The Skinny


Republican John Munger is offering a new spin for why the Republicans at the Arizona Legislature have to slash spending on kids, single moms, schools, universities, health-care programs, state parks and yadda yadda yadda.

It's the Democrats' fault.

Munger floated this theory last week during his monthly political face-off with Democrat Vince Rabago on KUAT Channel 6's Arizona Illustrated.

Evidently embarrassed by the GOP's brutal budget cuts, Munger blurted out that Democrats refused to negotiate with Republicans, therefore forcing GOP leaders to go with the most radical members of their caucus to get a budget passed.

Or, as he put in a masterstroke of double standards: "The problem right now is that the Democrats in the House and Senate in the Arizona Legislature have decided not to oppose--it's fine to oppose ideologically as the Republicans in Congress are doing, opposing something ideologically--but to obstruct, which is a difference: to obstruct what's happening and try to put the Republicans, and resultingly, the state in a bad situation. The Democrats are not casting a vote for anything. ... As a matter of policy, they are sitting this out."

This borders on delusional. Let's leave aside whatever efforts that the Obama administration made to include Republicans in the stimulus plan back in D.C. (although the polls we've seen indicate that Obama is winning that particular PR war).

Here in Arizona, Democrats offered a number of alternatives to this year's budget. The Republicans completely ignored the proposal put forward by Democrat Janet Napolitano before she left town for that Department of Homeland Security gig. And Democrats in the House offered a number of ideas that were dismissed as smoke-and-mirror gimmicks by GOP leaders.

Not that the rejection should come as any surprise. Republicans have repeatedly insisted in recent years that budget proposals have enough GOP votes to pass without Democratic support. And conservatives have not looked fondly on Republicans who negotiate with Democrats. Any lawmaker inclined to work on a truly bipartisan budget agreement would find himself with a big ol' RINO target on his back in the 2010 primary.

Hey, it would be swell if moderate Republicans could work with Democrats to come up with a smarter budget plan. But when everything besides massive cuts has been declared off the table, why would any Democrat help give Republicans cover for a plan that does nothing but slash and burn? Getting a senior center in your district doesn't make up for wiping out the universities.

It's something of a breakthrough for Munger to even admit that there are Republicans on the far edge of the conservative spectrum, given how often he's defended anyone who had an "R" after their name. Well, except for Joe Sweeney.

But those Republicans who Munger is describing as far-right aren't on the fringe. At this point, they're actually running the show--and they're the ones who are pushing to slash every government program they can. Is it any wonder that Munger wants to disassociate the GOP brand from that budget fix?


The state's Clean Elections program, which doles out public funds to candidates for state office, has a big problem: A federal judge suggested last year that a matching-funds provision, which gives additional dollars to publicly funded candidates if their privately funded opponents cross certain spending thresholds, may be unconstitutional.

The case still needs to go to trial, but U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver seems to be leaning in favor of a group of Republicans who challenged the matching-funds provision based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

We won't bore you with the legal mumbo-jumbo--and a full trial, no doubt followed by lengthy appeals, remains on the horizon--but the folks from Clean Elections are pushing for a legislative resolution in the meantime.

To make it happen, the Clean Elections backers--you know, the folks who want to eliminate the influence of special interests--have hired Michael Williams, who happens to be one of the most prominent lobbyists in Phoenix. They hope that some kind of deal can be struck that gives candidates twice as much money as they now receive in exchange for the elimination of matching funds.

That's sure to make great headlines: Lawmakers cut spending for schools while giving themselves twice as much money for junk mail and yard signs.

The Clean Elections crew is arguing that in 2010, most of the state offices (governor, attorney general, secretary of state, etc.) are up for grabs, along with legislative races--and if candidates don't know whether matching funds will be in place, it affects whether they decide to take public funds or raise private dollars.

We've told you before why we don't like Clean Elections: It's been effectively used by hard-right conservatives to purge the Legislature of moderate members of the GOP. In Southern Arizona, for example, we've essentially replaced Marian McClure, Jennifer Burns and Pete Hershberger with David Gowan, David Stevens and Al Melvin. Up in Maricopa County, the RINO hunts have resulted in their share of hides.

That's what happens when you give anyone who can qualify tens of thousands in public dollars to establish name ID. Eventually, they win elections, and we get the current Arizona Legislature, which is so ideologically pure that even the business community no longer has a leash on them.

If this is what Clean Elections get us, we'd rather see our politicians a little more corruptible.


Republicans Rick Grinnell, who has lost two races for the Tucson City Council, and Joe Higgins, who lost a bid for the Pima County Board of Supervisors against Ann Day last year, are beating the bushes for City Council candidates this year.

We've heard from at least one Democrat who was approached about challenging one of the incumbents--Ward 3's Karin Uhlich and Ward 6's Nina Trasoff--who are up for re-election this year. Our Democratic spy declined to climb into bed with the GOP would-be power brokers.

We're starting to think they are going to cruise to re-election, which means we've got a pretty boring year ahead.

How bad is it? Over in Ward 5, no one has yet stepped up to run for the seat of retiring Councilman Steve Leal. But we're told the Eckstrom machine is gearing up behind Richard Fimbres, who now works as the head of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and serves on the board of Pima Community College. His wife, Mary Fimbres, works as an aide to Leal.


Attorney General Terry Goddard is finally taking control of the ballots from the 2006 Regional Transportation Authority election, which attorney Bill Risner and his ragtag band of election-integrity rebels allege was rigged.

Risner has been asking Goddard to step in and count the ballots--not to overturn the election, but to investigate whether criminal activity has taken place.

But now that Goddard has stepped in, John Brakey of Audit AZ is complaining that Goddard wants to take the ballots to Maricopa County and count them there. Because, you know, the conspiracy to rig the election is so wide-ranging that even Goddard was probably in on it.