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VOTING MONTH HAS ARRIVED

While all the attention so far has been on Iowa and New Hampshire, Arizonans are already going to the polls this week for the Grand Canyon State's presidential primary, with early voting starting Thursday, Jan. 10.

We urge Arizonans to hang on to those early ballots for the next few weeks, mainly because we believe you're going to see some amazing candidates come out of Project White House, the Weekly's Reality Journalism competition. (Details: "American Pie," this issue, and the Project Web site.)

Remember: You can only vote if you're a registered Democrat or Republican. Independents have to sit this one out, although some state lawmakers are throwing a political Hail Mary in the form of a bill that would let Independents vote.

We think they should have considered that last session, although the legislative effort resulted in state Sen. Jack Harper telling Capitol Media Services' Howie Fischer that Democrats were the sort of "people who would burn American flags in front of American soldiers and call that free speech."

Man, Harper's wasting his talents at the Legislature. He's the sort of guy you'd expect to be part of Project White House! Instead, he's running Mike Huckabee's campaign here in Arizona.

Anyways, to get your early ballot in Pima County, call 740-4330.


PRIMARY SCHOOL

It appears, as we predicted some time ago, that Arizona isn't going to get much attention in the run-up to Tsunami Tuesday. Since it's Sen. John McCain's home turf, Republicans are concentrating on other battlegrounds for the most part, while the Democrats seem to have other fish to fry with their limited resources. (Granted, Barack Obama has offices in both Tucson and Phoenix, while Hillary Clinton has opened a Phoenix office.)

Guess moving a primary to an earlier date doesn't mean that you'll get more of a say in the nomination process.

The race to be first in the primary process has some folks saying that the United States should just have a national primary where everyone goes to the polls on the same day.

That's a swell idea--if you don't know anything about how political campaigns are run. The idea that candidates would set up separate organizations in every state is absurd. The expense alone would rule out all but the best fundraisers, so money would become even more important to the process of running for president.

The more likely scenario: Candidates would focus just on the biggest states with the most delegates, so a national process would be great for California and New York, but not so good for New Hampshire or even Arizona.

Here's another good thing about the current process: At least in Iowa and New Hampshire, the candidates have to face real people, instead of just running TV ads. Whatever flaws the process has (and the absurd overemphasis on how those states vote is a major flaw), that's an overall plus.

Here's the best way to reform the system: Split the nation into regions, with one state in each region going to the polls on the same day each week. Start with the smallest states in each region and move to the largest. That would create regional diversity and give low-budget candidates a chance to catch on with retail politicking.

Of course, that would take coordination among the 50 states, so it's never going to happen.


SUBPRIME SESSION

There's going to be one issue on the minds of lawmakers when they swing into session next week: How can they blame the entire budget mess on illegal immigrants?

OK, so they'll also be trying to figure out how to balance the state's books, which continue to spurt geysers of red ink. The most recent report from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee shows that through the first five months of the fiscal year, the state is about $310 million below the forecast.

With some folks now saying the deficit will top a billion bucks, lawmakers need to make a number of nips and tucks to make it through the rest of the fiscal year.

More bad news: The economy doesn't show many signs of rebounding, which means lawmakers won't be able to afford to be generous when crafting next year's budget.

Gov. Janet Napolitano, calling the shortfall a "temporary dip," has already proposed her solution to this year's budget crunch, which she estimates to be $870 million: Cut $214 million in state spending; borrow $393 million to build schools; and dip into the rainy day for $263 million. Most of Napolitano's "savings" in state spending come from dipping into various dedicated state funds, such as lifting $24 million from the Clean Elections program and $15 million from the State Aviation Fund. She's only recommending $75.5 million in actual cuts.

Sen. Bob Burns and Rep. Russell Pearce (who broke our hearts earlier this week with his announcement that he would seek a state Senate seat rather than challenge Congressman Jeff Flake later this year) say that Napolitano's proposals don't cut enough spending and will leave the state in even worse shape when it's time to write next year's budget.

The Republican lawmakers have responded with their own fixes, which--as you'd expect--tend to be a little tighter.

They want to cut back on state-subsidized health-care insurance for kids, cut university funding by 10 percent, cut funding for community colleges, cut funding for K-12 education, hold back on school construction, eliminate dental coverage for low-income Arizonans and stop state-subsidized inoculation against HPV for women--you get the idea.

The House and Senate appropriation committees were swinging into action this week to start discussing the cuts.

One big question: How will Senate President Tim Bee handle the cuts? He can't be looking forward to hit pieces that extol his support for cuts to health care and education if he runs against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords later this year.


NOTE OF RESIGNATION

One person who won't have to worry about balancing the books is Lena Saradnik, a freshman Democrat who represented District 26.

Saradnik, who suffered a stroke late last year, resigned earlier this week to focus on her recovery.

Saradnik won an underdog victory in LD 26, a GOP-leaning district that includes Oro Valley, the Casas Adobes area and the Catalina Foothills, after the conservative David Jorgenson advanced in the GOP primary.

Here's to a swift and full recovery for Saradnik.

Precinct leaders from LD 26 will meet next week to forward a list of three possible replacements to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, who are expected to make the final pick on a replacement at their Jan. 22 meeting.

One Democrat who was already in the race this year in Legislative District 26: Don Jorgensen (no relation to David), who is running as a Clean Elections candidate.


A TURD BLOSSOM BLOOMS IN TUCSON

The Pima County Republican Party has announced that Karl Rove (aka The Architect, Bush's Brain, Boy Genius, Evil Trickster) will be visiting Tucson to "keynote a fundraiser" on Wednesday, Jan. 23.

We'd tell you what Rove would be talking about, but the GOP release was all about the cheddar. Pima County Republican Party Chair Judi White's canned quote: "We are extremely pleased that Karl Rove will help our county party in our efforts to secure the critical financial resources that we will need in this important election year to take back our congressional seats from the Democrats and return a Republican to the White House."

Whatevs. Time, place and the all-important price of admission will be "announced shortly."

More by Jim Nintzel

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