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ELECTION 2012 IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER

The dust had barely settled after last month's election when a nonprofit group called Crossroads GPS began airing attack ads on local radio stations targeting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who defeated Republican challenger Jesse Kelly by fewer than 4,200 votes on Nov. 2.

The ads, which called on Giffords to support tax breaks for America's richest 2 percent, were part of a nationwide effort against Democrats who narrowly won re-election. And here's a shocker: Crossroads GPS, which counts Karl Rove as a top adviser, got nearly all of its funding this year from a handful of billionaires, according to an analysis by Salon.com.

Now we hear that Kelly may be ready for a rematch. The GOP rumor circuit is buzzing that Kelly will announce his plans to run against Giffords as soon as mid-January.

We're told that Kelly—who insisted during his first run that he didn't want to be a politician, but was stepping up because no one else was challenging Giffords—is eager to start raising funds and keep other potential GOP candidates out of the race.

Among those other Republicans who might be interested in the seat: State Sen. Frank Antenori, who made his political debut with a congressional run in 2006.

Antenori tells us he might run for Congress in 2012, but he's a long way from making a declaration—and not just because he'd have to resign his state Senate seat if he said he was running.

Antenori points out that nobody has any idea what the boundaries of the Southern Arizona congressional districts will be, because the Independent Redistricting Commission hasn't yet drawn them—and the IRC is going to have to squeeze in a new ninth district.

Depending on how the boundaries are drawn, Kelly might not even end up in the same district as Giffords—although that wouldn't necessarily stop him from running against the incumbent Democrat, since you don't actually have to live in a district to represent it.

That said, Antenori tells us he might just stay in the Legislature or run for something else—like, say, the Arizona Corporation Commission or Pima County sheriff.


IS JESSE KELLY TRYING TO RIG REDISTRICTING?

A few weeks ago, we told you that Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce and Speaker of the House Kirk Adams complained about the list of candidates that they had to choose from to create the Independent Redistricting Commission, which has the job of drawing the boundaries for the state's congressional and legislative districts.

A bit of background: The 25 candidates for the Independent Redistricting Commission are narrowed down from a pool of applicants by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which normally has the job of vetting candidates for the judiciary.

Then it's the job of the speaker of the House, the Senate president, the House minority leader and the Senate minority leader to each pick one member of the Independent Redistricting Commission. The four new members of the IRC then pick a political independent from the list to round out the five-member panel that will create Arizona's political maps.

Pearce and Adams were upset that they had only one Republican nominee who lived outside of Maricopa County—and that meant they'd likely have to pick that candidate, Tucsonan Benny White, because no more than two commissioners can come from any county.

Adams and Pearce were particularly incensed because one member of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments had questioned IRC applicant Christopher Gleason's involvement in a religious group.

The commissioner who brought up Gleason's background, Louis Araneta, has since resigned from the judicial panel, although he protested that his comments had been taken out of context by Adams and Pearce.

Nonetheless, the GOP legislative leaders' complaint had the desired effect: The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments was scheduled to meet again this week to reconsider the list of nominees.

That, in turn, has led more than 100 people to write letters in support of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, arguing that they should not let themselves be pushed around by lawmakers.

Here's a detail that hasn't been explored in all of the controversy over Gleason's application: He was also a member of the Conservatives for Congress Committee, which ran a number of below-the-belt hits against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in an unsuccessful effort to boost Republican Jesse Kelly earlier this year.

We hear from multiple sources that Gleason—who didn't return a phone call from The Skinny—is now helping set up a new nonprofit with the working title of Tucson 360. The plan is to hire Kelly as executive director of the nonprofit so he'll have a perch from which he can conduct his 2012 congressional campaign.

If that's the case, then it appears to us that Gleason is eager to see Kelly win a congressional seat. And we certainly think that would call into question Gleason's motivation in wanting to be on the commission that will be drawing the lines of the state's congressional districts.


A JOB FOR WIKILEAKS?

The Skinny has heard that Congressman Raúl Grijalva had some shake-ups in his staff in the wake of November's election. At least two longtime staffers, Natalie Luna and Sami Hamed, have been let go, and others might have also gotten the ax.

We'd like to be more specific, but when we contacted Grijalva spokesman Adam Sarvana to find out who was in and who was out, Sarvana e-mailed us a brief statement: "These were internally made decisions and we want to protect the confidentiality of the people involved. We don't feel it's appropriate to go into it any further."

Subsequent efforts to contact Sarvana were unsuccessful.

Funny—we were under the impression that a list of congressional staffers would be considered a public record. Guess Grijalva isn't such a big believer in transparency.


SWEENEY HONORS OLSON

Former UA basketball coach Lute Olson stopped by the annual Christmas party of the Alexander Hamilton Evening Law School to receive an honorary law degree on Saturday, Dec. 18.

The Alexander Hamilton Evening Law School is an unorthodox institution created and run by Joe Sweeney, the perennial congressional candidate who was campaigning against illegal immigration before campaigning against illegal immigration was cool.

Sweeney says he was delighted to have Olson as a guest.

"We wanted him last year, and he had to put it off, so we got it this year," Sweeney says.

Olson joins what Sweeney calls the "elite group of the Alexander Hamilton Evening Law School," whose honorary graduates include Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Paul Newman and John Kromko.

The law school doesn't boast a lot of actual graduates who are practicing law, even though it is accredited—by the Great Plains School and College, an institution also founded by Sweeney after no one else would accredit his school.

The last time we discussed the curriculum, Sweeney pulled out a battered suitcase containing old cassette tapes of law lectures that made up the bulk of the first semester.

We weren't surprised when Sweeney told us last week that finding students can be challenging.

"These kids are all hooked on the cyberspace," Sweeney says. "I tell them, 'Look, you've got to have an outline. You can't just go to the phone book and look at the Yellow Pages. You've got to have some depth.'"

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