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PRESIDENTIAL PICK

Pima County voters evidently woke up last week and realized they needed to order their early ballots for the presidential primary coming up on Tuesday, Feb. 5. County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez tells us that her office handled 7,858 calls on Thursday and 3,814 calls on Friday from folks who wanted early ballots.

The late onslaught had Rodriguez and the rest of her staff jumping in to help field the crush of calls.

Rodriguez tells us that some calls came from independents who didn't realize that they are ineligible to cast a ballot in Arizona's presidential sweepstakes. Pay attention next time, folks!

So how many folks are planning on voting early? About 23,000 Democrats, or just less than 13 percent of Pima County's registered Dems, asked for an early ballot. On the GOP side, about 17,000 voters, or just more than 11 percent, wanted early ballots.

Do those low percentages foretell low turnout on Election Day? It's entirely possible. Arizona voters are relatively new to the presidential-primary process, and with all the states up for grabs next week, we haven't had that much attention from the candidates.

The Weekly's endorsements appear in this issue.


WHAT'S THAT SMELL?

Karl "Turd Blossom" Rove took a break during his fundraising visit to Tucson last week to give some sage advice to state Senate President Tim Bee, the Republican who is preparing to take on Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. We're not privy to that secret conversation, but don't be surprised to hear about push polls later this year that suggest that Gabby secretly gave birth to an illegitimate black child. The Pima County Republican Party also boasted that the Rove visit raised them $190,000. Guess a few folks were willing to buy $10K tickets to hear from the man who managed to get the Republican Party where it is today. How's that permanent political realignment working out, anyway? We find it interesting that Rove was here to raise money for the Pima County Republican Party and not in Phoenix to raise money for the Arizona Republican Party.

You'd almost think that the enemies of Arizona Republican Party chairman Randy Pullen were attempting to funnel money into the county party, because they don't want the state party to get it. But that can't be the case, can it? And, of course, former Vice President Dan Quayle backed out of that state party fundraiser last year just because he had to travel to Japan. We're sure it had nothing to do with the congressional delegation and the GOP establishment despising Pullen and wanting to starve the state party of cash. Say, when are those new campaign-finance reports due again? Why, any day now!


DEAL OR NO DEAL?

State Rep. Jonathan Paton has sponsored House Bill 2359, which would allow county sheriffs to enter into intergovernmental agreements with the U.S. Border Patrol without the approval of a county board of supervisors.

The issue came up last month, when Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik asked the Pima County Board of Supervisors to approve an intergovernmental agreement so he could have a Border Patrol agent in an official liaison role with his office.

Clarence figured it would be a good idea, given that his new border-crime unit, which typically works at night, sometimes bumps into Border Patrol agents.

"There was a possibility that somebody was going to get killed," Dupnik says.

To improve communication and reduce the likelihood that someone would end up getting shot in the dark by accident, Dupnik had a series of meetings with the Border Patrol, and the federal agency ultimately offered to assign an agent to the Sheriff's Department so the two agencies could work in concert with one another. The only wrinkle: The lawyers for the Border Patrol wanted an intergovernmental agreement with the Board of Supervisors.

But the board backed off voting on the deal when activists for immigrant rights showed up to protest the deal.

That's when Paton suggested legislation that would bypass the supes entirely and allow Dupnik to enter into the agreement with approval from the board.

"You've got a bunch of law-enforcement guys running around in the desert with guns, and you would hope they'd be able to talk to each other," Paton says. "This bill helps them talk to each other."

The legislation doesn't sit well with Rep. Tom Prezelski, who says "nothing good can come out of any issue about the border going before the Legislature."

Prezelski adds that the Legislature doesn't need to get involved, because there's a deal in the works at the local level.

That comes as news to Dupnik, who says he hasn't had any conversations with supervisors regarding the partnership with the feds.

"I don't know what he's talking about," said Dupnik, who added that he was meeting this week with some immigrant-rights activists, including Isabel Garcia of Derechos Humanos, to talk about their concerns.

Prezelski's concerns notwithstanding, the bill passed the House Homeland Security Committee on a 6-3 vote.

This squabble is nothing compared to what's looming on the horizon: Immigration Day, when the Homeland Security Committee plans to hear a whole collection of immigration-related bills in one fell swoop.

Bet the Minutemen have marked that day on their calendar!


TRIGGER HAPPY

State lawmakers got busy with the budget last week. Various state workers swung by Budget Committee hearings to make their plea for funding, yadda, yadda, yadda. Meanwhile, the real action was taking place down in the basement, where leadership representatives from both parties were making the real budget deal.

Given the budget constraints, it appears that lawmakers are concentrating on bills that don't cost much.

Gun rights, for example, are big this year. Some Republicans want to take another stab at a bill that would allow people to carry their guns into establishments that serve alcohol. Earlier versions of this bill haven't made it into law in previous sessions, but backers hope that this time, they've found a way to keep the restaurant associations from opposing the bill.

Other Republicans want to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons at schools. They argue that suicidal kids who want to die after carrying out school shootings will somehow think twice about going on a rampage if they know they might get shot if they try it. Wouldn't that deterrent factor require that the school shooters be, um, rational to begin with?

Meanwhile, Democrats are a bit less ambitious. Rep. Steve Farley, for example, wants to save the gigantic creatures from the Magic Carpet miniature golf course on Speedway Boulevard, which was recently bought by a neighboring car dealership.

Farley hopes there's some way to transfer the giant Easter Island-ish tiki head and other landmarks to the Valley of the Moon. Hey, if the Valley of Moon doesn't have room, we'll take that big head for the midtown bureau croquet course, please!


BRANCHING OUT

A tidbit that might make our primary season a bit more interesting: Donna Branch-Gilby, former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party, announced this week that she wants to take on Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, who is seeking her fourth term this year.

We hear the challenge has to do with Bronson's reluctance to give in to demands from the Democratic Party for all those computer records during the recent electoral-integrity lawsuit.

More by Jim Nintzel

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