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FRIENDLY FIRE

If Republican voters were hoping to get some idea of how the Congressional District 8 candidates differ on the issues, last week's forum before the Republican club of Precinct 388 didn't do them much good.

Only three of the four candidates in the race to finish Gabrielle Giffords' congressional term were onstage; Martha McSally, the former Air Force fighter pilot who is making her political debut, was in Washington, D.C. to take care of some campaign business.

So the forum featured state Sen. Frank Antenori, 2010 GOP nominee Jesse Kelly and sports-broadcaster and marketing-businessman Dave Sitton. All three agreed on most of the topics: They all dislike Washington, spending, taxes and regulations; they all believe Barack Obama has to go; none of them support a path to normalization for immigrants who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas; they're all ready to get rid of the federal Department of Education; and so on.

There were a few elbows tossed. Antenori stressed his political experience in the trenches of the Arizona Legislature and busted on Sitton's suggestion that the federal government do an audit of all spending.

Antenori said an audit would be "very, very expensive" and "a waste of time."

"The thing you have to do is what we did here in Arizona," Antenori said. "You crack open the budget; you break out the big red marker; and you starting lining stuff out and reducing spending."

On a lighter note, Antenori (a former Green Beret) and Kelly (a former Marine) clashed, with much laughter, over Army and Marine rivalries.

For the most part, the debate was a collegial affair where the candidates worked to reassure the audience that they were all true conservatives rather than tearing into each other. So we'd chalk it up as a wash among the candidates.

Kelly probably has highest name ID among likely GOP voters in the April 17 primary. That seems confirmed by a poll conducted by Citizens United, a conservative group that has endorsed Kelly. (Admittedly, the poll is nearly a month old and was done by a group with a dog in the fight, but the other candidates haven't done much to lift their name ID since then.)

If Kelly does indeed have a lead, we'd say a wash is a win for him. Early voting starts on Thursday, March 22, so there's not that much time for the other candidates to overtake Kelly.

Of course, Antenori saw the forum differently: In a press release, he declared himself the winner, saying that he demonstrated "a superior command of the issues facing Southern Arizonans."

That brought an amusing snipe back from Team Sitton, which posted a note on the Dave Sitton for Congress Facebook page: "This type of meaningless bombast exemplifies why so many are angry and disappointed with the current political process. Politicians are only too eager to declare their opinion as fact without consultation and input from those they should be representing. What we suspect people want from perpetual politicians like Frank is a little more listening and a lot less posturing and self-serving proclamations."

While he was striking back on Facebook, Sitton told The Skinny last week that he hoped the debates would continue to be friendly. If that's the case, the rest of the GOP contenders might be losing their best opportunity to bring down Kelly before primary day.

By the time you read this, it'll be too late for you to get to the SaddleBrooke debate from 3:45 to 5:45 p.m. on Wednesday, March 14, at the Mountain View Club House, 38759 S. Mountain View Blvd.

But you still may have a chance to see the four candidates as the Sabino Teenage Republicans host a debate from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, March 15, at Sabino High School, 5000 N. Bowes Road.

The candidates will also be making TV appearances this week and next on KUAT Channel 6's Arizona Illustrated, and all four will meet in a televised debate on the program next Wednesday, March 21. Arizona Illustrated airs at 6:30 p.m.; you can also watch the segments at azpm.org.


SEE YOU IN COURT

The dysfunctional saga of state Rep. Daniel Patterson got even weirder last week.

As we've reported in recent weeks, Patterson's political career took a turn for the worse when he got into a fight with his girlfriend, Georgette Escobar, as they were breaking up.

To sum up a messy story: Escobar claimed that Patterson roughed her up and stole her dog; he said she was lying and had a criminal history that included domestic abuse, drug-possession charges and car theft.

Escobar told The Skinny last week that she was leaving town, because Patterson had blown her secret identity that she assumed while on the run from an abusive ex. She said that even though she was clean and sober these days, she needed to make a fresh start somewhere else.

She didn't get far before ending up in La Paz County Jail last week on charges of meth possession. We're told that Escobar managed to make bail and is due back in court on March 16.

Meanwhile, Patterson had his own court date as city of Tucson prosecutors went after him on four misdemeanor domestic-violence charges, including domestic-violence assault, domestic-violence disorderly conduct, domestic-violence imprisonment and domestic-violence harassment. On Thursday, March 8, Patterson pleaded not guilty to the charges; his attorney, Joe St. Louis, claimed his client had legislative immunity and that a trial couldn't move forward until the legislative session wraps up.

Tucson City Prosecutor Baird Greene said his office is prepared to argue against the use of legislative immunity, because domestic violence falls under "breach of peace," which is not protected under the immunity clause in the Arizona Constitution.

Meanwhile, Patterson is facing more problems in Phoenix. The House Ethics Committee was set to meet earlier this week to decide how to move forward with the ethics complaint brought against Patterson by his fellow Democratic lawmakers.

In the run-up to the ethics hearing, House Speaker Andy Tobin stripped Patterson of his right to vote on bills in committees, although Patterson retains the right to vote on bills when they come to the floor.

Patterson got yet more bad news on Monday, March 12, when the Democratic Committee in Patterson's Legislative District 29 voted 14-0, with one abstention, to pass this resolution: "With criminal charges and an ethics investigation by the House of Representatives pending, the LD 29 Democrats call for the resignation of Rep. Daniel Patterson for lack of decorum and professionalism."


SIGNATURE EFFORT

A group of Tucson activists, parents and students calling themselves Citizens for Educational Excellence are hitting the streets with petitions to recall Tucson Unified School District governing-board member Michael Hicks.

To make the recall happen, they'll have to gather 24,000 signatures before a date in July.

The members of CEE also plan to support a slate of candidates for the governing-board seats now held by Mark Stegeman, Alexandre Sugiyama and Miguel Cuevas; all are up for re-election in November.

They're targeting Hicks for speaking out against the Mexican-American studies program and, during a radio interview, comparing students who participated in a teach-in at the University of Arizona to the Penn State child-molestation case.

The recall organizers are getting help from Randy Parraz, a key figure in the recall of former state Senate President Russell Pearce.

Parraz's involvement led to Hicks firing off a press release saying that he won't be intimidated by well-funded "outside agitators."

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