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Now that we know the economic engine of Bookmans Entertainment Exchange will, sadly, not be powering downtown revitalization, is there any hope left for Rio Nuevo?

Well, the Tucson Origins crowd finally has an estimate of what it will cost to rebuild our community's birthplace on the banks of the Santa Cruz: a cool $54 million.

Some folks think that's a lot to pay for a couple of mud adobe buildings, but when you adjust for inflation, it's just about the same cost as when the Convento was originally built. Well, when you adjust for inflation and then convert into pesos, anyway.

But seriously, folks: Only $21.5 million is for the reconstruction of a few buildings and an archaeology site. The rest involves environmental remediation and other infrastructure improvements that will benefit all the museums and attractions that will spring up on Rio Nuevo's west side.

The bad news: We're told that doesn't include an actual bridge over the Santa Cruz, although it does include money for design work.

The biggest question the City Council will have to answer about Rio Nuevo in the next year: Should they build the cultural attractions first, or work on the projects that might generate the sales-tax dollars that will help fund the district? It'll sure be fun watching them wrestle with that.


RETURN TO SENDER?

Coming up on the Tucson City Council's agenda: finalizing the plan to have all city residents vote by mail in the 2007 election.

Democratic operatives figure that's a great way to boost turnout, which has traditionally been embarrassingly low in city elections, which are held in odd years. (Odd as in 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9, not as in unusual, though we'd understand confusion on the part of readers.) And since there are roughly three Democrats for every two Republicans in the city limits, the Democrats reckon that higher turnout will work in their favor--which, we're sure, is just how Democratic Councilman Steve Leal wants it as he weighs whether to take on Republican Mayor Bob Walkup.

Going to a vote-by-mail program is likely to not only boost turnout, but also cut costs, because City Clerk Kathleen Detrick would no longer have to handle every vote-by-mail request. Instead, she could just send everyone a ballot. Plus, she wouldn't have to set up a bunch of polling places across the city.

But last month, voters showed they liked the option of having both polling places and vote by mail when they shot down Proposition 205, which would have changed state elections to a nearly exclusive vote-by-mail system. In Pima County, the proposition was rejected by roughly 69 percent of voters.

Does that will-o'-the-people statement mean that the City Council will back off the vote-by-mail plan? Stay tuned!


FIFE'S COLLAPSED POLITICAL SOUFFLÉ

J. Fife Whiteguy III, the former Arizona governor, developer and briefly convicted con artist, stumbled when making the next step on his political comeback last week.

Fife, who has found work as a pastry chef since resigning in disgrace from the governor's seat and getting pardoned by Bill Clinton, tried to oust Rob Haney as chairman of Maricopa County's Legislative District 11.

Haney, a proud extra-ultra-extreme-double-plus conservative, beat Fife--who showed he still loves a good con by describing himself a grassroots guy during his bid for the chair--by a vote of 215-166. For details on the whole wackadoodle affair, check out the Sonoran Alliance blog, a fountain of GOP insider info at www.sonoranalliance.com.

Sure, it's an embarrassment that the former governor can't even win the race to chair a legislative district--especially since Haney and his followers nominated a Republican candidate in this year's election who was so wacky that a Democrat won a House seat in the GOP-leaning district.

But the bigger embarrassment is to U.S. Sen. John McCain, who was behind Fife's run. Haney has been a thorn in McCain's side because he's pushed resolutions to censure McCain for selling out bedrock Republican principles. That's not the sort of thing McCain needs as he tries to prove his conservative bona fides in the run for the White House.

Wonder if McCain's next maneuver will be more successful. Señor Straight Talk wants to install political consultant Lisa James, a normal Republican with great hair, as chair of the state party to replace the outgoing--and seriously incompetent--Matt Salmon.

James is facing a challenge from Republican National Committeeman Randy Pullen, another loser for real public office who has managed to sell a heady mix of anti-illegal-immigration, pro-life and anti-tax snake oil to the party's conservative activists. We get the impression that Pullen and McCain don't socialize.


REAL LEADERSHIP FROM REPUBLICANS IN THE LEGISLATURE

The Trilateral Commission was so close to finally achieving its big plan to merge the United States with Canada and Mexico, but we were saved by state Sen. Karen Johnson of Mesa, who blew the whistle on the sovereignty-surrenderin' scheme.

Johnson, we learned last week thanks to Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services, has met with members of the congressional delegation in recent months to warn them of the hush-hush plan, which the Bush administration was pushing through the Department of Commerce.

The White House is, of course, dismissing such talk about the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership, calling the operation just a routine international agreement to smooth the way for doing business. But they're not fooling Johnson, who told Fischer: "It's all going to be a 'North American community,' just like the European Union."

We're thankful that Johnson was alert enough to put the kibosh on it, but sorry that she wasn't quite as sharp at seeing through the conspiracy when Bush was lying about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Johnson was recently rewarded for her foresight by Sen. Tim Bee, who appointed her to the chairmanship of the Senate Education Committee. Frankly, we think her talents are wasted there; Bee should have created a new committee, Federal Mandates and Secret Plots, as Johnson's new home.

Speaking of committee appointments: Is Speaker of the House Jim Weiers a big ol' wuss or what? Weiers has reappointed the state's most quotable lawmaker, Rep. Russell Pearce, to the chairmanship of the mighty powerful House Appropriations Committee. Weiers had every reason to strip Pearce of the chairmanship after Russell talked about how he admired the way the federal government instituted Operation Wetback in the 1950s. Or after he e-mailed out neo-Nazi propaganda during his re-election campaign. (To be fair, Russell did offer "me heartfelt apologies" in a subsequent e-mail explaining how he hadn't actually read the e-mail in question before mass-forwarding it to everyone in his mailbox. Details, details.)

But Weiers was so spooked by the conservatives that he reappointed Pearce to watch over the state budget.

Not only that: Weiers also reappointed Rep. Eddie Farnworth as chair of judiciary, even though Farnsworth worked to undermine him among conservatives for the last two years. He reappointed Andy Biggs, who ran against him for the speaker's post, to the chair of the transportation committee. And he gave the chairmanship of the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee to Rep. Bill Konopnicki, who also challenged him. What a wimp.

Weiers, by the way, is among GOP state leaders who are huffin' and puffin' about the governor not having a mandate, even if she did get more votes than any other gubernatorial candidate ever and won by 27 percent over the candidate whose platform came straight from the kook wing of the GOP caucus.

Napolitano won her race by more than 400,000 votes statewide. Weiers, meanwhile, spent at least $200,000 in his tiny legislative district and won re-election by fewer than 400 votes. Maybe he shouldn't be bringing up the subject of mandates.

More by Jim Nintzel

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