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TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN

Yuri Downing, the 2002 legislative candidate who was facing fraud charges over his spending of Clean Elections funds, recently pled guilty to perjury in Maricopa County Superior Court.

The guilty plea ends a lengthy legal fight that started after Downing, son of state Rep. Ted Downing, teamed up with two buddies, Paul DeDonati and Trevor Clevenger, to run for the Arizona Legislature on the Libertarian ticket. The trio got a combined $100,000 or so in public dollars for their campaigns and lived large, dining at high-priced clubs and restaurants.

After he won somewhere around 4 percent in the 2002 election, Downing told Phoenix TV station KAET that he was "happy there was a very high voter turnout. I think next time I will do some things differently."

But there may not be a next time for Yuri and his pals, who found themselves under investigation by the Clean Elections Commission, which ordered them to give back their campaign funds. DeDonati and Clevenger eventually agreed to cough up the cheddar, but they were both so strapped that Clean Elections officials took pity on them and agreed to cut their fines in half, to about $15,000 each.

Earlier this month, an anonymous benefactor agreed to pay both their fines, according to a report in the Arizona Capitol Times. Who could it have been? The Skinny loves a mystery!

Yuri Downing, meanwhile, ended up indicted last July by Attorney General Terry Goddard and vowed to fight the charges in court, saying his campaign spending was perfectly legitimate in his pursuit of the "non-traditional voter."

We were eagerly anticipating the trial, mostly because we wanted to hear the state's argument regarding what constituted a legitimate campaign expense. Plenty of fun First Amendment issues there!

Alas, Yuri evidently concluded that rather than stand on principle, it was in his best interest to cop a guilty plea and agree to repay a little more than $41,000 to the Clean Elections program, according to Gary Grado of Maricopa's Tribune newspaper empire. Downing, who faces probation and the possibility of up to a year in jail, will be sentenced Jan. 26.

Ted Downing, who used public financing to win his second term representing midtown Tucson in the House earlier this year, told us he didn't want to talk about Yuri's legal mess.

Now we're wondering if the Clean Elections Commission is going to examine the campaign-finance reports of Senate candidate Sean Nottingham. When the District 11 Libertarian received his fat check from the Clean Elections Commission Oct. 6, he started binging on junk food.

Until Election Day, the man only went four days without eating out. In total, he spent nearly $1,100 of his $50,000 in funds on Filibertos, Church's and Papa Johns, sometimes as many as three times a day.

Now, we thought that the Libertarians were against Clean Elections and all government spending, et-yawn-cetera, so maybe these expenditures are just a big fat nyah-nyah-nyah to public campaign-funding system. After all, Nottingham has had a grudge against the Commission ever since they wouldn't give back the 200 $5 contributions he collected for his 2000 campaign run after he was disqualified from the program.

Nottingham was the only third party candidate to run off Clean Elections this year (if you discount Ed Sheldon III from Yuma who quit before collecting). In the end, he received exactly 4,042 votes, losing enormously to super-spender Barbara Leff (who ate out only occasionally). Do the math, and you see that his campaign averages out to $12 per vote.


IT'S TIME TO PLAY SEGREGATE YOUR MILLION$

The Tucson Unified School District has been hooked on its giant slush fund, like an addict hooked on drugs, since a federal judge ordered, on a limited basis, the district to wipe out "the vestiges" of its past segregation (mostly and horrendously against African Americans) in 1978.

Now that U.S. District Judge David C. Bury has told TUSD it is time to bury the deseg case, TUSD officials are suddenly singing a unitary tune. These addicts now pledge that they, too, want to get out from under the desegregation order.

How taxpayers, parents or even students can believe TUSD Board President Joel T. Ireland on the subject is a mystery. Yet Ireland, as usual, is the pied piper on the issue, proclaiming that he has found religion.

It is worth looking at the wild growth of TUSD deseg spending during Ireland's reign--it includes a greater than 100 percent increase in Ireland's first term (1989 through 1992), from $8.5 million to $19.3 million. Deseg spending during Ireland's 16 years on the TUSD board has mushroomed to $62.5 million, or 20 percent of TUSD's total budget.

Twenty years ago, TUSD desegregation spending was $2.1 million.


CRANE SHOT

Incoming Pima County Assessor Bill Staples is smart enough to know that he doesn't know everything there is to know about the office he will take over from career appraiser/manager/ Assessor Rick Lyons.

Staples, a Democrat, wisely selected Jim Crane to serve as his chief deputy. Smart, funny, honest and well-read, Crane has served in the assessor's office since 1975. At $57,313, he is an underpaid supervisor of property appraisers, and has never been too much of a big shot to answer all kinds of questions from the public or press or even to work the counter. Outgoing chief deputy Delma Araiza was paid $75,838.

Like Araiza and Lyons, Crane survived the tumultuous and abbreviated term of Democrat Alan Lang, whose buffoonish behavior masked the more-troubling (to employees, the tax roll and public information law) policies of his deputy, the incredibly immature Michael Naifeh. It was Lyons, a Democrat, who took out Lang in a recall election in 1994.

Staples has shown brains and class to not stuff a political hack or tax appeal consultant into the deputy's slot.


JANET FOR PREZ!

With four long right-wing years of the Bush administration ahead, there isn't much for your average liberal to do but cry into his pillow. But for the idealists who just won't let go, talk is already surfacing about who the 2008 Democratic candidate will be.

Our own Janet Napolitano is one of the names circulating among amateur pundits--blogger Citizen Frank has her ranked 26th most likely to win the nomination, and a Gilbert-based Web opportunist has registered the domain clintonnapolitano.com. Of course, we're of the opinion that our country isn't progressive enough yet to elect such a butch ticket to the White House.

That hasn't stopped the leftist renegade journalists at Irregular Times from selling "Napolitano 2008" bumper stickers and buttons at Cafepress.com. Also, oddly enough, "Ed Pastor 2008" merch is also for sale.


BILL DEPARTMENT

Some lawmakers are off to an early start for the session that begins in January. Sen. Jack Harper, the District 4 Republican, is leading the charge at the state Legislature--he's filed the first three bills and three more Senate resolutions.

Right off the bat, he's pushing forward a bill that would finally update the Constitution to take into account the fact that we've had two female governors in a row. No more "He shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed," or "He may convene the legislature ... . " Harper has inserted "The Governor," instead.

Of his genuine bills, the only one that should be interesting is his plan to exempt anyone older than the age of 70 from jury duty--which was quickly countered by a second bill suggesting 72. Meanwhile, someone in the house has filed 19 bills, all of which are boring technical corrections.

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