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JUST WONDERING

Questions that this year's City Council races will answer:

Will any Democrats besides Steve Farley and Nina Trasoff get into the Ward 6 race against Republican Fred Ronstadt? Two Democratic rookies, John Richards and Adam Liebling, still have exploratory committees. Follow-up question: If they run, does it matter?

Can any Democratic candidate excite southside and westside voters? In recent years, three out of four of those mostly Democratic voters have stayed home on Election Day, while nearly half of the voters go to the polls on the eastside. That's provided the margin for Ronstadt and fellow Republican Kathleen Dunbar, who is seeking re-election to her Ward 3 seat against Democrat Karin Uhlich. What's the matter, Raúl? Machine in the shop in odd years?

With Dunbar and Ronstadt forgoing public financing, will we still see independent campaign committees roll out for them? In recent years, developers and car dealers have been dumping cheddar into indie campaigns to support Republicans. Can't you already see the attack ads against Farley by the Light Rail Veterans for Truth?

Will the Democrats, hammered by those independent campaigns over the last couple of election cycles, get their own indie up and running? Here's one notion making the rounds in political parlor games: Depress turnout on the Republican's eastside base by hammering Dunbar and Ronstadt as tax-and-spenders who raised garbage fees, hiked water rates and wanted to raise the sales tax.

Will the Growth Lobby take aim at Ronstadt? SAHBA remains pissed at Fred, particularly over the issue of linking water to annexation. Will they mend fences or support the winner of the Democratic primary? And will whatever they do make any difference?

And finally: Will Linda Ronstadt, mad as hell about the Air Force jets flying over her central-city home, take the political stage to campaign against cousin Fred? We hear Linda is ready to sing. Poor, poor, pitiful Fred.


ROCKY TIMES

With the headlines screaming about executions in Nogales restaurants, revenge killings in Mexican prisons and an exploding drug war, the tourism boosters in Sonora are spending a million bucks to let us all know it's still perfectly safe to visit the beach.

And, from what we read in the papers, they're also eagerly pushing ahead with attempts to transform Rocky Point into something resembling Cancun or Cabo San Lucas.

Two words: No gracias.

No word on what tourists are going to drink--besides cerveza, of course!--when they run out of fresh water in one of the driest landscapes in North America. Or where all their sewage is going to end up. (Hint: You're swimming in nutrient-rich water of the Sea of Cortez!)

Frankly, we're more worried about the long-term screwing of the Gulf of California than the short-term danger of the narcotrafficantes.


KEEPING SECRETS SECRET

Like it or not, Pima County is the model among most governments for openness. Warts and all, county records are known by most Pima County bureaucrats to be public records. Pima County business is the public's business.

It wasn't always this way--and we can thank Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry for his willingness to bury us under piles of public records, particularly if we want to know something about the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

Under Huckelberry, all that the public and press must do in most cases is simply ask for the documents they are seeking. Formal requests under the Arizona Public Records Law are rarely necessary.

That Huckelberry has set the tone for the county is remarkable, because of the diffuse nature of county government, with its many departments headed by independently elected officials. The worst provider of information has been the County Attorney's Office--and not just under Barbara LaWall, the Democrat who ascended to the top job after the 1996 election. Reporters had to sue to get LaWall's predecessor to cough up information on improper bonuses paid to prosecutors and civil attorneys, and to get autopsy reports.

Now, LaWall has dispatched Amelia Craig Cramer, chief of LaWall's civil division, to the state Senate to speak against a bill that would establish a statewide Public Access Counselor. Back when she was helping us out on a minor legal matter, we grew pretty fond of Cramer.

In her Senate testimony, she argued that local lawyers and experts know best about what records should be released to the public. That, as the Arizona Daily Star noted, is the problem.

And it is, we add, compounded because the lawyers who represent Huckelberry, the Board of Supervisors and all county departments--whether headed by elected or appointed officials--are all part of LaWall's army. That's a big problem. Want some public information from the assessor or the treasurer (two departments that have not been a problem), and you may be held up by one of LaWall's functionaries.

LaWall has foolishly refused to provide details about four of her prosecutors caught up in the periphery of the Stidham murder case. She bought time (on the taxpayer dime) when she got a judge to declare she can keep a good chunk of the information locked up, but we'll learn all about it in civil-service appeals and in pre-trial proceedings in the murder case.


VETERANS AFFAIRS

Turns out George W. might be a uniter after all!

The Skinny got mail last week from both Raúl Grijalva, the Democratic District 7 congressman, and Mike Jenkins, the Republican mechanic who has failed in his bids for the Arizona Legislature and Tucson City Council. Both missives pounded the Bush administration for screwing up health benefits for veterans in the recently released budget proposal. Bush is requesting an increase of only 0.5 percent in Veterans Affairs spending, despite the growing number of injured and traumatized soldiers returning home from his war. He's also advocating higher co-pays and new user fees.

"The Administration wants to pull the rug out from under our oldest veterans right at the peak of their need for long-term care services," Grijalva complains.

Jenkins is more succinct: "Ask yourself if this is the way to treat those that stepped up when they were needed?"

We've got a question of our own: Is this what we call faith-based health care?


T'D OFF

It wasn't surprising to see, just one day after a billowing profile in the Arizona Daily Star, hot-head Amphi basketball coach Pat Derkson lose a state playoff game at home despite a team full of smart and selfless stars.

Derkson, with less than three minutes remaining and the game with Scottsdale Coronado tied at 33, mouthed off about a foul and was promptly hit with a technical. Coronado went up 36-33 and expanded the lead by another three on its ensuing possession on the way to a 47-40 win.

It was a horrid way for the Amphi players to finish their season. At 25-4, this team was a delight to watch and Derkson, to be fair, had his players in the right sets. Anes Solieman was an agile and crafty force inside. Marawan Shehata and Sohaib Fellah were flat spellbinding, draining threes and applying pressure defense along with Drew Evans.

Some officiating, particularly from self-important, control-freak nitwits, has marred this season. But Derkson should have known to tread lightly, particularly after 19 years on the job. We were appalled last year when he yanked Fellah, a bright kid who plays with remarkable control, out of a game and screamed at him (in a quiet gym for all to hear): "This is my team! I am in charge!"

He should have known, for his players' sake, to shut up last week.

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