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A Growing Problem

Big banks cut off border agricultural biz

Santa Cruz County's produce importers are facing a major challenge: The big banks that have extended them millions of dollars in credit lines have started to close down those accounts.

The credit lines are crucial to the companies' ability to do business, said Lance Jungmeyer, the president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. The loans literally provide the seed money for the crops grown on Mexican farms, along with covering other costs: field workers, truck drivers, water bills and all the rest.

Jungmeyer said that the problem stems from a crackdown on money laundering by the Justice Department. Federal prosecutors are warning banks that they'll face fines of hundreds of millions of dollars if they look the other way while handling the profits of illegal drug cartels, so banks are deciding that it's just not worth the risk to provide the accounts to many of their longtime customers.

"We have all these companies that are doing legitimate business that need their line of credit that have gotten phone calls to let them know they were closing their accounts," Jungmeyer said.

Sen. John McCain wrote letters to several of the big banks last September inquiring into the shutdown of branches in Nogales. McCain said the shutdown of the banks "have not only made it more difficult for certain Arizonan entrepreneurs, who own or manage cash-intensive businesses, to obtain the necessary capital to run those businesses, but have also presented new obstacles for companies that do business in both the United States and Mexico."

Jungmeyer appreciated McCain's efforts, but said that they have done little good so far.

State Sen. Steve Farley told The Skinny that he is trying to craft legislation that would allow the state to move some of its funds out of big banks and invest it in community banks that might be willing to lend money to Arizona-based companies that are having these kinds of financial problems. The Tucson Democrat would like to start up a state bank to provide such loans, but recognizes that's a tough sell at the GOP-controlled Legislature. In the meantime, though, he thinks he can persuade some of his colleagues to consider finding ways to support Arizona businesses.

"We have $20 billion sitting around the state at any given time," Farley said. "Why shouldn't we take some of that money while we're not using it and back up small community banks in Arizona?"

Jungmeyer said Farley's idea is "worth considering," but there are potential wrinkles: Will the Department of Justice then go after the smaller banks? And can the smaller banks, even with more assets, handle the demand?

"It's not one company needing $10 million," he said. "It's 50 or 60."

Jungmeyer said the real solution lies in getting the Justice Department to stop creating a disincentive to loan to border businesses as part of the drug war.

"We're collateral damage," Jungmeyer said.

Political theater

Do we have a mayor's race this year?

We mentioned a few weeks back that we were hoping that someone would step to challenge Mayor Jonathan Rothschild this year—and our casting call may have been answered.

Chuck Williams has filed paperwork to run against Rothschild in August's Democratic primary. Williams attended Rincon High School before finding success in Hollywood as an actor, director and producer. You can check out his IMDB page for the details of his career, but he's been in two of The Skinny's favorite movies: "Bubba Ho-Tep" and "John Dies at the End." You will presumably find out more about his positions on the issues at his website, voteforchuckwilliams.com.

We've reached out the Williams to learn more about his political plans. Details to follow.

Many Happy Returns

A merry Tuckmas to all!

A talented and remarkably good-looking crew turned up at The Shanty on Sunday, Jan. 26, to celebrate Tuckmas, aka the 91st birthday of Dick Tuck, the legendary political prankster who used to drive President Richard Nixon nuts.

Among those in attendance: Tucson Museum of Contemporary Art Executive Director Anne-Marie Russell and her hubby, Mike Hein, the director of Pima County's Office of Emergency Management; Tucson Sentinel editor and publisher Dylan Smith and his wife, Sentinel editor Maria Coxon-Smith; author Greg McNamee; Tucson City Councilman Paul Cunningham and his newlywed wife, Alisa; KUAT-FM classical music guru James Reel and his wife, Yvonne Merrill; and many others.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild was also in attendance to read a proclamation honoring Tuck for his many contributions to politics, including his skirmishes with Tricky Dick and his stint as National Lampoon's political editor, where he inspired modern satirists such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Among the cavalcade of evidence supporting the declaration of "Dick Tuck Day": "Whereas, upon losing the primary for a seat in the California state Senate, Mr. Tuck uttered the words: 'The voters have spoken ... the bastards."

Before blowing out his candles, Tuck thanked his guests for coming out for the party and noted that he was wearing long pants for the occasion, which was unusual for him, as he can normally been seen making his circuit about town clad in shorts, colorful socks, a dress shirt and bowtie.

He recalled that when he was a young boy, his mother took him to Steinfeld's downtown department store to buy a pair of shorts, only to be informed by the clerk that Arizona residents didn't wear shorts.

"My mother then carved her a new ass," Tuck said. "I wish I could remember exactly what she said, but I was only 6 or 7. At any rate, I notice that Arizona golfers and most other people wear shorts, thanks to my mother."

He also expressed his gratitude to Shanty owner Bill Nugent, who was tending bar Sunday afternoon.

"I've been to lots of parts of the world and sampled their bars and this is one of the nicest places I've ever been," Tuck said, "He runs a good joint and I hope you all come back here often."

"Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel" airs every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on KGUN-9. This week's scheduled guests are National Republican Committeeman Bruce Ash and Don Jorgensen, the former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party.

More by Jim Nintzel

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