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SCRAMBLEWATCH '08: POLITICAL PREVIEW

Last year was political famine, with the races for City Hall so lame that we were reduced to making fun of John Kromko's half-baked Proposition 200 campaign. (There we go again! How can we keep making fun of a political legend who has been granted an honorary degree from Joe Sweeney's prestigious Alexander Hamilton Evening Law School? Uh-oh--we're gonna get letters!)

But this year should be a political feast, beginning with next month's presidential primary. And already, we can see that we were so wrong when we said it was silly to think the candidates would be paying much attention to us with so many other states in play on the same day. Why, you can barely swing a dead packrat without hitting a candidate. Obama has even opened an office in Southern Arizona!

Yeah, right.

As this week's cover story shows, we've done our best to gin up some interesting candidates for the Feb. 5 primary with our Reality Journalism endeavor, Project White House. We suspect a few of those candidates will be spending more time campaigning in Arizona than most of the so-called mainstream candidates.

Once Tsunami Tuesday washes over us, the waters recede for a bit while the Arizona Legislature wrestles with, among other things, a growing state budget crisis and new and unusual ways to demonize people who have crossed the border without documentation. Our preseason favorite: Rep. Russell Pearce's plan to deny birth certificates to kids born to people who entered the country illegally. Guess Russell thinks the rule of immigration law is now far more important than the U.S. Constitution.

Pearce has taken to calling those kids "jackpot babies." Because, you know, you've really hit the jackpot when you have a minimum-wage job working in a field or cleaning toilets. How do we buy a ticket for that lottery?

Once the legislative session wraps up, we can look forward to the marquee race in Southern Arizona: Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords vs. Senate President Tim Bee. That is, provided Bee doesn't wuss out and decide to not run.

Southern Arizona's other congressman, Democrat Raúl Grijalva, has drawn a sacrificial lamb in the form of Gene Chewning, last seen losing a legislative race in a heavily Democratic district whose precise number escapes us at the moment.

With Bee leaving his District 30 Senate seat, expect Rep. Jonathan Paton to bust a move toward the upper chamber. So far, it looks like he may have Democratic opposition in the form of Georgette Valle, a former Washington state lawmaker who has retired to Green Valley. Valle's secret campaign weapon in her Washington days: giving away toothbrushes on the campaign trail.

The third member of the current District 30 troika, Rep. Marian McClure, is looking at a run for the Arizona Corporation Commission.

That will leave two open House seats in D30, which includes eastern Tucson, Green Valley and Sierra Vista. Last time we checked, there were five candidates sniffing around with thoughts of running:

· Sharon Collins, a one-time aide to former governor Jane Dee Hull and current aide to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne. Collins has previously run unsuccessfully for mayor of Tucson, state representative and secretary of state.

· Doug Sposito, a home builder in the Sonoita area who unsuccessfully ran for the District 30 seat in 2004.

· Frank Antenori, the former Green Beret who took a shot at a congressional seat in 2006 in the primary that was ultimately won by Randy Graf.

· Wayne Peate, a local doctor who has flirted with congressional campaigns in the past.

· David Gowan, a magazine salesman who can reduce all of the state's problems to (a) illegal immigration and (b) those liberal Republicans who don't agree that all of the state's problems are caused by illegal immigration. Gowan is a staunch conservative who believes that government should be much tighter with its purse strings, unless it involves him helping himself to somewhere around $100,000 for his political campaigns in 2004 and 2006. Now that's what we call living by your principles!

Another interesting Republican race is brewing up in District 26, where Rep. Pete Hershberger has reached his term limit. If he decides to run for the Senate, he'll face a GOP primary battle against Cap'n Al Melvin, the conservative candidate who upset incumbent Sen. Toni Hellon in the 2006 primary. Melvin went on to lose what had been considered safe Republican territory to Democrat Charlene Pesquiera, who is expected to seek a second term.

The other District 26 House member, Democrat Lena Saradnik, is also expected to seek a second term, although a recent stroke might sideline her. Among the Republicans considering a run: Trent Humphries, a conservative blogger over at Arizona 8th; Marilyn Zerull, who identifies as a "Reagan Republican"; and Vic Williams, a Republican Party activist.

Another primary battle to watch: Over in heavily Democratic District 29, state Rep. Linda Lopez has reached her term limit. That has at least three Democrats running for the two House seats: Incumbent Tom Prezelski, environmentalist Daniel Patterson and health-care activist Matt Heinz, a local doctor.

The entire Board of Supervisors and most of the county elected offices are also up for re-election this year, though we're not sure what sort of opposition any of them will face. Last time out, the supes were unopposed, and the most interesting race was for county assessor, so we're hoping for a few more sparks this year.

So far, it looks like slim pickings for political junkies. We were looking forward to a primary battle between Paul Eckerstrom, the former head of the Pima County Democratic Party, and County Attorney Barbara LaWall, but Eckerstrom recently abandoned his plans to run.

A final note: Before the blogs start complaining that our list is less than comprehensive, we would just note that we're writing the whole thing poolside at the Zihuatanejo bureau, somewhere northwest of Acapulco. So, yeah--we'll fill in some of the blanks when we get back to the states and sober up.


FOOD FIGHT

Barry Austin, the Finisterra neighborhood (in the foothills) resident disgusted with his homeowners' association ("No Food for You!" Currents, Dec. 13), says he finally got an answer as to why his HOA's board of directors voted yes to pay $3,500 for Christmas lights, but no to a neighborhood food drive for the Tucson Community Food Bank.

At the HOA's most recent meeting, according to Austin, board president Ed Landes (who never returned Tucson Weekly phone calls) offered Austin and his neighbors three reasons the board did not allow a food drive: allowing collection boxes in the clubhouse would "negatively affect the ambiance of the clubhouse"; "using the clubhouse hallway would be inappropriate" (he gave no detail about what made cans and boxes of food inappropriate); and "Katie (Lyster) is too busy to supervise the collection efforts." Lyster is the HOA's administrative employee.

"Presently, the clubhouse hallway is used all year for previously owned books (with boxes and bags on the floor in various places) and several times per year for telephone directories. So it is not clear what is so different about canned/boxed food that would be there for only a short period once per year," Austin says in an e-mail sent to the Weekly.

"When asked what would take so much of Katie's time (since residents would collect the donated food each day), Ed responded that people would be 'bothering Katie asking her where they should put their donations.'"

Despite the board's vote, Austin says he delivered one load of food to the Community Food Bank from donations neighbors brought to his home. Austin says he plans to be at the next board meeting this month seeking further explanation, especially since the Food Bank announced in mid-December that it may be forced to make cuts in food distributions due to budget woes and a lack of donations.

"Imagine how many families could be fed from the $3,500 spent on the holiday lights," Austin says.

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