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THE END IS NIGH

Budget negotiations broke down between Senate and House leadership in the state Legislature last week, meaning the architects of the competing plans will now try to get them through their respective chambers and then come to an agreement.

Senate President Tim Bee shouldn't have much trouble passing his budget, which is light on the tax cuts and heavier on social spending. House Speaker Jim Weiers was supposed to be bringing his version--which is heavier on the tax cuts and lighter on the social spending--to the House floor as our deadline approached, but questions remained as to whether he had the votes to get it passed. Far-right members of the GOP caucus think it spends too much, while the far-left members of the GOP caucus think it spends too little. Democrats, of course, were pretty much left out of the House process, except for a handful who helped give Weiers some political cover. (See last week's "Figure Skating" if you want details.)

Since we're going to press in an ever-changing environment, check blog.tucsonweekly.com for updates as developments warrant.

In the meantime, bills are flying and dying as the Legislature nears sine die. Among the quick and the dead:

· A medical malpractice-reform package that would have made it harder to sue emergency-room doctors died in the House.

· Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a bill that limits the driving privileges of teen drivers. For the first six months after getting a new driver's license, a teen driver can't be on the road from midnight to 5 a.m. and can't have more than one non-family passenger in the car.

· Napolitano signed a bill banning Level 3 sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools or day-care centers.

· Lawmakers passed bills prohibiting businesses from selling information about customers that they obtained from driver's licenses, and utilities from selling information about their customers.

· Napolitano rejected a whole bunch of bills last week, including a few bits of legislation related to illegal immigration. Among them was Senate Bill 1236, which would have banned government agencies from accepting matricular cards handed out by the Mexican government.

Napolitano said cops needed to be able to accept the cards to properly identify people. She added that if foreign nationals couldn't use the cards, they would be more likely to get fraudulent ID.

"The state is better served by having foreign nationals use identification that accurately identifies them as foreign nationals," Napolitano said in her veto letter.

That brought a fiery response from state Rep. Russell Pearce, who issued a press release that struggled with parallel construction: "The issuance of these cards is tantamount to AMNESTY. They break our laws when they cross the border, repeat offenders when they undercut Americans for jobs and three-strikers when they use false identification to obtain services or cash the checks."

Napolitano shot down Sen. Jack Harper's bill creating a state militia she could call out in times of emergency, saying she already had the authority to call out a militia if she wanted to.

Napolitano also vetoed a bill that would have given scholarships to students who graduate early from high school.


MONEY FOR NOTHING

Congressman Raul Grijalva has co-sponsored federal legislation that would provide public funding for federal campaigns, creating a program loosely based on the state's Clean Elections program.

There's little doubt that spending on federal races has gotten out of control. Congressional candidates have to waste way too much time groveling for dollars so they can run competitive campaigns.

But if Arizona's experiment in public financing is any example, we're not sure that handing federal candidates hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds is going to make things any better.

As we've noted before: The big winners in the Clean Elections sweepstakes have so far been the social conservatives in the Republican Party. Before public funding, that crowd was organized, but they didn't have the money to get their message out, so they usually lost to business-friendly Republicans who had the access to campaign contributions.

But with the advent of Clean Elections, the conservatives learned that they could target moderates with hit pieces that hammered them for supporting abortion rights, or opposing vouchers, or otherwise straying from the purist platform.

As one longtime Republican official told us: "We now have people serving in the Legislature that you wouldn't hire to wash your windows."

In 2004, the moderates started getting knocked out in primaries in Maricopa County, and last year, they started losing down here in Pima County, when Cap'n Al Melvin beat Toni Hellon in the Legislative District 26 race.

Supporters of Clean Elections point out that Hellon ran a lousy campaign against Melvin, which is true. And they argue that Melvin's eventual loss in the general election to Charlene Pesquiera showed that the system worked, because LD 26 voters rejected Melvin as too conservative for the district.

True dat--but Melvin only lost by about 500 votes, and he's already announced he's running again in 2008. The real test will be how well he does if, as expected, he goes up against liberal Republican Pete Hershberger in the Senate primary next year.

Whether Melvin wins or loses, the Clean Elections system still has an effect on every vote that moderate Republicans cast, because they now have to worry about how it's going to look on a publicly funded hit piece. And that means a lot more dumb bills pass the Legislature, even if they end up vetoed by Gov. Janet Napolitano.

Which is why we're leery about replicating the public-funding program on the federal level.

For starters, the half-million to $600,000 that Grijalva says candidates should get is a lot more attractive than the measly $25,000 or so that candidates for the Arizona Legislature get. Even if candidates receive only half of that--a quarter-million dollars--for the primary, you'll have a whole bunch of unqualified ding-a-lings signing up. And we suspect that will be followed by a whole bunch of political consultants becoming adept at working the system and recruiting candidates to fill their own bank accounts.

You could always make it really hard to qualify--but then even legit candidates will opt out of the system. And then there's the question of how to handle wealthy candidates on both sides of the aisle who decide to self-finance and bypass the system altogether.

It may yet turn out that public financing works out at the state level, so we're willing to give the program a few more campaign cycles before we render a final verdict.


STUMBLEWATCH '07: EARLY BIRD EDITION

Democrat Rodney Glassman, who is seeking to replace retiring Ward 2 Councilwoman Carol West, turned in his nominating petitions on Monday, May 14--which was the first day the city was accepting the paperwork. As you'd expect of such a go-getter, Rodney turned in the maximum 767 signatures.

It's another sign of Glassman's organizational prowess. Glassman, who has tapped campaign whiz Katie Bolger as his chairperson, is breaking all sorts of records. He was the first to qualify for matching funds through the city's campaign-finance program, which means he'll get a public dollar for every private dollar he raises, as long as he limits spending to about $90,000. And he's such a show-off that he's already raised about $33,500 in $20 increments.

Glassman may face a primary challenge from Democrat Robert Reus, a public-access TV producer who recently announced his candidacy to represent the eastside ward.

The winner of the Sept. 11 Democratic primary is expected to face Republican Lori Oien, a longtime activist who has worked extensively with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.


SIGNATURE EFFORT

We're almost out of space, but we wanted to note that a new group, Tucsonans for Fair Elections, is collecting signatures for "The Elections by Ward Initiative." Just guessing, but we think that has to do with electing City Council members from their ward instead of the current system, which is ward-only in the primaries but citywide in the general election.

More by Jim Nintzel

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