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CLEAN SWEEP

The Skinny has been a-rantin' and a-ravin' for some time about the unintended consequences of Clean Elections--namely, that handing out public dollars for political campaigns is enabling social conservatives to take out moderates in GOP primaries, with the end result being that the Legislature is lurching further to the right.

Two years ago, it was a handful of mods up in Maricopa County that got taken out in the primary. Now the revolution has reached Tucson, with Republican Al Melvin taking out incumbent Sen. Toni Hellon, and David Jorgenson beating moderates in the Republican primary for the open House seat up in Legislative District 26.

Melvin soundly defeated Hellon, a longtime party activist, by 13 percentage points. Part of the reason: Hellon ran a lousy campaign and appeared scatterbrained when she was defending her record at debates.

But the fact remains that Melvin wouldn't even have been in the race if it hadn't been for Clean Elections. Let's leave aside the curious contradiction that conservatives who believe in fewer welfare handouts and smaller government are eagerly lining up at the trough if it means money for them. Instead, let's concentrate on the long-term impact of Clean Elections.

In the past, social conservatives lost to moderates, because they didn't have the money to get a message out, while moderates were able to get checks from the business community. But now social conservatives have access to money.

Some defenders of Clean Elections argue that voters are responding to the conservatives' message. We'd like to point out two things: First, the campaign pieces that conservatives are sending out--like all campaign ads--simplify and distort issues. Second, it's not like the primaries are being decided by an overwhelming percentage of party voters, so if the message is resonating, it's not resonating with a majority of registered voters by any stretch.

Others argue that progressive Democrats just need to get better organized so they can use Clean Elections as well. OK--but how does having more leftist Democrats help in districts that lean Republican? Seems to us that's just going to further polarize the Legislature.

And others--like former Pima County Democratic Party chair Paul Eckerstrom--say we need to reform the redistricting process so districts are more competitive. Uh, we tried that, Paul, with an initiative that created an independent committee to draw the lines. We ended up with fewer competitive districts. And the courts rejected Democratic arguments that the districts should be redrawn to create a more competitive playing field.

Still, most lefties remain in denial that Clean Elections is turning into a disaster for the left. Take blogger Michael Bryan, who normally writes insightful posts at Blog for Arizona, arizona.typepad.com. On Election Day, Bryan urged people to "vote clean."

In his post-primary post, he bemoaned the wins by Melvin and Jorgenson, who were the only Clean Elections candidates in those races.

"Moderate Republicans took a serious beating across the board in state legislative races, carrying the majority even further right, and lowering the average IQ of both chambers by many points," Bryan wrote. "Some of the worst news of the evening: In LD 26 Toni Hellon went down to her quite likely insane primary opponent Melvin. In LD 26 Rush Limbaugh clone Jorgenson beat out far more reasonable (Lisa) Lovallo and (Carol) Somers for a House nomination."

Maybe two years from now, Bryan will adopt better criteria when he's handing out advice to voters.


GIVE ME LIBERTARIAN

Gabby Giffords and Randy Graf aren't the only candidates in CD8. There's also Libertarian David Nolan, who, as a disaffected Republican in the early '70s, helped launch the Libertarian Party.

Nolan offered a blueprint for victory last week. Though he imagines most Democrats will rally behind Giffords, he figures that only accounts for about one-third of the electorate. He believes he can capture a big chunk of the Republicans and a significant number of Independents/Libertarians/Greens/whatevs in CD8 with a two-pronged campaign that focuses on ending the Iraq war and cutting federal spending.

"My two main campaign issues are ending the war as fast as we can do so without endangering the lives and safety of America troops, and cutting back federal spending to 20 percent below its level at the end of the Clinton administration," Nolan announced last week. "These are popular positions with broad support."

In a phone interview, Nolan conceded that actually winning the race was a long shot. But he's articulate enough to deliver his party's message and may turn out to be an attractive alternative for Republicans who don't like Graf but can't bring themselves to vote for a Democrat.


DRINKING GAME

The Arizona Democratic Party is ready to pump plenty of money into CD8 to promote Gabby Giffords. But last week, they took a cheaper route of drawing attention to Republican Randy Graf by e-mailing the national press with a link to "A Round of Shots," Randy's classic appearance on The Daily Show. In the segment, Graf defends his bill to amend state law to allow guns in bars and explains the similarities between a golf manual and the U.S. Constitution.

Check it out yourself at Comedy Central.


CALL OF VENGEANCE

One of the more peculiar moments of the primary season came in the final weekend, when the Arizona Republican Party delivered a phone blast targeting state Rep. Ted Downing, who lost in his bid to knock off state Sen. Paula Aboud in midtown District 28.

The GOP call complained that Downing had co-sponsored a bill that the Arizona Democratic Party had denounced as an "outrageous $9 billion tax increase. You heard that right: The Arizona Democratic Party says Ted Downing co-sponsored a $9 billion tax increase on hard-working Arizonans. The Democratic Party has officially asked voters in Pima County to oppose those who supported this bill, like short-sighted politicians like Ted Downing."

The robo-call went on and on in a similar vein, probably because the GOP was hoping that anyone who was listening to it would hang up before the big reveal that the Arizona Republican Party had paid for it.

So why did the GOP stick its nose into a Democratic primary in a district where they don't even have a candidate in the general election?

Some folks have speculated that it was driven by Secretary of State Jan Brewer, who tangled with Downing over electronic-voting machines and election reform in the last legislative session. Ted himself subscribes to that theory.

But we're told it's because the Arizona Democratic Party used the same bill in a hit piece beating up on Republican congressional candidate Steve Huffman, who had also supported the bill. The idea: payback to the Democrats for sticking their nose in the CD8 GOP primary.


CABLE GUISE

Cox Communications won a big round at the Legislature this last year, when lawmakers finally were able to pass a bill that prevented local jurisdictions from requiring more than four public, educational and government channels. Right now, Cox offers nine PEG channels as part of its franchise agreement with the city of Tucson, including four that are used by Access Tucson, the local public-access outfit.

With the city renegotiating its contract with Cox, various council members are having town halls to suss out what the public wants from its cable system.

Cox has been filling up the town halls with 40 or 50 of its employees, who are letting local officials know that they want fewer PEG channels and more digital/high-def/shopping network alternatives.

Way to work the astroturf, cable guys!

More by Jim Nintzel

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