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MINE SHAFT

Augusta Resource Corporation is running into a rough patch in its bid to rip out a big patch of the scenic Santa Ritas in the pursuit of copper.

The mining company has the absurdly antiquated 1872 Mining Act on its side, but local opposition from both sides of the political aisle has been fierce. Last week, Republicans and Democrats on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, who are already on the record as opposing the mine, condemned Augusta's effort to build a pipeline so the Community Water Company of Green Valley can recharge more of its share of Central Arizona Project water.

We can understand why the water company--which is facing the unpleasant reality of having water sucked from its aquifer to run the mine--is trying to figure out a way to get someone besides its ratepayers to cover the cost of a pipeline to carry CAP water closer to its operation. If the Rosemont mine does become operational, Green Valley will watch the water table sink even further.

But it's also an obvious ploy by Augusta to earn some goodwill and lessen the impact of gouging a giant hole in a near-pristine mountain range. And as Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry points out, the proposed pipeline is nowhere near big enough to carry the amount of CAP water the Upper Santa Cruz basin needs.

Last week, the Arizona Corporation Commission got tangled up in the fight when it held a hearing on the wisdom of allowing the Community Water Company of Green Valley to build the pipeline. The meeting was packed with a mix of folks who hate the mine and/or love the pipeline, though it remains to be seen if the ACC has much power to squelch the deal.

Augusta faces more opposition in the Arizona Legislature during the upcoming legislative session, with Republicans in the District 30 delegation--Sen. Tim Bee and Reps. Jonathan Paton and Marian McClure--intent on introducing more legislation that could trip them up.


BALLOT BUSTERS

As of press time, we're still awaiting a ruling in last week's election-integrity trial. But whatever Judge Michael Miller's verdict is regarding whether underlying databases constitute a public record, attorney Bill Risner has done a bang-up job showing that Pima County's elections have some serious security lapses.

Disappearing data tapes? Discs leaving the building? Sneak peeks at early-election returns? A fundamental lack of understanding by management about how the software works? These are not comforting signs.

Risner still hasn't persuaded us that the May 2006 election establishing a new half-cent sales tax for transportation projects was flipped, but he has convinced us that Pima County needs to do a lot more to safeguard future elections.

To their credit, county officials are starting to take steps, including plans to eventually scrap the vulnerable GEMS software now in use. While they're at it, they should dump those new touch-screen machines they just bought and use the same paper ballots for the entire election so there's a secure paper trail of every vote cast.

The Democratic Party, which brought the suit to court last week, should keep barking as the county moves forward. The GOP should get off the sidelines, too.

Kudos, by the way, to blogger Michael Bryan for sitting through the trial and posting his reports at Blog for Arizona. Stop by Drinking Liberally, his Thursday-night political party at the Shanty, and buy him a drink sometime, wouldja?


STUMBLEWATCH '07: THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

Looks like even the No on 200 crew was embarrassed by the amount of money they blew through on the campaign to take down John Kromko's Tucson Water Users' Bill of Rights. How else to explain why the political sharpies at Zimmerman and Associates scattered the total amount of money raised--and spent--across a half-dozen campaign-finance reports instead of reporting cumulative totals like they're supposed to?

Whatever. Our back-of-the-envelope calculations show the No on 200 crew raised somewhere around $786,000 and spent about $779K on everything from TV, radio and newspaper ads to a massive door-to-door walking blitz on the weekend before the election. About the only thing they didn't think was an effective strategy was putting up giant wooden signs alongside city streets.

The big donors were the usual suspects: Realtors, homebuilders, car dealers--you get the picture. Most of the money went directly through Zimmerman and Associates, who effectively used the money to crush the initiative, which would have eliminated the city's $14-a-month trash fee and restricted water distribution and recharge.

Kromko, by contrast, managed to raise somewhere around $15,000 for his entire effort, including $1,164.36 from the city of Tucson, which had to pay to replace some of his giant wooden signs they had taken down alongside city streets. Kromko's report notes that he wrote a check to himself for the same amount on the day before the election to cover the cost of paint, plaster board and rebar.

Kromko had vowed to pursue the case against the city for taking down his signs, but City Attorney Mike Rankin was smart enough to get him to agree to drop the matter in exchange for the $1,164.36 payment.


HUCKABEE HIVE

John McCain had better start worrying about winning the Arizona GOP primary. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, enjoying a surge in Iowa thanks mostly to the legendary Colbert bump, has an Arizona campaign chair: state Sen. Jack Harper.

Harper, who was best known for a series of goofy pronouncements while overplaying of the Veterans Home scandal during the last legislative session, says he will be filing Huckabee's paperwork this week.

"Gov. Huckabee is an authentic conservative who is comfortable in his own skin," Harper wrote in an e-mail to potential supporters. "He didn't just wake up one day, decide that he would run for president and adjust his values to the likely Republican voters."

Well, except when it comes to what we should do with victims of AIDS. He's totally softened up on them and no longer wants to put them in quarantine camps. What a panderer!


SPEAKING OF PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS

We're delighted to announce that we may have more than 20 participants in Project White House, our first-ever presidential campaign contest.

For those of you who have been too busy shopping for Christmas gifts to pay attention: We first launched Project White House a few weeks ago to invite our readers to put their name on the ballot in Arizona's Feb. 5 presidential primary.

That's not as difficult as you might think, since you merely have to send a two-page notarized form to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office to run in the Democratic or Republican contest.

We're not quite sure of the exact number of participants in Project White House just yet, because several of our would-be candidates from across this great land of ours have promised us they're going to send in a nomination form on their own--and we all know just how much we can count on the promises of politicians.

But at least a dozen candidates have turned up at our office in recent weeks to drop off their platforms and have front-desk chief Robbie Jones notarize their paperwork. Thanks for all your help and patience, Robbie!

We'll be introducing you to these courageous candidates in our first issue of 2008 when we launch our spectacular new Project White House Web site.

Even if you missed your chance to participate in Project White House, there's still time to get into the presidential primary.

The deadline for getting your paperwork to Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer is 5 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 17. Hurry up and download the form at projectwhitehouse08.com.

More by Jim Nintzel

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