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SLICK POLITICS

As the economy was careening toward a historic collapse last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 236-189 on an energy bill that allows offshore drilling 100 miles from the nation's coasts. (The drill rigs could be within 50 miles of a state's beaches if it's OK with the state.) The bill also takes away tax breaks from oil companies and creates incentives for the development of alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind.

The vote was an effort by Democrats to block Republican attacks that they were opposed to offshore drilling, which has become widely popular among voters who are getting hammered by prices at the pump.

The vote brought a triumphant dispatch from Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' office.

"The House of Representatives today agreed on a bold response to one of the most pressing challenges of our time," Giffords press-released. "We adopted a common-sense policy to secure America's energy independence."

State Sen. Tim Bee, the Republican who is challenging Giffords, issued his own release, calling the vote "business as usual."

Bee complained that the bill raises taxes on oil companies, doesn't allow drilling within 50 miles of the coast, doesn't allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and doesn't include support for new nuclear power plants.

"The energy compromise bill only compromises America's energy future," Bee soundbit.

Both candidates get passing marks for parroting the national talking points. But delivery of canned quotes aside, just how realistic is the bill? Well, it still would need to pass the U.S. Senate and get signed by President George W. Bush sometime in the near future--and from what we read in The New York Times, that seems a little doubtful.

So was it disingenuous for the Democrats to vote on the bill? Maybe so, but it's also disingenuous to suggest that opening up the outer continental shelf to drilling will do anything to significantly cut the cost of oil in the immediate future.

From what we recently gleaned from reading an instructive piece over at Slate.com, it appears that it would be years before any offshore drilling could get underway in the best of circumstances--especially since there's a significant shortage of ships that can do the drilling.

If that's the case, we don't see much reason to rush into handing out leases to oil companies--especially since they'd be overseen by the Minerals Management Service, a government agency inside the Interior Department.

The name of the Minerals Management Service might ring a bell--it's the outfit full of high-flying bureaucrats who had a taste for booze, dope, cocaine and swinging sexcapades alongside their bid-rigging and other ethical violations, according to a recent report from the Interior Department's Inspector General.

Perhaps we should take some steps to reform this particular agency before handing out more drilling leases?


ISN'T THAT SPECIAL?

One of the most devious propositions on the November ballot is Proposition 105, aka Majority Rules.

It would require that any future tax increases via initiative get 50 percent of all registered voters, not just those who bother to vote by Election Day. Essentially, the anti-tax crowd gets to count the people who sit out the election as a "no" vote.

This is not "majority rule," no matter how often the supporters claim it is. It's actually minority rule, because it would allow a small number of voters to determine the outcome of a ballot prop.

Most of the money for this one is coming from Jason LeVecke, who owns a bunch of Carl's Jr. franchises. So it was absolutely hysterical to see LeVecke and his crew complaining in a recent press release that "special interests" were opposing Prop 105.

Hey, Jason: If you're going to mislead voters when you're the big money behind an initiative, you shouldn't go around complaining about special interests misleading voters.


MONEY TROUBLES

Candidates for the Arizona Legislature can talk all they want about investing in education and alternative energy, but with the stalling economy, it's increasingly clear that the next session is going to be all about how the state survives the budget crunch.

It's pretty obvious that the current budget--crafted by Gov. Janet Napolitano, most of the Democrats and a few Republicans such as Sen. Tim Bee--isn't going to hold. After just one month, there was a $90 million shortfall, and the gang at the Joint Legislative Budget Committee warned that the state would have to see a growth rate of more than 6 percent for the rest of the year for the budget to work.

And since lawmakers have already drained the rainy-day fund, borrowed hundreds of millions for school construction and found almost all the change under the couch cushions, ugly cuts are on the horizon--unless we all agree to buy a whole bunch of lottery tickets for the good of the state.

Although GOP leaders are calling on Napolitano to do something about the budget, we don't expect a special session until after the November election.

The next step depends on how that election goes. If a bunch of conservatives Republicans win, Napolitano may try to call this Legislature back one last time if she thinks she can get a better deal out of them than she'll get from the incoming crew.

If the Democrats somehow run the table on Election Day and win control of the House of Representatives, Napolitano may just nip and tuck here and there, figuring she can wait until January to do any legislative adjustments. (Count us among those who are skeptical that the Democrats will manage to win four new seats and hang on to all their gains in 2006.)

Either way, the battle of the budget is going to get even nastier than the squabbles we've seen in recent years. A government shutdown next July is not beyond the realm of possibility.


GROOMING FOR A GOOD CAUSE

You may have heard the sad story of Jordan Bowser, an 11-year-old boy who got shot by a friend who was playing with his parents' gun. Jordan ended up paralyzed from the chest down and is now adjusting to life in a wheelchair.

Jordan's mom has had to leave the Tucson College of Beauty to take care of her son as he begins physical therapy in Phoenix.

As you may expect, the bills are piling up, so the folks at the Tucson College of Beauty are having a fundraiser from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., this Saturday, Sept. 27, at the school, 3955 N. Flowing Wells Road. Haircuts, manicures, pedicures and mini-facials will all cost just $10, with all proceeds going to help out Jordan's family.

"Jordan is so amazing," says David Remington of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson, which is helping the family. "He is so positive. He has never complained; he has never felt sorry for himself."


THE DEADLINE APPROACHES

The clock is ticking if you're still planning to register to vote in the November general election. You've got until midnight on Monday, Oct. 6, to fill out your paperwork.

And if you already know who you want in office, early voting starts next Thursday, Oct. 2.

For more info on registering to vote or ordering an early ballot, contact the Pima County Recorder's Office at 740-4350, or online.

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