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PISTOL WHIPPED

National Rifle Association members must have been pleased with the turnout at their annual convention last weekend in Phoenix, where roughly 60,000 gun owners celebrated their Second Amendment rights. Firearms enthusiasts appear particularly concerned that the Democrats in Washington, D.C., are eager to take away all of their guns as part of the socialist takeover of America.

But Arizona's NRA leaders must have been a little disappointed that—at a time when the organization has the GOP caucus in both houses of the Arizona Legislature thoroughly pistol-whipped and under its control—they have been unable to deliver any fresh, new gun freedom, all because Senate President Bob Burns is refusing to hear any bills that don't resolve the budget situation. That Burns is such a killjoy!

So while NRA lobbyist Todd Rathner was able to get all the Republicans in the Arizona House to vote in favor of a bill that allows gun owners to keep their firearms in their cars even if business owners want to ban them, he couldn't get the bill heard in the Senate. And they've made little headway on efforts to allow guns in bars and do away with laws prohibiting concealed weapons.

There are other advocacy groups with similar concerns that they might not get their bills heard—for example, the omnibus abortion legislation that can't get anywhere in the Senate.

And Clean Elections supporters remain eager to tweak the law to provide more public funds to candidates who run for office, since a federal court ruling has put the program's matching-funds provision in jeopardy. Unless that situation is resolved during this session, candidates for the 2010 state elections—which will include all the legislative seats and most of the state offices, including governor, secretary of state and attorney general—will likely have to abandon the system, because there won't be enough money to run a viable campaign against privately funded opponents.

We still don't know when the budget will get done—personally, we think they'll be lucky to avoid a government shutdown in July—but if the session drags on much longer, we predict it's gonna be pretty hard to convince lawmakers to hang around to pass a bunch of controversial legislation.


SCRAMBLEWATCH '09: LET THE GAMES BEGIN

The race is officially on for the Ward 6 City Council seat now held by Democrat Nina Trasoff: Republican Steve Kozachik formally filed his nominating petitions earlier this week.

Kozachik, who oversaw the expansion of the UA Athletic Department's swimming and basketball facilities next door to McKale Center, says he wants to end the "carousel of incompetence" that now spins around at City Hall.

Given the Democratic voter-registration advantage in Tucson—there are roughly 107,000 Democrats and only 59,000 Republicans in the city limits—Kozachik has an uphill battle, particularly as someone with no name ID going up against an incumbent.

Kozachik came out swinging last week, complaining that Trasoff was trying to subvert the state's open-meeting law by getting together with her colleagues in small groups to come up with budget alternatives.

But the real Ward 6 shocker came last week with the news that Green Party candidate Dave Croteau was going to join the race. Croteau needed nine valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Croteau got about 28 percent of the vote in a race against Republican Mayor Bob Walkup two years ago, although the relatively high percentage probably had something to do with the fact that no Democrat could be found to challenge Walkup.

Croteau will focus his campaign on the Green Party's 10 Key Values and talk a lot about sustainability.

Ward 3 Democrat Karin Uhlich is expected to face a challenge from Republican Ben Buehler-Garcia, who had not qualified for the ballot as of press time.

Over in Ward 5, where Democrat Steve Leal is stepping down after five terms, Democrat Richard Fimbres has two Republicans battling for the chance to take him on: newcomers Shaun McClusky and Judith Gomez.


LET'S MAKE A DEAL

The taxpayer subsidies to a downtown project could double to $7 million if the Tucson City Council agrees to the conditions of a draft development agreement currently floating around.

The original proposal had developers Scott Stiteler and Don Martin spending $10 million to rehabilitate the Rialto Theatre block and build 40 apartments on Toole Avenue.

In exchange, City Hall was to provide the two developers with city-owned vacant property worth $3.5 million, including the former Volvo dealership on Broadway Boulevard and the Congress Street frontage of downtown's Ronstadt Transit Center.

But the new draft development agreement adds another financial twist: Stiteler and Martin hope to obtain $15 million in federal tax credits to help finance their project. They estimate the sale of those tax credits will provide them with $3.5 million.

If they can't land the tax credits, the draft development agreement calls for the city to give Stiteler and Martin additional land worth up to $3.5 million.

Among the potential sites that the city would hand over to the two developers: Tucson's recently remodeled train depot; the rest of the Ronstadt Transit Center; property at Sixth and Toole avenues that has been set aside for the new Greyhound Bus terminal; and a parcel at Stone Avenue and Sixth Street that's used as a gathering space for the finale of the All Souls Procession.

The proposed development agreement is still getting tweaked, but may go to the City Council for approval as soon as next month.


CONGRATULATIONS, DR. SMITH

The Skinny made it out to Biosphere 2 last week for a reception to honor Peter Smith of the UA Lunar and Planetary Lab, who received his doctorate this weekend. Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the UA College of Science, said that Smith, who was the principal investigator on the Phoenix Mars Mission, may have undertaken "the most expensive dissertation in history."

The reception also honored Ed Bass, the bazillionaire who paid for the construction of the Biosphere. Bass, who has generously turned over the keys to the Biosphere to the UA College of Science, received an honorary degree from the university this weekend.

Ruiz says the Biosphere will be an ideal lab for examining the impact of climate change.


HEART TROUBLES

Best wishes for a swift recovery to Mike Feder, who suffered a heart attack last week. Feder, who was general manager of the Tucson Toros during their glory days through most of the 1990s, was out of the hospital one day after having a stent installed.

Earlier this week, Feder was back on the job as executive director of the Tucson Police Foundation. He sent The Skinny a press release letting us know that the foundation would be partnering with M&I Bank for "Thank a Cop Day." The bank will be displaying thank-you notes from Tucson citizens to police officers at all of its branches on Tuesday, June 2. Stop by an M&I branch to drop off your note of gratitude or to sign an oversized card that will be on display.

Speaking of the Tucson Toros: We'd like to welcome them back to town. The all-new Toros, a Golden Baseball League expansion team, open a four-game homestand against the Chico Outlaws at Hi Corbett Field on Thursday, May 21. And hey: It's buck-beer night!

Welcome back, boys of summer.

For early and late-breaking Skinny, visit our new daily dispatch, The Range, at blog.tucsonweekly.com.

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