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TEEN BEAT

Less than two days after candidates formally filed for office last week, we had our first salacious scandal when the ABC News Web site broke the story that congressional candidate Randy Graf's campaign spokesman, Steve Aiken, had been convicted in 1996 of "corrupting the morals" of two teenage girls.

Graf fired Aiken the same day the story broke.

Aiken, who continues to insist he was wrongly accused, made headlines in Pennsylvania after two girls said his youth counseling took an unorthodox turn.

Now the host of a weekend radio show on KVOI AM 690, Aiken was an independent Christian minister who was running an outfit called YouthQuest, which was supposed to be helping wayward teens, when the charges emerged.

One of the girls, a teen mother, told a Montgomery County jury that when she was 17 and living with Aiken and his wife and kids, Aiken would touch and kiss her breasts during counseling sessions.

"She said sometimes she would tell Aiken that what he was doing was wrong, and he would stop, hold her hand and begin praying," noted one newspaper account of trial testimony.

The other girl, who was also a 17-year-old client, said that Aiken had sex with her at a thrift shop operated by his wife.

Aiken, who served about two months behind bars, shut down the youth-counseling program after his conviction.

In a quote that's sure to come back to haunt him throughout the campaign, Graf told ABC News that "what (Aiken) did was no more serious than providing a teenager with beer."

Graf is already attempting damage control. In a statement announcing Aiken's dismissal, Graf said he "had been told by Mr. Aiken, a former law officer, that what he had been found guilty of ... was the equivalent of buying beer for a minor, and that was what I told the reporter. I have never equated buying alcohol for a minor with sexual misconduct."

Graf also said he didn't know all the details of Aiken's past.

"Mr. Aiken represented to me that he had been falsely accused, that the charges were revenge based, and that it all ended with an inconsequential misdemeanor," Graf said. "Today's details and revelations of the conviction were alarming and warranted his immediate dismissal."

But Graf's move to distance himself from Aiken wasn't helped by the fact that someone claiming to be a member of Graf's inner circle, Jade Stokes, posted this response to a story on the Tucson Citizen Web site: "I, as Randy's chair on his Senior Advisory Board, investigated the whole story. And found no merit on its face. Steve (Aiken) talked about it on his radio show, and in his book, everyone who knows Steve (Aiken) and Randy knows the details."

That assertion had state Rep. Steve Huffman, one of Graf's four opponents in the GOP primary, insisting that Graf needs to release any information that his campaign's "investigation" unearthed. Given how he's jumped on this, we have a feeling that Huffman--who has had no compunction about using hit pieces in his legislative campaigns--has no plans to let voters forget about this incident.


THE END IS NIGH

Lawmakers finally agreed to a budget deal with Gov. Janet Napolitano, meaning the super-sized session may finally come to an end once a few loose ends are wrapped up. (We're looking your way, Rio Nuevo.)

The final spending plan: $10 billion.

Napolitano had one big win in the package: About $160 million in new spending on education, which she'd like to see go for teacher raises and the expansion of all-day kindergarten, although the final package lets individual school boards decide how to divvy up the money.

The Napster also got money for a bunch of other favorite items, ranging from the universities to the dental mobile.

But she also had to give on a bunch of stuff, including $500 million in tax cuts. The biggest chuck is a 10 percent, across-the-board cut in income taxes. Sounds great, until you realize that the big cuts are going to Arizona's millionaires, while the average earners are going to get peanuts.

Napolitano also agreed to a temporary cut in the state property tax, which will spring back in a few years unless lawmakers manage to make it permanent in the future. We would have traded a permanent property-tax cut for a temporary income-tax cut, but we're not the governor.

The biggest shocker was Napolitano's agreement to allow a small voucher program targeted toward foster kids. Vouchers have been an article of faith for conservative Republicans for years, but they've never been able to get the program into law.

And it remains to be seen whether they'll be able to do it this year. GOP leaders were still shopping for votes to approve the voucher program as of press time.

But if they can pass the voucher plan, Napolitano--following some hemming and hawing about how it wasn't really a voucher program--said she'd sign it. GOP leaders, still mindful of how Napolitano screwed them by vetoing their tuition tax-credit program last year after she got what she wanted in the budget, remain distrustful enough to not transmit the budget bills this year until the voucher program is a done deal.

The voucher program is sure to bring a court challenge from teacher unions, who say the Arizona Constitution bans the use of public funds for religious schools.

It's an important court fight for this reason: If the Arizona Supreme Court says vouchers are OK, then some Republican opponents of the program lose one of their favorite arguments against it--which makes it that much harder to prevent expansion of the program in the future.


DEANIAC ALERT

Yeeeaaaaarrrrgghhh! Howard Dean is headed for Tucson! The chair of the National Democratic Committee is scheduled to be here next Thursday, June 29.

Dean, who looked real good in the 2004 presidential sweepstakes right up until people started voting, will "discuss the Democratic Party's bold new vision," according to the press release that landed in The Skinny's mailbox. We understand it has something to do with a "nude erection" for America. Or was that a "new direction"? Our hearing ain't what it used to be.

The fun starts with a reception at 5:15 p.m. at downtown's Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Dean's speech follows at 6.

Tickets are $20 and available by calling 326-3716. And one lucky guest will receive a baseball bat autographed by Dean himself!


MISTAKES WERE MADE

The Skinny screwed up last week in our screed regarding the inheritance tax. We pointed out that estates worth less than $2 million were exempt from the tax and that the heirs to a $2.1 million estate would have to settle for splitting somewhere around a million bucks. But it turns out that the first $2 million of any estate is tax-free, so the real tax hit on that would be quite a bit less.

As Robert Fleming of Fleming & Curti, PLC, kindly explained it to us: "If you died with $2.1 million in the bank, your kids would actually have to settle for splitting $2,054,000 (assuming, of course, no debts, administration costs or reductions in value from the fairly simple estate planning techniques that would have been available to you if you knew your death was likely or even possible)."

By all means, let's get rid of this unfair tax as soon as possible!

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