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¿NO COMPRENDO?

It's been about three weeks since Gov. Janet Napolitano revealed her plan to satisfy a federal judge's order that the state spend more money to educate students who don't speak English.

Napolitano's solution to the Flores suit would cost $13.5 million in the upcoming school year and climb to a startling $185 million annually over the next three or four years.

Republicans, still incensed over Napolitano's veto of their tuition tax-credit plan alongside with their own plan for Flores at the end of the session, are in no rush to return to the Capitol for a special session. Their spin: The governor wants to spend more on the children of illegal immigrants than she does the children of taxpayers. Fair or not, it sounds good on the stump these days.

We wonder: Did Napolitano blunder by vetoing the GOP plan? She could have signed it into law, which would have put the burden of judging the plan on the courts. If the court declared that it wasn't good enough, then she could have blamed lawmakers for failing to come up with a solution.

Now she's got to figure out a way to get them to do her bidding while they're still seething at her and in no mood to deal. The big questions: How long with attorney Tim Hogan, whose meddlesome lawsuit led to the current impasse, wait before he asks the feds to shut off Arizona's highway funding? And will the judge grant his request?


GAGGING

Nothing in local government is as idiotic as the gag order and "home rule" South Tucson City Manager Fernando Castro implemented--except perhaps the mainstream media belief that this was a unilateral action by Castro. It was no more Castro's idea than the decision to delay the review and action to reappoint or fire popular (especially outside South Tucson) Police Chief Sixto Molina. Castro got his marching orders from council members.

The gag order restricts department heads from talking to the media unless they have Castro's permission, and the other rule keeps city employees from leaving the city, slightly more than a square mile in size, during working hours. Each was aimed only at Molina, who has been on a candid crusade about his work along with an ill-advised they-are-out-to-get-me whining campaign.

Molina, retired from the Tucson Police Department, has truly done a fine job in South Tucson. But he has not cleaned up South Tucson on his own. For much of his tenure, it was a marvelous collaboration among the town's dominant political force, the Eckstrom family, other politicians, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Marines and the town's once amazing Weed and Seed program. All combined to eradicate drug dealing and drug houses, prostitution, theft and murder. We recall when the whole group, Eckstroms and Molinas, celebrated the bulldozing of drug houses. Plenty of credit deservedly has gone to Molina.

The successes have been bulldozed now, too, by credit-hogging orchestrated by Molina's politically naïve advisers. Their first mistake: trying to appeal to Dan Eckstrom, capo di tutti capi in pensione of southside Democratic politics. Eckstrom put in 30 years as South Tucson mayor and as a Pima County supervisor. Eckstrom's daughter, Jennifer, is the mayor. And when Molina began to hear what he has repeatedly called "rumors" about his job being in jeopardy, he should have talked to her directly. Former Magistrate Tom Rallis tried to go over her head when she was a member of the South Tucson City Council by going to Dan. He soon found himself dissed, as in dismissed.

True, there has been a falling out. Some of it so petty that it is laughable in the grand scheme--like the dispute over political signs on utility poles in an election a couple years back and Molina's response to the violation.

Castro's order is preposterous. Only slightly less preposterous is the indignation from the Tucson media that barely cover South Tucson. Castro is returning South Tucson to the bunker mentality it had when it was under a dissolution and bankruptcy threat in the 1980s and when flamboyant Manager Richard Kaffenberger was at the helm. This game is not new. We recall when South Tucson deputy manager Bill Ponder, looking straight at a reporter who had made an appointment with him, said: "Mr. Ponder is not in."

The media, now indignant over Castro's supposed dicta, normally ignores South Tucson. His rule is ridiculous. But aside from Molina, few if any South Tucson employees ever talk to reporters about what's happening at City Hall.

Finally, the outrage, particularly from the Tucson Citizen editorial brain trust, is amusing and disingenuous. This group has no problem with the same tactic being used to keep reporters from information at the Tucson Unified School District. Principals, teachers, administrators, bureaucrats and all other employees of the sprawling district also are forbidden from exercising their First Amendment rights to speak to reporters unless and until the central office has cleared such an exchange.


JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

The state Commission on Judicial Conduct has reprimanded Pima County Justice of the Peace Jose Luis Castillo for, well, petulance, by "refusing to abate his conflict with another judge despite being advised to do so by his presiding judge." The commission also reprimanded him for filing a judicial complaint against a colleague that contained some baseless allegations and for avoiding an unwanted assignment by failing to report for work. His conduct, the commission noted in a public release on June 30, "brought the judiciary into disrepute."

Castillo, a Democrat from southside Precinct 2, has been in office since his Raul Grijalva-inspired and Grijalva-managed campaign to oust fellow Democrat Felipe Lundin in 1994. To ensure that victory, Grijalva went so far as to recruit Israel Ramirez, a carpet-bagging law student who lived far outside Precinct 2, to siphon more votes from Lundin.

Arizona Daily Star coverage by Howie Fischer, of Capitol Media Services, of Castillo's discipline also was half-baked. Fischer went to lengths to portray this as a big deal, highlighting how rarely the commission makes its reprimands public. Gee, it did so just three months ago with a reprimand of Justice of the Peace Paul Simon, in the news again for denying Portland Trail Blazers guard Damon Stoudamire a jury trial on pot-possession charges. Simon got popped for using court letterhead to demand an insurance settlement for his mother in 2002 and for using court letterhead to cancel a family catering order.

That brings the total reprimands to 25 percent of the county's lower bench.


SIGNATURE EFFORT

Will Tucson voters be voting on a repeal of the new $14-a-month garbage-collection fee? The Skinny ran into former state lawmaker John Kromko as he was filing his campaign finance reports--10 minutes ahead of last week's deadline--down at City Hall last week.

Kromko told us he had about 7,000 of the approximately 11,000 valid signatures necessary to force a vote on the November ballot. Figuring the cushion necessary for such a last-minute effort, that left Kromko with about a week to gather, oh, 6,000-plus signatures by July 7--or, if you're reading this on Thursday, today.

That's a tall order, but Kromko now tells us petitions came pouring in over the weekend and volunteers were collecting a whole bunch downtown at the Independence Day celebration. We're still skeptical he'll have enough by the deadline, but that doesn't mean the effort is finished, because the city charter allows Kromko to continue gathering signatures while officials count the petitions he's already brought in.

Kromko reported raising $3,603 for Enough, the political committee behind the initiative effort, including $1,100 from his own pocket, through May 31.

More by Jim Nintzel

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