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BUT AT LEAST WE KNOW THAT FEMA MONEY IS BEING WELL-SPENT

Once again, President George W. Bush is playing deadbeat-dad-in-chief. To balance the books, the Bush administration has zeroed out the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which provides federal dollars to the state to cover the cost of illegal immigrants who are incarcerated in Arizona prisons.

Bush, a one-time border governor himself, has repeatedly attempted to eliminate SCAAP funding. Way to drop the ball on the issue that's splitting your party right in half, George! Especially when you're talking tough on enforcing immigration law.

Congress, which appears marginally more in touch with the enormous burden that illegal immigration has dumped on border states, has managed in past years to restore at least some funding, although it doesn't come close to covering the real cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants. But who's counting?

Well, now that you mention it, Gov. Janet Napolitano is. She's been crunching the numbers and sending bills to the U.S. Justice Department. The last invoice was for $217 million, but we're guessing the White House will figure it's way more important to extend tax cuts to the ultra-wealthy than to actually pay that bill.

The SCAAP cut isn't the only cost that the administration wants to shove off on the states, by the way. Stateline.org reports that the Bush budget also cuts funding for public housing, Community Development Block Grants, feeding the elderly, preventive health care, community policing and WIC. And remember that fancy new tamper-proof driver's license that the federal government wants the states to start handing out? There's no money to help with the costs of that, either.


CABLE BILL

The Arizona Legislature is once again considering bills that would limit what cities can demand from cable companies--much to the dismay of the Tucson City Council.

The cable industry, tired of paying taxes and providing public-access channels, took a run at this last year, but couldn't get it into law. It's no surprise to see they're trying again this year.

Tucson has a particularly sweet deal, at least when it comes to those PEG channels--public, education and government, which are all those channels you never watch. We've got Access Tucson, the public-access nonprofit that lets any Tucsonan host a TV show; Channel 12, which serves as an outstanding propaganda arm for the city of Tucson; and even channels for the UA, Pima College and the Tucson Unified School District.

The big collection of PEG channels was the result of some savvy negotiations when the original cable franchise deal was negotiated back in the early '80s. Now the cable companies want to reclaim those channels for their own programming options.

Senate Bill 1421, which would be a big win for the cable companies, would prevent cities from demanding more than two PEG channels and limiting cable taxes to no more than 4 percent of revenues. The second, less onerous proposal is House Bill 2812, which would limit cities to asking for four PEG channels, although they could get more in exchange for lower cable franchise fees.

The City Council voted to oppose the Senate bill and to keep a sharp eye on the House bill.


EXIT STAGE LEFT

Pima County Democratic Party boss Paul Eckerstrom is calling it quits. Eckerstrom, who says he wants to spend more time with the kids, announced last week that he was resigning effective Feb. 28, 10 months ahead of the end of his two-year term.

Eckerstrom deserves credit for rejuvenating a local Democratic Party that had become increasingly incompetent in the 1990s. Despite an overwhelming voter-registration advantage, Democrats were steadily losing ground to Republicans on the Tucson City Council. Democrats got whipped on everything from early voting to get-out-the-vote efforts.

Under Eckerstrom, the party got a lot more savvy about working the early votes and, in last November's election, poured tens of thousands of dollars into an independent campaign that hammered Republicans Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar. And we were impressed at how Eckerstrom could keep a straight face while spending that money on an indie campaign on one hand and bitching about how the Republican candidates weren't playing by the rules of the city's publicly financed campaign program on the other.

The end result of Eckerstrom's efforts was a resounding victory for Democrats Nina Trasoff and Karin Uhlich on Election Day.

Eckerstrom's issues weren't always good for the city--his demagoguery on the city's trash fee, for example, sounded as if he was taking his talking points from the conservative kids at the Goldwater Institute--but they turned out to be effective politics, which meant he was doing his job. And besides, it looks like the council is doing its best to forget all about getting rid of the trash fee, so all's well that ends well, right?

Eckerstrom showed he also knew how to open checkbooks, with the party's annual budget climbing from $50,000 a year to more than $300,000.

And his appearances on Arizona Illustrated with former GOP county chair John Munger made for some great TV. Here's hoping he'll keep that gig.

The Democrats won't have an easy time replacing Eckerstrom, an attorney with the AG's office who has been rumored to be considering a run for county attorney against Barbara LaWall in 2008. (Of course, Barbara has gotten such good press over the last year that we can't imagine her being vulnerable ...) Taking over temporarily on March 1 is Donna Branch-Gilby, who is currently the party's first-vice chair.

Hey, you don't think Eckerstrom is going to run for the Jim Kolbe's Congressional District 8 seat, do you?


LORD HAVE MERCY!

Len Munsil, the former leader of the Christian lobbying organization Center for Arizona Policy, made it official this week: He's running for ayatollah of Arizona. Oops, we mean governor.

Munsil, an attorney who is a key player in the effort to ban gay marriage and civil unions in Arizona, formally announced his campaign on Valentine's Day. We imagine it was to distract himself from the possibility that across the state, people were having all sorts of non-procreational sex--and some of them weren't even married! Oh, the humanity.

Through his connections with religious conservatives, Munsil has a built-in fundraising base. On his Web site--lenmunsil.com--the candidate has announced he's already collected more than 1,000 of the 4,200 $5 contributions he needs to qualify for Clean Elections dollars. He notes that it's only about 20 percent of what he needs to collect, which suggests that math isn't his strong point.

The GOP field also includes former state Sen. John Greene, former state bureaucrat Don Goldwater, state Rep. Ted Carpenter, former court of appeals judge Jan Smith Flores, investment banker Mike Harris and contractor Gary Tupper. The average voter's response to the list: Who are these guys?


ON THE MOVE

Longtime local politico Byron Howard is on the move. Howard has left his gig as chief of staff to Ward 4 City Councilwoman Shirley Scott to take a job as an assistant to new Assistant City Manager Karen Masbruch.

Masbruch, formerly of the city's Environmental Services Department, is now handling special projects for City Manager Mike Hein. Howard tells us he'll be doing whatever he's told to do in his new job.

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