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FRANKLY SPEAKING

We got an eye-catching flier in the mailbox the other day from Congressman Jim Kolbe about his ongoing fight against illegal immigration. Do you suppose it's a coincidence that Kolbe is shoring up his border-security credentials just as he's facing a challenge in this year's Republican party primary from state Rep. Randy Graf?

Graf, who's calling himself "The Real Republican for Congress," is well-known as a hard-liner on illegal immigration. He's sponsored legislation that would shut down businesses that hire undocumented migrants and is working to gather signatures for the Protect Arizona Now initiative, which would block illegal immigrants from receiving state services. (Kolbe announced his opposition to the initiative when organizers first began their campaign.)

Given that nothing the Border Patrol has done so far has put much of a dent in the flow of immigrants into the United States, Kolbe can look forward to a steady series of attacks accusing him of failing to do enough to secure the border. Kolbe knows it's a weak point; angry conservatives have been aggressively chewing on his southern flank at town halls for more than a year.

To help inoculate himself on the issue, the 10-term congressman recently used his franking privileges to re-assure constituents that's he doing something about the border crisis.

The mailer--addressed "Dear Friend"--says, "For far too long, those who live along our southern border have had to face illegal aliens trespassing on their land, often damaging property and leaving trash behind. We simply cannot tolerate this unacceptable and growing trend."

Kolbe says he's fought for more Border Patrol agents and more money for local law enforcement and vows to "continue to work to close the backdoor of illegal immigration once and for all."

The mailer notes that it was sent on the taxpayers' dime. Here's our question: Federal Election Commission reports show Kolbe's campaign had almost $215,000 in the bank at the end of the year, and the RNC is supposed to be ready to spend like a drunken congressman on Kolbe's behalf. Meanwhile, Graf has raised less than $18,000, according to graf2004.com. Why on Earth does Kolbe need taxpayers to fund his propaganda?


DOWNTOWN = DOOMTOWN?

The Tucson City Council, facing a $26 million deficit in the upcoming budget cycle, is searching for places to cut--and the latest item on the chopping block is funding for festivals like Tucson Meet Yourself, the Tucson Folk Festival and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure cancer run.

Hey, why not cut off Tucson Meet Yourself, an annual get-together that celebrates the commingling of cultures in Tucson with music and dance, as well as lots of meat-on-a-stick offerings from around the world? It only brings thousands of people downtown every fall. And if we continue to do that, we might actually revitalize the area. (Shameless plug: To see what a lively downtown really looks like, check out TW's Club Crawl this Saturday, April 17, featuring somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 local bands doing their thing on stages both indoor and out.)

Between the proposed festival cuts, the recent red-tagging of Hotel Congress during the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' outdoor show, the move to shut down the little Café Poca Cosa, and the plans to demolish a defunct bar on Congress that's more than a century old, we're starting to have deep doubts that the crew behind Rio Nuevo has a prayer at bringing downtown alive.

Speaking of Rio Nuevo, Alice Eckstrom, a backbone and conscience of the southside political familia that has been headed by her husband, Dan, since the retirement of Sam Lena, has resigned from the Rio Nuevo board.

She held the seat allocated to South Tucson, which wisely agreed to join the district as a participating city. It was a no-lose proposition for the square-mile-plus-a-block city.

Arlene Armenta has replaced Alice Eckstrom on the Rio Nuevo board. That's right, Armenta, the longtime and loyal aide to former Tucson Mayor and Councilman George Miller, a Democrat, lives in South Tucson.


GET 'EM VOTING EARLY

Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias, a Democrat who inherited Raúl Grijalva's kingdom, is a busy man, what with community service, Love of Reading in the schools and that big, six-part bond measure that voters will pass on May 18. Yes, we said pass. This is a slam dunk.

Elias has found that by combining duties, he can get several things accomplished at once.

For instance, when he did his recent Love of Reading tour--Grijalva always used to delight the kids with his stories of evil developer monsters--Elias included some handy Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan bookmarks. It's lovely and timely touch that the kids can tell their parents about when they get home from school: Question No. 1 on the bond is $174.3 million for the purchase of open space, a key issue for the most powerful, most-listened-to constituency in Elias' Tucson Mountains, Sam Hughes and West University district.

Gee, mommy and daddy, shouldn't we protect the bunnies and the cactus?

Plus, the county is unilaterally saving the free world with that bond, because it includes $10 million to cushion encroachment around Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. You're either with us or against us.

And Elias was kind enough to brand the bookmarks with his adhesive stamp on the back. That'll come in handy when the kids remind the folks about that nice Mr. Supervisor Elias when Prince Richard runs for re-election this fall.

These bonds are absolutely necessary. The county has done a perfect job in managing the roughly $712 million in bonds from the two 1997 elections. And it's all free!

We've read and studied the county literature and realize now that all that bitching we've done during the last few years about the county's property taxes--being the highest in the state and all--is completely unwarranted. The county needs every bit of the money. It spends it all wisely. Why, just this week, we read Democratic Supe Chairman Sharon Bronson's comments about the need for more money for health facilities and Kino Community Hospital to supplement what voters approved seven years ago. She very appropriately pointed out to the Arizona Daily Star's Tony Davis that no one can build, under today's standards, any building of any size for $4 million.

See? She knows! And that's why we need to support the bond for $81.8 million for public health, Kino and other facilities.

The county also will give us $183.5 million in new court and public safety buildings and gadgets; $96.4 million for new parks and recreation facilities; $46.2 million for flood control and river parks; and $150 million to fix the sewers. Elias is finally putting some attention into urban issues--the dilapidated condition of sewer lines in the barrios that Grijalva neglected.

All but the sewer bonds, financed by your monthly bill plus hookup fees, will be re-paid with property taxes. Each and every one of the county's elected officials, and the more than 8,000 employees, have assured us that taxes will not rise one bit. We believe them. In fact, all of this is essentially free.

The county assures us that these secondary taxes, used to re-pay voter-approved debt, will not exceed $81.50 for a home on the tax rolls for $100,000. Right. Forget that taxes will increase because the value of your home will escalate. Forget about the financing costs and interest rates during 15 years of the bonds. (Wasn't it Bronson who championed a pay-as-you-go plan instead of bonding in 1997?) It's free!

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