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Earlier this month, Congressman Joe Barton made headlines by apologizing to BP CEO Tony Hayward after the company agreed to set aside $20 billion to help pay for damages resulting from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill following a meeting with President Barack Obama.

"I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong (and) is subject to some sort of political pressure, that is—again, in my words—amounts to a shakedown," Barton said. "So, I apologize."

Many GOP leaders were quick to condemn Barton, who quickly apologized for his apology, saying: "I regret the impact that my statement this morning implied that BP should not pay for the consequences of their decisions and actions in this incident."

But Jesse Kelly, one of five Republicans in the GOP primary that will decide who goes up against incumbent Gabrielle Giffords in Congressional District 8, says that Barton was right to be upset about the $20 billion escrow account.

"I think it was a shakedown," Kelly says. "I think we live in the United States of America, where our government is supposed to be limited, where the president's powers are supposed to be limited. And that president thinks he has the power to coerce a private company into creating a $20 billion slush fund that will then be distributed, obviously for political purposes, by the government? I think that is a very frightening place to be in the United States of America."

Kelly adds that he was "very disappointed" to see Barton later backtrack from his apology, "and quite frankly, I was disappointed in Republican leadership for asking him to apologize for those comments. We as the Republican Party cannot bow to the president right now. We have to stand strong. This president is trying to destroy this country with liberalism, and we'd better stand in the way."

Kelly says anyone whose livelihood or property has been damaged by the oil spill can seek adequate recourse through the court system.

"We already have laws on the books—bankruptcy laws and liability laws—that govern here," Kelly says. "Rather than trying to demonize somebody—and I'm not protecting BP in any way or absolving them of any liability—but rather than demonizing and trying to find somebody at fault right now, we should be trying to fix the problem first. Save as many poor people in the Gulf that we can, and then worry about who to blame after the president has provided some leadership."

Former state lawmaker Jonathan Paton wasn't quite as worked up over the agreement between the Obama administration and BP. He says Barton was out of line when he apologized to BP CEO Hayward.

"What (Barton) said was just patently ridiculous," says Paton, who adds that BP did the right thing by setting aside $20 billion in the escrow account for the damages.

Republicans Brian Miller and Andy Goss didn't call The Skinny back, although Goss told radio talk-show host John C. Scott last week that he agreed with Barton's original characterization of the $20 billion deal as a "shakedown."

The fifth Republican in the race, Jay Quick, dropped us an e-mail to say: "The oil spill in the Gulf seems to have caused an outbreak of 'Foot in Mouth Disease,' revealing how out of touch our politicians and CEOs are with the lives of ordinary Americans."


MCCAIN VS. HAYWORTH: LET THE DEBATES BEGIN

U.S. Sen. John McCain's support among GOP voters seems to have stabilized, according to polls released last week by Rasmussen and Magellan Strategies. We'll spare you the details (which you can find on The Range, our daily dispatch, at blog.tucsonweekly.com) and instead just feed you the takeaways: McCain has the support of about half of Republican voters, while challenger J.D. Hayworth, a former congressman, has the support of about one-third of GOP voters surveyed.

Hayworth's big chance to turn the race around will come later this month, now that McCain has softened up the boisterous broadcaster enough to go head-to-head with him in a pair of televised debates. The candidates—along with Jim Deakin, who is also on the ballot—will meet in Phoenix on Friday, July 16, and down here in Tucson on Saturday, July 17. The Tucson debate will air live on KUAT Channel 6, and will be moderated by Arizona Illustrated anchor Bill Buckmaster, who's "delighted" to be hosting the event.

Meanwhile, three of the four Democrats in the running for McCain's Senate seat—investigative reporter John Dougherty, labor organizer Randy Parraz and former state lawmaker Cathy Eden—have firmed up plans for three debates, including a televised debate in Phoenix on July 9, and a Tucson debate on Arizona Illustrated on Aug. 5. The fourth candidate in the race, former Tucson City Council member Rodney Glassman, says he'll attend the Phoenix and Tucson debates, but hasn't committed to a third debate in Yuma.

It appears most voters still don't know much about the Democrats. Last week's Rasmussen survey of that race showed that 46 percent of Democrats still didn't know who they were voting for, while a survey by the online newsmagazine Arizona Guardian put undecided at 76 percent.


BREWER'S BIG LEAD

If you trust Rasmussen, you'll want to know that the polling firm showed that Gov. Jan Brewer has enjoyed a huge SB 1070 bump, winning the hearts and minds of more than six out of every 10 GOP voters. She's well ahead of gun-range owner Buz Mills, who has spent more than $2 million to let us know that he's a "real man" who can secure the border and fix the state's economy by eliminating a lot more state government. The exact details of Mills' plan remain sketchy, which might explain why Rasmussen shows that only 16 percent of Republican voters are behind him.

Still, Mills is doing better than state Treasurer Dean Martin, who had the support of just 12 percent of voters. Martin qualified for $707,000 in Clean Elections dollars this week, so he's finally got fuel for his campaign. But Brewer is already so many laps ahead that we're not sure how Martin can get back into the race at this point.

Unless, of course, Brewer keeps making false statements about how the majority of illegal immigrants are coming here to deal drugs, as she did during a recent gubernatorial debate.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said last weekend that Brewer's comments were "not true, but unfortunately, the image that's being given is tragic and counterproductive" to rebuilding the state's economy.

Goddard, who last week tapped longtime Tucsonan Jan Lesher to head up his gubernatorial campaign, made a swing through Southern Arizona over the weekend for the opening of Democratic field offices on Tucson's northwest side and in Green Valley.

At the northwest-side gathering, Goddard vowed: "If I'm elected governor, we're going to keep Arizona off Comedy Central for four years."


Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our daily dispatch.

Follow the Skinny scribe on Twitter: @nintzel

More by Jim Nintzel

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