There was no one more giddy over the delivery of federal stimulus dollars for downtown's modern streetcar last week than state Rep. Steve Farley.
"This is a great day for Tucson," gushed Farley, who cut his political teeth in a fight to bring rail transit to Tucson. It took a couple of failed ballot initiatives before voters finally approved a plan four years ago as part of the Regional Transportation Authority proposal.
But the rail was never going to become a reality without a big matching-funds check from the federal government. That money showed up last week, to the delight of a large crowd of Tucsonans—including Republican Mayor Bob Walkup and UA President Robert Shelton—who gathered at the downtown train station to see U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood sign an oversized $63 million check.
LaHood, a former congressman and a rare Republican who's willing to work with President Barack Obama, spoke in support of the stimulus plan on the anniversary of its passage.
LaHood dismissed criticism of the stimulus as "baloney. It's nonsense. This economic recovery program has created jobs all over America."
The money for the streetcar project came from a Transportation Department TIGER grant. How competitive were the grants? There was $1.5 billion available in the program and more than $56 billion in requests nationwide. That's a huge win for Tucson.
LaHood singled out Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Congressman Raúl Grijalva "for making this TIGER grant happen today. Tucson is very, very fortunate to have such outstanding leaders in Congress who are willing to step up on behalf of the people and make sure that projects like these are funded."
Giffords declared that she fought for the streetcar project "because I understand the importance of regional economic development all over this area. ... This is what it's all about. It's about saying 'Boo!' to the naysayers and saying we know this is going to be a great project."
Those naysayers will have plenty to say about how bad this project is. They'll scoff at the jobs that it will create, mock the idea that it will lead to any economic development and laugh at the notion that it will lead to a viable connection between the University of Arizona and downtown.
Those critics will mostly be Republicans whose political fortunes depend on the country remaining in the rut in which it landed after eight years of the Bush administration's free-spending ways.
Among them: Our U.S. senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, who last week said that the stimulus was creating a big debt for the nation. That's pretty shameless coming from guys who had a surplus at the start of the Bush administration and an economy on the edge of a worldwide depression eight years later.
But even Kyl wouldn't say the streetcar project was a bad idea. Instead, he said he didn't know enough about it to make a judgment.
Well, that tells us one thing: Kyl doesn't pay enough attention to Pima County governments to even know what they want out of Washington, D.C. Way to stay in tune, senator.
State Sen. Jonathan Paton resigned from the state Senate earlier this week to focus on his challenge to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Paton—another critic of the stimulus, even though he was happy to take a billion dollars from Uncle Sam to save education and health-care programs in Arizona—has to prevail in a four-way GOP primary that includes fellow vets Jesse Kelly, Brian Miller and Andy Goss before he'll have a shot at Giffords.
The resignation frees up time for Paton to concentrate on campaigning and raising the money he'll need to challenge Giffords. It also lets him avoid having to vote for any more of the cuts that will devastate every aspect of state government later this year.
Paton copped to being sad about leaving the District 30 Senate seat that he won in 2008 after two terms in the House of Representatives.
"It's kind of like graduation day," Paton says. "There's a certain wistfulness. You never want to leave high school, but you do want to go to college."
Shortly after Paton announced his resignation, Pima County Democratic Party chairman Jeff Rogers blasted the erstwhile state senator in a press release.
"Paton leaves a legacy of failure at the state's most dire moment," Rogers said. "It's a legacy that has Arizona's neighborhood schools ranking dead-last in classroom funding. It's a legacy of failed policies that have left Arizona with the nation's largest budget deficit per capita. ... And Paton has refused to be a leader, leaving Arizona's Legislature without a balanced budget eight months after the constitutional deadline. Now Paton wants a promotion from voters, when any private-sector business would fire him for cause."
Paton laughed off Rogers' attack.
"I got more bills passed into law than any lawmaker last year," Paton says. "And I've got four names for him: Napolitano, Kirkpatrick, Mitchell and Giffords."
Paton was referencing Democrats Janet Napolitano (who resigned as governor last year to become Homeland Security chief in the Obama administration) and Ann Kirkpatrick, Harry Mitchell and Gabrielle Giffords (who all resigned from the Arizona Legislature in recent years to run for Congress).
"Apparently, they were all quitters too," says Paton. "If this is the sum total of their rhetorical skills, this is why they're going to lose this election cycle."
The Pima County Board of Supervisors will name Paton's replacement once the District 30 precinct committeemen submit three names.
District 30 Rep. Frank Antenori has made no secret of his interest in the seat, going as far as to say that supervisors may be sorry if they don't pick him, because he expects to win the seat in November, no matter how the appointment process plays out.
As we reported awhile back, two other former lawmakers may be in the running: Bill McGibbon and Randy Graf. Antenori helped line up the slate to limit supervisors' options.
On the same day that state Sen. Jonathan Paton resigned, Tucson City Councilman Rodney Glassman, who is exploring a run for U.S. Sen. John McCain's seat this year, chimed in with a press release of his own, vowing to stay on the Tucson City Council at least until April so he can work on the city of Tucson's budget woes.
Glassman tells The Skinny he sent out the bulletin because he "wanted to reassure my constituents that my No. 1 priority is, and will continue to be, advocating for their priorities during these important upcoming budget discussions."
While he's biding his time, Glassman will be hosting a reading of Jeremy Jackrabbit Harvests the Rain, the children's book he co-authored with Sasha Glassman, his new bride. It was illustrated by schoolchildren across the city.
Congressman Raúl Grijalva and his wife, Mona, who bear a striking resemblance to a pair of characters in the book, will be on hand to read from the book at the Loft Cinema between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 6.
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