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Kolbe Quits!

Congressman Jim Kolbe shook up the political firmament with the announcement that we won't have him to kick around anymore. Rather than face another challenge from right-wing darling Randy Graf, Kolbe is calling it quits after 11 terms.

Not that Graf had anything to do with it: "I have both the energy and the enthusiasm for the job I do, and I am confident that I would win re-election if I chose to run," Kolbe assured the public in a statement released last week.

Kolbe has simply "concluded that it is time for the people of Southern Arizona and me to walk down different paths."

The papers are now beginning the obligatory legacy discussion about the complex and contradictory Kolbe: He supported land conservation in Southern Arizona, but weakened environmental regulations elsewhere. He stressed fiscal conservatism, but generously doled out pork. He was gay, but Republican.

Meanwhile, we've all started playing political parlor games. On the GOP side, the top-tier candidates include Graf, who has established a political base among Kolbe haters; Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, who has great name ID, if not right-wing bona fides; and state Rep. Steve Huffman, who has been preparing for this day for a long, long time. Huffman will have to shift gears from the state Senate run he'd launched against erstwhile pal Toni Hellon. But don't you think Hellon will forgive, forget and be there to support Huffman? Sure she will.

The smart money on the Democratic side is going with state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords, who has spent years building both local and national connections for a congressional run. Giffords' best hope: She captures a lot of crossover votes if Graf hangs on to his base and wins the GOP primary.

Find more speculation--as well as what happens further down the food chain--in this week's Skinny.


Holiday Brites

Got all your holiday shopping done yet? Both Black Friday and Cyber Monday came and went without The Range doing its patriotic duty of shopping for gifts and bargains. End balances from the highly overanalyzed shopping weekend appeared mixed, with big retailers baffled over why every single American didn't max out the plastic right after Thanksgiving.

The latest poll by KAET-TV, Maricopa County's PBS affiliate, told us that voters plan to spend less on holiday shopping this year. Well, technically, 28 percent said they'd be spending less, while 12 percent said they'd spend more, and 57 percent said they'd spend about the same, so we're not sure where all this gloom-and-doom spin is coming from.

Here's some cheerier holiday news: That KAET poll showed that President George W. Bush reached his lowest approval rating ever. The survey of 419 voters showed that just 40 percent of Arizonans approve of the job Bush is doing, while 54 percent disapprove, and the rest couldn't figure out how they felt. Half of those surveyed said they believed Bush misled the American people into the Iraq war with bad intelligence, while 44 percent disagreed. And 55 percent said they agreed with a proposal similar to the one from Sen. John McCain to ban torture of prisoners in American custody, even if it would uncover valuable intelligence and save lives. Another 36 percent were OK with torture, while 9 percent just didn't know.


Think of the Children

From the Busted! desk: Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard announced a 40-count indictment against Santa Cruz County School Superintendent Robert Canchola, who faces 16 counts of theft, three counts of misuse of public money and one count of fraud. (The other half of the charges are related to conflicts of interest, because Canchola gave his wife money for consulting fees.)

A report from the Arizona Auditor General alleges that Canchola embezzled at least $16,549 between 1998 and 2003, including money for car payments, jeep repairs and a wedding.


Smut Alert!

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne sent a letter to Arizona school districts complaining that an "objectionable" book found in many public-school libraries, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, contained a forced oral-sex scene on page 31. Horne suggested that district officials review the book to see "if it meets the adoption policy of your school or school district."

That should boost its Amazon sales ranking!

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