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SENIOR MOMENTS IN DISTRICT 8

OK, so lawmakers have to vote on a lot of legislation that comes their way during the session. But you'd think they'd at least remember the bills they sponsored.

Not so for state Rep. Randy Graf, the right-brained Republican who is relinquishing his District 30 House seat in an attempt to unseat Congressman Jim Kolbe. Last week, Graf popped on Emil Franzi's Inside Track on radio station KJLL-1330 AM. (Shameless plug: Tune in The Jolt every Saturday and Sunday from 8 to 10 a.m. to share in Uncle Emil's wisdom.)

Our former automatic weapons editor asked Graf about a particularly goofy piece of legislation he co-sponsored back in 2002 with former state Rep. Debra Brimhall, who might have been the looniest lawmaker on the loose that year. House Bill 2296 would have set term limits for the media, lobbyists and public employees. A little scrap of red meat for the press, the stillborn bill didn't get to a vote in a single committee.

Rather than laugh it off as a ol'-fashioned prank, Graf simply said he had no recollection of the episode. How soon they forget ...

Meanwhile, the Graf campaign was all aglow over Randy's endorsement by the Arizona State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police, which picked him over Kolbe.

Arizona Daily Star reporter C.J. Karamargin told readers earlier this week that when he called Kolbe's campaign for a comment, Kolbe campaign manager Toni Hellon told him that it seemed "very odd" to her that the cops would endorse someone who supported legislation--namely, Senate Bill 1210--that would have allowed patrons to take guns into establishments that serve booze.

Here's the punchline the Star missed: it seems even more odd to us that Hellon, who's also a state senator, happened to support SB1210 as well. If it's such a crappy, anti-cop piece of legislation, why'd she vote for it?


CONSERVATIVE CANNIBALISM

The Kolbe-Graf race is the most high-profile example of the tension that's flaring like a baboon's hemorrhoids this summer between GOP moderates and conservatives. The mod spin: Conservatives are cave-dwelling Kool-Aid drinkers who put extreme ideology ahead of political practicality. The con spin: Moderates are selling out the party by spending state money like drunken liberals, dropping off pregnant women at abortion clinics and officiating at gay weddings.

After a rough start in this year's legislative session, the mods came out ahead. They rolled leadership in the House of Representatives earlier this year to pass a state budget that gave lib Gov. Janet Napolitano everything she wanted. And in the Senate, they rejected a postcard to D.C. to support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

With election season underway, the right wing is seeking to strike back. Up in Maricopa County, it's open warfare in a number of districts, but down here, the cons failed to field a candidate to bring the pain to Rep. Pete Hershberger of District 26, whose high-profile dis' of leadership got him stripped of his committee chairmanship by House Speaker Jake Flake.

But in neighboring/schizo District 25, which includes Marana, El Frida, Sells and parts of Sierra Vista, Rep. Jennifer Burns has been targeted for a fall. Burns, a brainy Tucson lawyer who has a reputation for actually reading the legislation she's voting on, was canny enough to win two years ago in District 25, despite the fact that the district leans Democratic.

But now two Sierra Vista conservatives, David Stevens and Mary Ann Black, are challenging Burns in the GOP primary. Do they represent a real threat to Burns? Well, she got booed when she appeared with them in front of the right-wing South Eastern Arizona Republican Club down in Sierra Vista last week--a sure sign she's not real popular among the con crowd.

Even if Burns wins the GOP primary, it's sure to expose her moderate leanings--which may in turn persuade conservatives to punish her by withholding votes in November. Since she needs their support to win a Democratic district, that could sink Burns. Then again, conservatives could rally back to her if they decide they can't live with the anguish of being represented by a couple of Latino Dems.

It comes down to whether Republicans care about losing a seat. Rep. Eddie Farnsworth of Maricopa County--who's already fighting for the speaker's post next year--made it clear how he feels about the mods when he told the Arizona Capitol Times that he'd rather lose seats in the interest of having a more ideologically cohesive caucus. Let the purging begin!


CLEAN ELEX SPIN CYCLE

With an initiative aimed at flushing Clean Elections heading for the ballot, barring a successful legal challenge, defenders and detractors of the system are knocking out op-eds making claims about the successes and failures of the system.

Poli-sci prof Kenneth R. Mayer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote an analysis in the morning daily's Independence Day edition saying that a review of the impact of Clean Elections "confirms that Arizona's campaign-finance law has made elections much more competitive."

Of course, it's all in how you define "competitive." If you mean that challengers actually beat incumbents, the evidence is pretty thin. But Mayer's definition is a little broader: He says more incumbents face opponents and "fewer incumbents win with huge margins." And here we thought that "almost" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Part of the problem with Mayer's analysis stems from the assumption that Clean Elections is automatically responsible for incumbents losing, which is like saying wet pavement causes rain. There were plenty of other factors--including the fact that some seriously dumb candidates got knocked out of office--that had an effect on re-election rates. Sure, some candidates may have been encouraged by the availability of public dollars, but that doesn't mean Clean Elex can take all the credit.

The opposite spin came in an op-ed by Mark Brnovich, director of the Goldwater Institute Center for Constitutional Government. Brnovich asserts that Clean Elections is a failure because the number of candidates seeking public office has dropped this year, but that's as ridiculous as the contention that publicly financed campaigns are responsible for raising the number of candidates in 2002. There are just too many other factors at work to put all the credit or blame on Clean Elections.

Brnovich also suggests that a 2001 study by the Goldwater Institute conclusively proved that Clean Elections candidates voted the same way as their privately funded brethren--basically, along party lines. But basing that conclusion on just two legislative sessions is absurdly short-sighted.

The biggest laugh in Brnovich's op-ed is his assertion that Clean Elections proponents "are amassing a war chest to stop the proposed change." Sure they are--except the $172,096 they'd raised as of May 31 was less than a third of the $593,450 that opponents of Clean Elections had already spent. That's one hell of a detail to gloss over.

Our spin: The Clean Elections experiment is just beginning. Until it's been through a few election cycles, we won't know if it's a reasonable alternative to putting up politicians for private auction or just a wretched waste of money--and we'll only find out if it's not smothered in its crib this November.

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