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BEE HERE NOW

To nobody's surprise, state Sen. Tim Bee finally made his long-awaited announcement that he'd be challenging Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last Saturday, Jan. 19.

Bee's declaration didn't exactly stop the presses, mostly because it wasn't really news, given that he'd been flirting with the run for the last year or so. The TV stations skipped the speech altogether, and the Arizona Daily Star ended up giving more attention to Giffords than Bee in the Sunday paper.

More interesting than the actual announcement was a tidbit released a few days earlier: Bee said his campaign had raised more than $300,000.

That doesn't stack up too well against Giffords, who had raised nearly $1.2 million as of the end of September. We wouldn't be surprised if turns out that Giffords managed to add another $300,000 or so to her campaign account in the final quarter of 2007. (New Federal Election Commission reports are due at the end of the month, which is when we'll find out how much the candidates have raised--and how much they've spent.)

Money will, of course, play a key role in the race, but the media coverage will also follow these basic narratives:

  • Giffords and Bee are old classmates from elementary and junior high school.
  • Bee has a record of leadership at the Arizona Legislature.
  • Giffords has a record of voting with other Democrats in Congress, except when she didn't.
  • Bee is not Randy Graf.
  • Whatever the national mood of the country is come autumn.
Watch for both candidates to do their best to occupy the moderate middle and reach for independent voters. Translation: The candidates will do their best to sidestep any questions that force them to take positions on controversial topics. They'll also strive to be nice to each other in public.

That will leave most of the negative campaigning in the hands of the parties and independent campaign committees. We've already seen that happening: State Republican Party Chair Randy Pullen has been regularly blasting Giffords as a tax-raising lib who wants to surrender to the terrorists, while the Arizona Democratic Party keeps harping on the idea that Bee is too busy campaigning to pay attention to his job as the Senate president.

The Dems should really work up a new angle, by the way; it's a slippery slope to keep harping on the idea that a candidate can't handle campaigning and serving in office at the same time. Is Attorney General Terry Goddard supposed to resign in 2010 if he decides to run for governor? Is Gov. Janet Napolitano supposed to resign if she runs for the U.S. Senate in the last year of her term?


ABRACADRA ACCOUNTING

Gov. Janet Napolitano had already revealed the magic tricks she plans to use to patch over this year's massive budget shortfall, which looks to be just shy of a billion bucks. For those who came in late, she wants to cut or divert $214 million in state spending; borrow $393 million to build schools; and dip into the rainy-day fund for $263 million.

That adds up to $870 million, although legislative leaders estimate the shortfall to be $100 million more than that. But what's $100 million between friends?

Last week, Napolitano revealed the abracadabra accounting she wants to use for the next budget year, which starts July 1.

Napolitano proposes spending $11.4 billion next year, which is an increase of about $600 million over the $10.8 million she hopes to spend this year, depending on how the shortfall negotiations cash out.

Among the areas targeted for spending increases: health care and education.

But revenue growth has stalled, and the cash flow is pinched, so Napolitano is using the usual shell game of delaying payments and shifting costs, including a push to force counties to house prisoners instead putting them in state prisons, and a shift of funds from building highways to paying for state troopers.

She also wants to collect $90 million from speeders with a new photo-radar program on state highways, which amounts to a randomly distributed "time tax."

Some of those proposals will meet with resistance from Republican lawmakers who control the purse strings. State Rep. Jonathan Paton says that if the state is going forward with cameras on the highways, he wants to sponsor legislation that would ensure that photo-radar speeding tickets would not result in points against a driver's license. He also wants the ticket to be issued against the car and not the driver so that cameras would not be taking pictures of people, just their automobiles.

Napolitano plans to dip into the rainy-day fund for $196 million, which would leave only $225 million in the account for the following year if lawmakers follow her plan to use $263 million to patch this year's budget.

One sign that budget negotiations may go a little more smoothly than in past years: House Speaker Jim Weiers has agreed to join a negotiating team that includes Senate President Tim Bee, Senate Minority Leader Marsha Arzberger, House Minority Leader Phil Lopes and Napolitano's office. The Legislature is focusing exclusively on this year's budget shortfall this week.

Last year, Weiers insisted on crafting a House budget without negotiating with the other players, which was the primary reason the legislative session lasted into June.

Weiers may have had little choice but to change tactics, given that the current budget shortfall will only get harder to solve as the end of the fiscal year draws closer.


LOVE LETTER

The dopey bureaucrats in Oro Valley recently showed how dumb they are again when they demanded that a local blogger register with the state.

The Oro Valley town clerk has sent Art Segal, who writes a blog called LOVE, or Let Oro Valley Excel, a letter telling him he would be in violation of state campaign laws if he didn't register his blog as a political committee.

Segal has evidently gotten under the skin of some Oro Valley staffers and elected officials with his persistent criticism of the way the town is run.

It may be hard for government officials in Oro Valley to understand all this "citizen journalist" stuff. But here's the deal: We do still have freedom of expression in this country, even in Oro Valley.

That means we can express an opinion, whether it's in a newspaper, in a blog or just on a sheet of paper we stick on a windshield in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Oro Valley officials have a long history of trying to squash dissenting voices--and a long history of losing, too. The chickenshit stunts over the years include citing citizens who were gathering referendum signatures in a park.

Hell, the town is probably the only place where perennial candidate Joe Sweeney has won a legal fight, over the right to put up his congressional campaign signs. When you can't legally outmaneuver Sweeney, it's time to get new lawyers.

The end result of trying silence someone like Art Segal: more traffic for his blog. Nice of you to help out, Oro Valley!

More by Jim Nintzel

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