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ROCKET MAN

When he visited Tucson last week, former astronaut Mark Kelly disappointed those who are hoping that he'll run for Congress in the place of his wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, if she can't run next year.

In a conversation with NPR journalist Ted Robbins last Tuesday, Dec. 6, at the UA's Centennial Hall, Kelly said that "my job is to make sure she can run for office"—a line that got a thunderous round of applause from the full house that had turned out to see Kelly.

Still, you only had to see Kelly on stage at Centennial—or earlier in the day, when he turned up at Mesa Verde Elementary School to return a yearbook he'd taken into space to honor Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl who was killed in the shooting spree that wounded Giffords—to know that he'd make one hell of a candidate, if that's the road he chooses.

Kelly was, at turns, charming, funny and resolute as he talked about how he met Giffords, what it was like to travel in space, and how he has worked to help Gabby recover from being shot through the head—all topics that are covered in depth in the book he has co-written with Giffords, Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope.

He told the crowd that he remains in awe of how determined Gabby is to heal: "She marches out that door every day and works hard."

Kelly said that Giffords will decide whether to seek re-election within the next few months.

"That's going to be made on her own timeline," he said.

He told the crowd that Gabby wants to come back to her hometown.

"Right now, we spend most of our time in Houston," he said. "Eventually, we'll probably spend all of our time in Tucson."


COLLAPSING CASE

State Attorney General Tom Horne suffered another big defeat in Maricopa County Superior Court last week when Judge Dean M. Fink ruled that the Independent Redistricting Commission is not subject to Arizona's open-meeting law, because the Arizona Constitution lays out different requirements for the five-member panel.

For months, Horne pursued an investigation into whether IRC chairwoman Colleen Mathis had violated the law during the process of hiring a consultant to help the commission draw Arizona's political boundaries.

When he launched the investigation, Horne told a gathering of Tea Party activists that if he could prove Mathis had violated the law, he could then seek her removal from the IRC.

Horne was eventually removed from the case by Fink, who concluded that Horne had a conflict of interest in pursuing the case, because attorneys from the AG's office had also provided the commission with advice on how to follow the law.

Horne dished off the investigation to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, but IRC attorneys argued in court that under the state Constitution, the redistricting commission was actually bound by a different standard than Arizona's open-meeting law.

In a ruling released last Friday, Dec. 9, Fink concluded that applying the open-meeting law would allow the Legislature to mess with the independent body, and would leave the IRC open to harassment from "prosecutors such as the attorney general and the various county attorneys, all of whom are empowered to investigate alleged open-meeting law violations. The threat of prosecution, even a baseless one, can be reasonably expected to intimidate its target."

Fink added that the court "further finds that neither the attorney general nor the Maricopa County attorney may proceed in their investigation, except as provided by the rules of procedure for special actions."

Montgomery has vowed to appeal the ruling, but it's yet another example of how so far, the efforts of Republican officials to gin up criminal charges against the Independent Redistricting Commission have been thoroughly rejected by Arizona's court system.


GRIJALVA'S PALS CRY WOLF

Former state lawmaker Amanda Aguirre of Yuma confirmed last week that she's considering a challenge to Congressman Raúl Grijalva in next year's Democratic primary. From what we hear, she's not the only one who wants to join the race.

Grijalva, who doesn't much care for fundraising or campaigning, narrowly escaped losing his heavily Democratic district to a GOP newcomer last year after he made the political blunder of calling for a boycott of his own state. So it's hardly surprising that he might face challengers from within his own party.

News of the challenge triggered this shocking revelation in a fundraising letter from former Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean: "Arizona Republicans are looking for a power grab. They've redrawn the boundaries of his district to remove Democrats and replace them with conservative voters. At least one conservative Democrat has already announced intentions to run against Raúl in a primary. And after a tough fight last election, you can bet Republicans have no intention of sitting this election out."

Holy cow! Republicans have redrawn the boundaries of Grijalva's district to remove Democrats? OK, we know there are many angles to the redistricting battle, but it's still shocking to learn that the Independent Redistricting Commission is following the Republican Party's orders and disenfranchising Grijalva—especially considering that the last time we checked the draft maps, it looked like Yuma would be split so that conservative voters were shifted into a Republican district that includes most of the rural areas of western Arizona. Who knew those folks were Grijalva's secret weapon?


WHAT'S OBAMA AFRAID OF?

The Arizona Democratic Party bowed out of the Arizona presidential primary last week.

Jennifer Johnson, spokeswoman for the Arizona Democratic Party, says the party will instead have caucuses in each of the congressional districts.

"That will save the taxpayers some money," Johnson said.

But we couldn't help but wonder if the Democratic Party's decision had anything to do with Project White House 2012, the Tucson Weekly's reality-journalism competition that is helping average citizens get their names on the Feb. 28 presidential-primary ballot.

After all, it would be a tremendous blow to President Barack Obama if a dark-horse candidate on the Arizona primary ballot were to defeat him.

Johnson denied that the Democrats canceled the primary because they were afraid a Project White House 2012 candidate might beat Obama.

"I'm guessing that was not the driving decision," said Johnson, who claimed to be unaware of Project White House 2012.

Johnson also brushed aside suggestions that the Arizona Democratic Party was seeking to block the ability of Americans to fulfill their childhood dreams of seeking the White House.

"We're not quashing anyone's dreams," Johnson said. "If they really want to run, I'm sure there's a technical process they can go through if they want to participate in the caucus process."

Still, the decision not to have a Democratic primary has big implications for Project White House 2012. Now, any candidate who wants to be on the February primary ballot—and join our reality-journalism competition to win the Tucson Weekly's endorsement—will need to run as a Republican.

By the way, the Arizona Secretary of State's Office has finalized the nomination form, so if you're ready to launch your campaign, you can download it at our website.

More by Jim Nintzel

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