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SCRAMBLEWATCH '06

The dominoes are falling in the race to replace Congressman Jim Kolbe, who announced his retirement just before Thanksgiving. Democrat Gabrielle Giffords showed she was serious by resigning her District 28 Senate seat last week.

Giffords said it was a hard decision, but she came to the conclusion that a full-scale campaign for a congressional seat would simply distract her too much from doing a good job for her constituents.

And let's face it: As a member of the minority party at the Capitol, you don't get anything accomplished; you don't get much ink; and you don't get any TV time, so it's not much of a bully pulpit. Plus, you waste a staggering amount of time sitting in committee meetings when you could be organizing, raising money and hustling votes.

Giffords already has a party scheduled for next Wednesday, Dec. 14, down at the hipster Democrat hangout, Hotel Congress, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. But we wonder: Is she too moderate to win the progressive vote block controlled by Al Perry?

The only other Democrats now in the race are Jeff Latas, Francine Shacter and Dwight Leister. Who are they, you ask? Well, that's what we in the biz call a name-recognition problem.

Said to be considering it: Eva Bacal (who lost to Kolbe last year), Tim Sultan (who lost to Bacal last year) and Tom Volgy (who lost to Kolbe in '98 and, more recently, to Mayor Bob Walkup in 2003). And the juiciest new rumor of them all: Patty Weiss, the former Queen Mum of local TV news, is thinking about it. Is this just driven by envy of Nina Trasoff?

So who gets Giffords' Senate seat? Well, you can bet both District 28 House members--Dave Bradley and Ted Downing (who has given up his congressional aspirations and now wants to serve in the state Senate)--have been reaching out to the precinct committeemen (and women) who will forward three names to the Pima County Board of Supervisors. At this early stage, both are evidently mulling the possibility of running for the Senate seat next year, depending on how the appointment process goes.

That would leave a couple of open House seats. As reported last week, potential contenders include Ted Prezelski, brother of state Rep. Tom Prezelski, and onetime City Council candidate Paula Aboud, who tells us she's not sure if she wants the job. Also warming up the political machine: Steve Farley, the Democrat who lost to Nina Trasoff in the Democratic primary a couple months back.

In the meantime, Farley is pushing the Regional Transportation Plan and blogging away at www.friendsofarley.com, which has morphed into something called the People's Policy Project. Nice graphics, Steve!

What's going on with the GOP side? We're told that Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll is getting cold feet about running for Congress. Sugar Ray enjoys his current gig and is worried about being around to bring up his kids, so he may sit this one out.

The GOP establishment remains stressed out over the idea of a Randy Graf candidacy, because they're afraid that will hand the office to Democrats. And there's a distinct lack of excitement for state Rep. Steve Huffman, a low-profile wonk who has made his share of enemies during his stint in the House. So they're shopping around for a superstar dark horse such as Surgeon General Richard Carmona.

Which brings us to the Scramblewatch '06 rumor of the week: There's a movement afoot to recruit Christine Olson, wife of UA basketball coach Lute Olson, to run for the job. Olson has solid GOP credentials as a Pennsylvania national committeewoman. But what kind of candidate would she make? Hey, with Lute by her side, how could she lose?


HOLY ROLLING

Gabby Giffords wasn't the only one making big decisions last week: Len Munsil stepped down as head of the Center for Arizona Policy to run for governor.

Is Munsil, who is also behind the initiative that would ban gay marriage and domestic partnerships in Arizona, a contender? He enters the race with an instant base that will help him get the 4,000 $5 contributions he needs to open up the Clean Elections pipeline. And what's his competition? Don Goldwater, who has name ID but little political experience; Jan Smith Flores, who has political experience but little name ID; and John Greene, the former Senate president who has little name ID and is loathed by a segment of social conservatives for his pro-choice stance.

Republicans generally split into two camps when it comes to challenging Napolitano. Camp A--usually GOP moderates--considers running against her to be a suicide mission. Camp B--which tends to lean right--insists she's beatable. (A special camp is made up of all those GOP heavy hitters--you know who you are, Rick Romley/J.D. Hayworth/Ken Bennett--who insist the governor is beatable, but they have other fish to fry.)

Why are Republicans spending so much time talking about beating the governor instead of targeting Attorney General Terry Goddard? The only Republican thinking about taking him on is Bill Montgomery, who has been practicing law about as long as Goddard has been AG. Call us crazy, but that doesn't sound like much in the way of experience to us.

Here's another question: With a weak and/or radical gubernatorial candidate at the top of the ticket and the possibility of Randy Graf representing the GOP in Congressional District 8, should Sen. Jon Kyl be worried about his re-election chances against big-spending Democrat Jim Pederson?


GROUNDS FOR EXPULSION

Political wonks may recall that during the legislative session, a proposal to allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees failed to get out of the Legislature, but supporters of the plan vowed to try again next year.

Now Karen Glennon, who has served as director of operations for the Arizona Senate and as a deputy chief of staff for the governor's office, has issued a damning study showing that such an expansion could sidetrack the schools' traditional mission of providing remedial and vocational education while resulting in no savings for taxpayers.

Sure, the study was paid for by the University of Phoenix, which doesn't want competition from the community colleges. But Glennon's point is that little evidence exists that this is a good idea, so maybe lawmakers shouldn't rush into it.

Glennon's report comes on the heels of Arizona Republic exposé of an embarrassing scandal for the community-college crowd. One of the most aggressive House staff members pushing for the four-year program last year, Kim Sheane, turned out to be on the payroll of the Arizona Community College Association. Say, doesn't that sound like a conflict of interest?

Sheane was actually working as executive director of the community-college group before she landed her House job--and she continued to get $34,000 in paychecks from the organization while drawing a $115,000 annual salary at the Legislature. In a remarkable moment of sheer greed, she wrote herself a check for another $15,000 for editing a "white paper" setting out the organization's future goals.

When House Speaker Jim Weiers discovered what Sheane had been up to, he demoted her, so she won't be working on higher-ed issues anymore. He told the Republic that her double-dipping "was not illegal, but it was pretty stupid."

We agree--and wonder why Weiers didn't fire her outright. Can you imagine Gov. Janet Napolitano keeping someone around who had embarrassed her administration that way? We can't.

More by Jim Nintzel

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