democrat/Independent/Republican/Independent/Democrat. The last change was two years ago.

Staples has been a photographer for Grijalva on the campaign and event trails. He is in his county post because of his connections to Grijalva, a member of the Board of Supervisors for 13 years before he waltzed into Congress via Arizona's new District 7. Staples, also a close ally of Grijalva aide and fellow Pennsylvanian Glenn Miller, started with the county in 1990 and was rewarded with a huge boost in pay that dwarfed those doled out to most of the other county employees in 1999. Staples went from $34,349 a year to $43,049--a 25.3 percent increase--without a promotion. He now makes $50,369.

His entry should be seamless for all the Grijalvistas who use their county computers and phones to campaign--on taxpayers' time--for their favorite candidates.


RANCID SUPE: In the northern Pima County village of Catalina, they worry about which county supervisor to call when, say, the floods that have followed the Mount Lemmon inferno ravage homes and ranches, or when another big and ugly development--High Mesa--looms.

Sharon Bronson, a Democrat, or Ann Day, a Republican?

Bronson represents the two Catalina precincts as part of her mostly rural District 3 and will until the end of 2004. That is when the new maps produced by Bronson's political advisers during the gerrymander of 2001 become effective. But many of her Catalina constituents feel the diss. Why? Although Bronson represents them, she does not have to waste one minute worrying about them while she seeks a third term.

She will be seeking the votes of the people who live in her restyled district, the one that shaved off all those northwest suburban precincts that voted for Republican Barney Brenner.

Catalina voters also favored Brenner, whose underdog and under-funded campaign fell just 1,404 votes short out of 53,894 votes cast.

Too bad for Brenner, who last week started the process of gathering signatures for a 2004 rematch, that Bronson got rid of all that opposition with the map that swept District 3 into the heart of Tucson and extended it as far east as Swan Road.

She could have some heartburn if Republican City Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar chooses to leave her Ward 3 seat. But Dunbar doesn't want to risk a Democratic appointment to her council office, which under the resign-to-run law, she would have to vacate because she is not in the final year of her term. Dunbar was not able to win in her own neighborhood while defeating Paula Aboud in 2001, but she cleaned up in all points east.

Meanwhile, all this leaves Catalina voters having to put up with Bronson through the end of the year but with no power to toss her out of office. They will be voting for Ann Day or Day's challenger(s) this year. That is one reason why Day has shown elevated but still tepid concern for Catalina residents after the floods.


AN EYE ON KXCI: Larry Bruce is the new general manager at community radio 91.3 FM, and he'll be tested right off the bat when the KXCI Democracy Initiative presents 483 signatures of station members who want to reform board rules and strengthen members' rights.

You can see Bruce and his board in action tonight--Thursday at 6:30--at Armory Park Senior Center, 220 S. Fifth Ave.


RONSTADT TRANSIT: Bus transfers, please, for City Councilman Fred Ronstadt's top aides in the Ward 6 office, Andrew Squire and Michael Guymon, who are leaving for greener pastures. Both are paid $43,945. Many in Ward 3 are hoping Ronstadt lures back former Ward 6 assistant Carol Clark.


COMING ATTRACTION: Rumored for years, the lease on a new cinema near the University of Arizona may soon be signed. Located near Park Avenue and Second Street, the movie house will have seven small theaters. Construction is expected to begin this fall, and the theater should be open by 2006.

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