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SCRAMBLEWATCH '08: BARNEY'S BACK!

During the election four years ago, not a single Pima County supervisor faced a challenger, unless you count token Libertarian efforts.

This year, four out of the five supervisors also look safe, although Democrat Sharon Bronson, in District 3, is now facing both primary and general-election challenges.

Bronson, who was first elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1996, was already facing a challenge from Donna Branch-Gilby, the former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party. Branch-Gilby has been active in the court fight to get Pima County to turn over records related to vote-counting and election integrity.

Last week, Bronson picked up a Republican opponent in the form of Barney Brenner, a onetime auto-part-shop owner who challenged Bronson in 2000. Brenner lost that race by fewer than 1,500 votes and flirted with a run in 2004 before deciding against it.

Brenner, who filed his paperwork with the county last week, says he decided to get into the race this year because "taxpayers are getting murdered." He points to a 250 percent increase in Pima County's budget since 1996; however, he adds that he doesn't yet know where the county is overspending.

"Without having a look from the inside, it's really hard to make an accurate, pinpoint answer, but what I can tell you is that the county budget is 250 percent of the size it was when Bronson was elected," Brenner says. "You do the math."


SCRAMBLEWATCH '08: TAKING OUT THE TRASH

Republican Trent Humphries kicked off his campaign for Legislative District 26 with an unusual approach: He picked up litter along the side of Oracle Road between Magee and Ina roads last Saturday, March 8, before making his announcement at Oro Valley's James Kreigh Park.

Humphries, who blogs under the handle "Framer" at Arizona 8th, said in his announcement release that he decided on the unorthodox approach because "picking up trash on the side of the road isn't glamorous, but is a lot like service in the Legislature. It will be hard, often thankless, but highly necessary work fixing problems you didn't create."

District 26, which includes Saddlebrooke, Oro Valley and the Catalina Foothills, should be one of the more lively spots in Election '08.

In 2006, Democrats won the Senate seat and one of the House seats in the GOP-leaning district. This year, there will be an open House seat as Rep. Pete Hershberger, who has hit his four-term limit, is seeking to move up to the Senate.

The second House seat is now held by Democrat Nancy Young Wright, the former Amphi School Board member who was appointed to the seat in January by the Pima County Board of Supervisors after incumbent Lena Saradnik resigned following a stroke. Wright is expected to run in November, as is Democrat Don Jorgensen.

Humphries is one of three Republicans who are working on campaigns in LD 26. The others are Marilyn Zerull, who says she wants to cut wasteful spending and taxes, and Vic Williams, a GOP activist.

Meanwhile, to win the Senate seat, Hershberger will have to take on fellow Republican Captain Al Melvin in the GOP primary. Melvin, who has already applied for Clean Elections dollars, knocked out incumbent Toni Hellon in 2006, but lost the general election to Democrat Charlene Pesquiera, a political rookie who announced this week that she would not seek re-election.

A Democratic strategist said that Pesquiera's announcement caught the party by surprise. The Democrats hope to recruit a new candidate in the hope that if Melvin wins the primary, they can again portray him as too conservative for the district.


BORDER BLUNDER

Immigrant advocates are upset about a bill in the Arizona Legislature that would allow county sheriffs to enter into inter-governmental agreements with the U.S. Border Patrol without permission from the county boards of supervisors.

But the local pro-immigrant activists wouldn't even be fighting against the bill if they hadn't been so short-sighted in protesting Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik's reasonable request to the Board of Supervisors for an agreement to cross-certify a Border Patrol agent to work with the Sheriff Department's border-crime taskforce.

Dupnik's deputies were running into Border Patrol agents out in the dark. He consulted with the federal agency, which agreed to lend a Border Patrol agent to the border-crime taskforce to improve communication and avoid trouble. The only wrinkle: Dupnik needed to get an inter-governmental agreement from the Board of Supervisors.

But the reflexively suspicious gang from Derechos Humanos, led by Pima County Legal Defender Isabel Garcia, complained to the Board of Supervisors that such an agreement would lead to sheriff's deputies enforcing immigration law.

Board members, in turn, started getting squishy on Dupnik, so he withdrew the request.

State Rep. Jonathan Paton then sponsored House Bill 2359, which passed the House of Representatives on a party-line vote last week.

The immigrant-rights advocates are opposed to that legislation, but they have only themselves to blame for it. Now their best hope of stopping the legislation lies with the hope that Gov. Janet Napolitano will veto the bill. Given Napolitano's eagerness to show that she's tough on the border, we wish them a lot of luck with that one.


TALONS OF JUSTICE

Mother Nature scored a rare victory last week when a U.S. District Court judge ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit its removal of the desert-nesting bald eagle from endangered-species protection.

In a sharp rebuke to the agency, Judge Mary Murguia sided with conservationists who had petitioned to keep the bird listed--and had labeled Fish and Wildlife's de facto dismissal of their arguments as "arbitrary and capricious."

Ah, but if only this were an isolated situation. Instead, it follows an agency pattern of disregarding inconvenient science--sometimes from its own biologists--when that research might result in costly or politically uncomfortable protections. One senses that jittery Fish and Wildlife biologists are constantly peering over their shoulders, ever hoping to avoid battles with the Bush administration's dig-and-drill ideologues. (See "Legal Issues," Currents, March 6.)

They certainly see the "official line" seeping through everywhere, from Fish and Wildlife's attempts to wriggle out of a timeline for deciding sage grouse status, to agency muckety-mucks ignoring advice from agency scientists and removing endangered-species protections for the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.

Still, the agency line is beginning to fray. That was obvious last year with the resignation of Deputy Assistant Interior Secretary Julie MacDonald. MacDonald stepped down after she was found to be systematically tampering with scientific conclusions, and pressuring staffers to avoid evidence that might lead to endangered-species listings.

The latest court decision is another humiliation for Fish and Wildlife, but a huge victory for the poor desert-nesting eagle--and for scientists who urged its continued protection.

Advocates argue that Southwestern bald eagles are a distinct species. And with only 43 breeding pairs in Arizona, they say, these soaring hunters are nowhere near recovery. That opinion is buttressed by the Raptor Research Foundation. Based in Olympia, Wash., this consortium of top bird biologists was tapped by the Fish and Wildlife Service to peer-review its delisting plans.

But rather than considering the scientists' solicited opinion, wildlife officials simply delisted the Southwestern bird along with other eagles across the nation.

Now, however, Judge Murguia is requiring that agency officials go back and review their position. In other words, they might actually give science some smidgeon of priority over politics.

More by Tim Vanderpool

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