B y E m i l F r a n z i
THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES of political news coverage generally are ignored or only obliquely understood by the local media, and they're hardly ever discussed in journalism schools. This annual survey is about just one of them, but they are intertwined. Briefly stated they are:
1. Cockroaches hate sunlight.
2. The game often is not on the level.
3. Follow the money.
4. Somewhere, every day, the fix is in.
Memorize those and you'll be far ahead of the political reporters for Tucson's two daily newspapers.
People who live in Chicago, New Jersey and Rhode Island know this stuff. But as sleazy as their politics are, they at least expect something back from their public officials, both appointed and elected, whom most regard as licensed thieves. And those pols who go too far often are busted and tossed in the slammer.
We in the supposedly unsullied West view such shenaningans as an indication eastern pols are more corrupt than our pols. Wrong. All it means is they actually bust some of their sleazebags.
Here, we simply pretend the sleaze isn't happening. This is the only state we know of where, when you point out a public official has his hand in the cookie jar, you're the one who's deemed to have committed the sin. Just look at how J. Fife Symington III screams about news reporters when they write about his bankruptcy and how he stiffed people. How dare they talk about that!
Our collective blindness is at least partially due to the fact Arizona's conflict-of-interest laws are so loose that it's almost impossible for some people--namely lawyers and Lobbyists--ever to have one.
The great Tammany Hall philosopher George Washington Plunkitt put the fix in perspective when he compared government to a vast apple orchard. Only one of those apple trees was marked "penal code." Why, Plunkitt wondered, would anyone want to pick apples from that tree when there were all those others?
Here's our list of those conniving scam artists who have taken advantage of this system and gathered those apples throughout the year. The best fixers of 1995:
STATE TREASURER TONY WEST
The Legislature changed the rules for those receiving state pensions, and for what seemed to be a good reason: Retired police officers who moved to small communities and wished to work as cops had to give up the pensions they'd already earned, so the law was changed to allow them to keep drawing those pensions while working. However, a few clever public officials, including our greedy State Treasurer Tony West, noted the rule change could also apply to them.
Re-elected to a second term and entitled to a rather comfortable pension based on his years of legislative service, West found the angle: He resigned as state treasurer in December and immediately applied for pension benefits. Then he was sworn in again in January and began drawing the full salary for the position.
REGENT JOHN MUNGER
He's everybody's favorite drone and Gov. J. Fife Symington III's fair-haired boy in Pima County. The Symington people think lawyer and Board of Regents president-elect John Munger actually had something to do with Fife carrying Pima County in 1994--which is kinda like believing wet pavement causes rain. And the Phil Gramm campaign was dumb enough to make Munger their Pima County chairman, which may explain why Gramm really doesn't have much of a campaign presence here.
But Munger has always done a pretty good job of taking care of the law firm of Munger & Munger--which consists of him, his brother Clark and assorted hangers-on. They bagged a fat lobbying contract from the Pima County Board of Supervisors when the GOP took over in 1993, which is OK in itself as a normal patronage fix. But Munger has never considered that there just might be a teeny bit of conflict of interest when he represents clients who may not be going the same way as Pima County, or even Fife.
One classic example occurred when he represented an out-of-state garbage company before the supervisors when they were considering a proposal for a private landfill. Offering even bigger possibilities for a fix is that one of Munger's lobbying clients is the organization representing the folks who do property tax appeals--usually against the counties, which levy the taxes. So which way do you go when there's a bill that affects both, John?
LEGENDARY LAND SPECULATOR DON DIAMOND
This guy has so many fixes working that it's hard to catalog them all. (See Ed Moore, below.) And it's hard to decide which '95 fix attempt was the biggest.
Trying to kill the new federal court house so he could keep charging the feds rent at La Placita was certainly Diamond's most blatant attempt of the year--that one even disturbed the The Arizona Daily Star, as well as raising the hackles of U.S. Sen. John McCain.
On another front, last we heard, Diamond was trying to switch the 160 acres he currently lives on--which he's now subdividing--from the Amphi School District to Catalina Foothills. This move was so disgustingly greedy that even the development stooges on the Amphi School Board balked.
And Diamond's gift of cash to the University of Arizona to study what happens when you transplant all the endangered cacti in front of his land at Madera Canyon was a classic fix.
But perhaps his best all-around fix is still in the works. Diamond is working toward getting the feds to buy land he couldn't use anyway and convincing them to attach it to Saguaro National Monument--based on the inflated price he got for the rest of the parcel. A parcel, we might add, whose value he boosted through Pima County's lax rezoning process. The feds still haven't appropriated the money for this one, but when you're worth more than half a billion bucks, you can wait.
SUPERVISOR ED MOORE
Special Ed just loves to act righteously indignant and yell "corruption" when people find a flaw in his often twisted logic. Well, some of us find it totally corrupt when a county supervisor casts the deciding vote for a rezoning that will greatly increase the value of his own land just down the road.
The Don Diamond-owned parcel at River Road and La Cholla Boulevard was rezoned this year to handle 950 apartments and 160 homes on 94 acres. That move utterly nuked a quiet, family neighborhood and will destroy both Lulu Walker Elementary and several other schools when all those kids hit the already bonded-to-the-max Amphi School District.
Two other adjoining pieces are owned by two of Moore's cronies and long-time business associates, Jack Conrad and Ira Ernst. They make out pretty good on this one, as does Moore, who lives on a large piece of land a few hundred yards away.
All of Moore's stories about how he and Diamond are now political enemies over Moore's support of the recent city water initiative kinda fall apart on this one, don't they?
ALL PUBLIC OFFICIALS WHO APPOINT THEIR FRIENDS TO GIVE THEM PAY RAISES
Most elected officials are constitutionally prohibited from raising their own pay. County officials can get a pay raise from the Legislature, which has a lot to do with why county officials are about the best-paid public officials--because some of those legislators plan to run for county offices when term limits kick 'em out of the statehouse. But for any of the statewide officials and the Legislature itself (as well as the Tucson City Council) to get a raise, the people have to vote on it. Guess how that's going to come out.
So here's the fix, and the media gobble it every time: The pols appoint a commission to advise the voters on how much they should be paid.
So who do you think a bunch of people who want more money are going to put on such a commission? Probably not folks who might think some of the bastards are paid too much already, when you consider per diems and other perks and bennies not subject to public votes.
So, is it any wonder the recent recommendations to up the take for legislators and state officials came from a commission which consisted mainly of Lobbyists?
Naturally those lobbyists will support the item on next November's ballot, and our professional legislators will be claiming, hey, it's not our idea.
This sort of fix is technically called a pay-off, only this one's done with our money. Hell, we'd probably save big bucks if we just let them take bribes.
TUCSON CITIZEN PUBLISHER DON HATFIELD AND HIS WONDERFUL BASEBALL STADIUM
Tucson Citizen publisher and Gannett colonial governor Don Hatfield has been on a great crusade lately to make sure we build that new baseball stadium. He's even provided an actual fiery editorial on the subject, which we're sure somebody else wrote, because this guy's stuff is normally so boring he'd put you to sleep trying to explain a nuclear attack.
What he should explain is that he's a member of the Sports Development Corporation, an outfit whose main job right now is getting that proposed baseball stadium built with taxpayer money. Some of us think Hatfield's rah-rah job using the front page of the Citizen to run pseudo-stories pimping that stadium is a tad tacky. Particularly when he's never mentioned his personal role in the matter.
So not all the fixes are attempted by the pols and developers.
GOVERNOR J. FIFE SYMINGTON III
How 'bout that bankruptcy, folks? And that's just the 1995 fix.
Try to remember how he sat on the board of a thrift association that gave him enough financial rope to hang himself--and the taxpayer. And don't forget, Symington essentially bought the 1990 primary election with his wife's family money.
So now his financial empire goes under, and guess what--the community property doesn't affect that same wife who bought him the election! And she gets to keep her fortune--including the art collection he claims he gave her as payback for the campaign money she loaned him! Please remember the art still hangs on the same walls of the bitchin' house they both live in, while the union guys whose pension fund he stiffed are making do with lowered benefits.
Evil coal baron Henry Clay Fricke must be laughing his ass off down in deepest hell at his direct descendant's sleazy shennigans.
THOSE WONDERFUL FOLKS IN MARANA\DOGPATCH
The town leaders are so totally clueless it's almost hard to call them fixers because it's clear they just don't know any better. Almost. With the exception of Councilman Tom Clark, who's a reasonably straight guy, and Councilman Herb Kai, who had enough class not to vote on a rezoning because he owned some nearby land (Ed Moore, please note), the rest of these bozos can't even spell conflict of interest. And if you've ever been to a Marana Town Council meeting, you'll doubt that most of them can read or write.
Marana-Dogpatch is divided into two parts--Old Marana (also known as Dogpatch) and Continental Ranch. Three council members are now from Continental Ranch and two of them, Vice Mayor Sharon Price and Councilman Bobby Sutton, have direct economic connections to the developer of that massive eyesore. Price is employed by the supposed homeowners' association, which actually is controlled by the developer, Ranch Holdings; Sutton and his father have a painting business which does work for the developer.
Meanwhile, keeping up the tradition of sleaze in the Dogpatch portion of town is former Mayor Ora Harn, who recently placed developer Larry Leung of New World Homes on the board of directors of the charitable group that just happens to employ her. Like we said, these turkeys wouldn't know what a conflict of interest was if it bit them on the ass.
But the biggest fix this past year occurred when the Town Council allowed former Tucson Planning Director Carl Winters to act as a planning consultant. The council approved his plan to update and modify the town zoning code as a "public service." One month later, however, Winters, was back before the same town council and his old City of Tucson cronie, now-Marana Town Manager Hurvie Davis, representing a whole bunch of clients with the argument that the rezonings they wanted fit the plan Winters had just created for the town. Damn, folks--that's a fix.
TUCSON CITY MANAGER MIKE BROWN
The stiffs on the Tucson City Council let this guy run wild. He's a classic example of what happens when a weak pack of elected officials meets a bureaucrat with his own policy agenda. He brings real meaning to Robert Heinlein's line from Lazarus Long: "Civil servant is semantically equal to civil master."
He has almost as many fixes in as Don Diamond. In fact, some of them are Diamond's fixes--everything from seriously considering annexing Rocking K to paying way over the appraisal for Diamond's La Reforma property. Brown's also cut a deal with the folks out in Marana for a sphere of influence, backing off on Tucson's claims for the Ina-Thornydale area, letting Dogpatch keep the sales tax revenue to aid developer subsidies in that wretched little town.
But Brown's best fix had to be when Pima Community College Board Member Ted Koff got caught with a twenty in his pocket picking up a hooker. Oooops, after a couple of phone calls the city decided not to prosecute, due, supposedly, to insufficient evidence; and the cop who blew the whistle to the press was disciplined. Maybe not the biggest fix in town, but certainly one of the sleaziest.
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