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MILLION-DOLLAR BABY

In the waning days of Campaign 2005, Ward 3 Republican Kathleen Dunbar broke new ground in a City Council race: She socked Democratic opponent Karin Uhlich, Amphitheater School District Associate Superintendent Todd Jaeger, the Pima County Democratic Party and three retired schoolteachers with a defamation lawsuit seeking $1 million last week, claiming "mental and physical anguish" over accusations by the Uhlich campaign that she had cost Amphi $250,000 in lost impact fees.

If the late Johnnie Cochran was handling the case, he'd boil it down to: If it's not a fact, you must retract.

The tort action got underway after Uhlich fired off a hit piece that accused Dunbar of killing a deal between a local developer and the Amphi School District. The district was hitting up developer Chris Kemmerly for a quarter-million-dollar donation as his company was seeking to rezone a parcel near Stone Avenue and River Road.

Uhlich's mailer--which took the form of a letter from three retired teachers who said Dunbar didn't care about kids or schools--relied on the records of the Amphi School District and comments from the district's associate superintendent, Todd Jaeger, who told his boss in a memo that Dunbar called him up "furious" about the "ransom" the district was demanding as Kemmerly's project was coming up for a rezoning. Jaeger says that at various points in a "bizarre, almost childish conversation," Dunbar sarcastically noted that she "must be just stupid and live under a mushroom" and that the district had made her "look like a big fat idiot" over an ongoing squabble over a bus barn.

Dunbar tells us she has no recollection of making the call and suggests that Jaeger confabulated the whole thing. (For more of the episode's peculiar details, see last week's feature, "The End Is Nigh.")

We're not lawyers (yet), but the ones we talk to suggest that it's notoriously unlikely that a public figure such as Dunbar could possibly win this suit. We're guessing the whole thing will quietly go away now that the election is over. Attorney Bill Risner, who is defending the Democratic Party, is already laughing it off as frivolous.

Dunbar says she filed as a matter of principle--"How can my constituents expect me to stand up for them if I don't even stand up for myself?" she asked repeatedly last week--but from a political perspective, a lot of voters were sure to see it as an attempt to bully and intimidate her critics.


OFFICE POLITICS

GOP county boss Judi White got so fed up with her Democratic counterpart, Paul "Bring It On" Eckerstrom, that she complained last week to Eckerstrom's boss, Attorney General Terry Goddard. White's gripe: Eckerstrom, a prosecutor with Goddard's office, was doing too much politicking when he should have been putting bad guys behind bars for the state.

To no great surprise, Goddard--a Democrat, for those not paying attention--dismissed the complaint, assuring local Republicans that Eckerstrom was putting in his required hours.

James Walsh, a chief deputy to Goddard, wrote last week that "Eckerstrom has brought more indictments than any other assistant attorney general in the Tucson office of the Arizona Attorney General during the past fiscal year. We mention this only to indicate that he has certainly not slacked on his duties to the state or in the performance of his work during and even after normal business hours."

White's complaint, coming alongside Dunbar's defamation lawsuits, is making the GOP look like a bunch of wussies who are getting whipped on the field of battle and running to the courts for relief.

It's persuasive evidence that Eckerstrom is doing his job as a party boss, even if he's doing the city no favors with some of his tactics--particularly his demagoguery on the trash fee. He deserves congratulations for motivating Democrats in a city election like no one we've seen in action before.


SCAAP SCRAP

Congressman Jim Kolbe sent out a bulletin last week boasting that he had secured $405 million for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, or SCAAP, which reimburses states for the cost of incarcerating illegal aliens. That's up from the $355 million that was proposed in an earlier spending bill.

"At a time when state and local governments are asked to focus on protecting our homeland, it is necessary that the federal government compensate them for the costs of illegal immigration," Kolbe said in his statement. "Congress must not only provide reimbursements for our jails, but also pass comprehensive border security and immigration reform quickly."

It appears to us that Congress is in no rush to do either. In fact, SCAAP used to get a lot more money. Back in 2001, states were eligible for nearly $537 million; in 2002, they split at least $550 million, according to what we were able to dig up on the Department of Justice Web site. But the following year, funding dropped to roughly $250 million.

You'd expect that President George W. Bush, once a governor of a border state, would fight to keep those funds available for states that suffer the negative impact of illegal immigration. But you'd be wrong. Bush has consistently zeroed out the program, saying the money could be spent better elsewhere. Like, for example, a tax cut for Paris Hilton. It's so unfair to expect her to give up a dime of her hard-earned inheritance. Why, she might have to sell the family farm!

Even with the extra bucks Kolbe has squeezed out of the Justice Department, the federal government won't come close to covering Arizona's cost of detaining illegal aliens.

Earlier this year, Gov. Janet Napolitano started sending invoices to the Justice Department, saying they'd failed to pay for the incarceration of roughly 4,100 illegal immigrants in Arizona jails, who cost taxpayers about $54 a day. Napolitano estimated the feds owed the state more than $217 million.

The Justice Department has yet to cut a check.


TABOR TURNABOUT

Remember all that bleating we heard from state Rep. Russell Pearce and the drones about how Arizona needed a Taxpayer Bill of Rights just like Colorado has? And how TABOR, which limits increases in government spending to the rate of inflation (with an adjustment for population growth), was working out so great in Colorado? And how we really needed it here to stop government from running amok?

(If you want details on the plan, just stop by the Goldwater Institute's Web site. The Goldwater folks, by the way, recently held up Pearce--the same guy whose brilliant proposals included a new tax to build a next-to-useless fence along the Arizona-Mexico border--as the ideal to which all lawmakers should strive. Do you ever wonder if those Goldwater kids are very clever progressives putting on a performance-art parody of conservatism? Good show, guys!)

Back to TABOR: We won't bore you with the details, but the constitutional amendment completely tied the hands of Colorado lawmakers, who were reduced to potted plants as the state veered toward a budget wreck. One big reason: Colorado voters also approved a proposition that automatically increased K-12 education spending--which is similar to what Arizona voters did back in the year 2000. As school spending increased, the pot of money available for everything else--from nursing homes to universities--started to evaporate.

Last week, 52 percent of Colorado voters showed just how much they love TABOR by suspending it for five years. From what we read in the papers, that will give the state an estimated $3.7 billion to waste on highways and health care that would have otherwise gone to tax cuts.

We're sure that little incident won't discourage the TABOR gang one bit during the upcoming legislative session as they push for a referendum to inflict this disaster on us.

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