Arizona voters spoke loud and clear last week: They still value state government and are willing to pay for it.
Faced with the option of giving state lawmakers a mandate to keep slashing programs, nearly two out of every three voters who cast a ballot said: "Enough." That's an impressive margin for a sales-tax hike of a full penny per dollar.
We gotta give Gov. Jan Brewer credit for pushing for the sales-tax vote. It wasn't easy to get her fellow Republicans to agree to ask voters to hike taxes—and many of the GOP lawmakers who voted to put the question on the ballot were hoping that it would lose so they could get back to decimating the state government.
That plan is now on hold while the state collects the sales-tax revenue, but our problems are far from over. Unless voters give lawmakers a green light to raid environmental and early-childhood funds in November (and we don't imagine we can support either option), the budget will still be short somewhere around $469 million.
You can also bet that next year, Republicans will be trying to revive their ludicrous plans to again cut corporate and income taxes for Arizona's wealthiest residents—and without retiring Senate President Bob Burns there to put a halt to such voodoo economics, they might even get the proposal through this time.
But for now, at least, there's a bit of hope for the state's future.
The state's Clean Elections program, which doles out public campaign funds to qualifying candidates, got a stay of execution last week when a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower-court decision and said that the state could still dole out matching funds.
U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver had ruled that the matching-funds provision of Clean Elections—which gives out additional money to candidates whose privately funded opponents exceed certain spending limits—was unconstitutional.
But that decision was reversed by the appellate panel, which said that the First Amendment concerns of the plaintiffs in the case were unsubstantiated.
That was good news for supporters of Clean Elections—which, by the way, we are not. In our estimation, Clean Elections has managed to empower social conservatives and wipe out Republican moderates, resulting in the collection of ass-clowns now masquerading as the Arizona Legislature.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, who is using Clean Elections dollars for his gubernatorial run, says the overturning of Silver's ruling "was always an option, although perhaps the least anticipated. It's a vindication and a validation of a process that tries to level the playing field."
The biggest beneficiary of the decision is Gov. Jan Brewer, who has already received $707,447 in Clean Elections dollars. She'll now be eligible for a whole lot more, because one of her primary opponents, gun-range owner Buz Mills, is spending his own personal fortune on the race—which means Brewer is eligible for a dollar-to-dollar match up to $2,122,341.
Learning that he's not the only one who can spend more than a million dollars on the primary campaign appears to have sent Mills 'round the bend.
He issued a press release condemning Brewer (along with state Treasurer Dean Martin, who is also running for governor, although he has yet to qualify for Clean Elections funding) for taking public dollars—which is a reasonable argument from a conservative perspective. But then he followed it up with a complaint that the governor was getting a paycheck from the state.
"Adding insult to injury, both Brewer and Martin are still collecting their government salaries and are still benefitting from their taxpayer funded 'bully pulpits.'"
Um—yeah. We know you're new to this politics business, Buz, but government officials usually get paid to do their jobs.
Mills followed up that weird line of attack with a new television ad hammering Brewer for raising taxes and dipping into the taxpayers' pockets for campaign money. Of course, she's not—Clean Elections funding comes from a surcharge on civil and criminal fines, not from taxes. And she really couldn't turn over those matching funds to the schools, even if she wanted to do so. That would be illegal, unless Brewer spent her campaign money advertising on school billboards.
There is a way to make sure Brewer doesn't get any more money: Mills could quit spending big bucks trying to buy the race.
Limit your own spending, Buz, and your opponents won't get a dime more than they're ordinarily eligible to receive.
Those rascals at Rasmussen Reports recently did a whole lot of polling here in Arizona. You can find more details about the individual polls on The Range, our daily dispatch, at blog.tucsonweekly.com. But to summarize:
• U.S. Sen. John McCain was leading GOP challenger J.D. Hayworth, 52 percent to 40 percent. That's in line with the numbers shown by other pollsters who have surveyed the state, although it's a wider margin than an earlier Rasmussen poll showed.
Rasmussen noted: "Any incumbent who earns less than 50 percent support is considered potentially vulnerable, and McCain has been hovering around that mark all year. The 2008 Republican presidential nominee cannot be comforted by the fact that his level of support in early primary polling is similar to the numbers for Arlen Specter. Specter, defeated by Joe Sestak, led in just about all early polling, but could never get much above the 50 percent level of support. That provided Joe Sestak with a chance to defeat the 30-year veteran of the Senate."
• Gov. Jan Brewer is now comfortably leading her GOP rivals. Brewer had the support of 45 percent of GOP voters, while state Treasurer Dean Martin and gun-range owner Buz Mills both came in at 18 percent. Tucson attorney John Munger was way back at 3 percent.
• Brewer is also leading Attorney General Terry Goddard, the only Democrat in the gubernatorial race, 52 percent to 39 percent. Earlier polls from left-leaning pollsters had Goddard leading Brewer by a slim margin.
We have to note that Rasmussen polls are coming under increased criticism for a tendency to lean right. But most of that criticism focuses less on their surveys of political campaigns and more on the questions they ask about voter attitudes.
Bottom line: It's a long way to the primary election, and The Skinny views all of the above numbers with a skeptical eye.
Steve Barancik, organizer of the much-missed Monolog Cabin storytelling series and a friend of The Skinny, is teaming up with comedian Robert Mac for Crossing the Line: The "Border Disorder" Comedy Show.
The duo promise "comedy so funny, you'll question its nationality!"
Well, we certainly believe that the Arizona Legislature has given them plenty of material to work with.
The show will feature several other comedians, including Joey Medina (of the Original Latin Kings of Comedy), Polo the Cholo, Tim Bateman (an Australian!) and Christina Lopez.
The show is at 9 p.m., Sunday, May 30, at Laffs Comedy Caffe, 2900 E. Broadway Blvd. Tickets are $8 (with a two-item minimum), and you can make reservations by calling 323-8669.
For early and late-breaking Skinny, visit The Range, our daily dispatch.
Follow the Skinny scribe on Twitter: @nintzel.