The Skinny

TOXIC WASTE OF TAXPAYER DOLLARS: Hamstrung by politics and poor funding from the Arizona Legislature, the state Department of Environmental Quality has increasingly been a toothless agency when it comes to protecting Arizona from toxic polluters. But the recent announcement that new DEQ Director Jacqueline Schafer has hired former lawmaker Jim Buster as the agency's lobbyist is a new low.

Although he now downplays his record, Buster was one of the agency's chief foes during his time in the state Senate. Buster's most remarkable attack on the agency was his sponsorship of Environmental Audit legislation, dubbed the Polluter Protection Act by opponents, who complained the law would have allowed polluters to escape criminal and civil penalties as long as they 'fessed up about their illegal dumps. Those records would also have been kept sealed from the public -- after all, news that Compurola was responsible for a carcinogenic plume could have some negative public-relations impact.

The legislation, opposed by DEQ and the Attorney General's Office, passed out of both houses in 1995, but was vetoed by then-Gov. J. Fife Symington III.

Buster maintains he was just hoping for a more conciliatory relationship between industry and regulators.

Buster will be paid $61,500 to represent DEQ in its negotiations with the Legislature. Schafer, who says she wasn't aware of Buster's legislative record, told Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services that she was hoping Buster could help work her through the confirmation process in the state Senate.

Near as we can tell, her hiring of Buster pretty much disqualifies her from running the agency -- but we're sure the Senate will see her as the ideal director of DEQ.

PRESEASON FORECAST: Legislative District 13 is shaping up as a major battlefield in next year's legislative races. Stretching from east-central Tucson into the Catalina Foothills, D13 is an anomaly in state politics, with a close balance between Republicans and Democrats. As of November 8, there were 30,908 Democrats, 30,196 Republicans, 1,099 Libertarians, 32 Reform Party members and 11,123 voters not affiliated with any of those parties.

With 16 Republicans and 14 Democrats in the state Senate, both parties will fight hard for the D13 Senate seat, currently held by Democrat George Cunningham. Democrat Andy Nichols and Republican Kathleen Dunbar hold the two House seats.

Cunningham is considering a run against U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe. (He'll likely face a Democratic primary against former Tucson Mayor Tom Volgy, who lost to Kolbe in 1998, and county prosecutor Mary Judge Ryan.) That leaves the prize of an open Senate seat up for grabs.

Although Arizona's resign-to-run law prevents him from announcing his candidacy, Nichols has already launched an exploratory campaign for Senate seat.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party Chairman Jesse George reports that three Democrats are considering runs for the two House seats: Realtor Colette Barajas, Dr. Howard Shore, who is married to Planned Parenthood honcho Virginia Yrun, and Gabrielle Giffords, who is heir to the El Campo tire fortune.

On the Republican side, Dunbar has to decide whether to leave her House seat to challenge Nichols in the Senate race. Dunbar, who is serving her first term, is being pressured by the GOP to make the leap, despite her own relunctance to leave the House. In the 1998 House race, Nichols finished ahead Dunbar by less than 150 votes.

Among the Republicans considering a run for the D13 House seats is Scott Kirtley, a teacher who lost his 1996 bid for a House seat. Kirtley was recently named to the Governor's Commission on Civil Rights.

Republicans are also floating the name of Rick Grinnell, who lost his bid for the City Council Ward 2 seat earlier this month, as a potential candidate.

CHIEF INJUSTICE: The six finalists to replace retiring Oro Valley Police Chief Werner Wolff have been chosen -- and it's obvious that certain folks need not apply. Four of those deemed most qualified were high-ranking members of the Tucson Police Department, one came out of the Tohono O'odham cop shop and the last one was a police chief from a small town in New Jersey.

Missing from the list were any of the top brass -- former or present -- from the Pima County Sheriff's Department. We were told at least one applicant held the rank of major with the Sheriff's Department, but apparently the rank of major in the PCSO isn't as good a prerequisite as the rank of lieutenant or captain elsewhere.

Part of the reason for this obvious bias stems from Wolff's tenure as a TPD officer, but it may have been influenced by the death of an Oro Valley police officer some years back. Oro Valley considered it murder, but a deeper investigation by the Sheriff's Office determined that the terminally ill officer had killed himself and tried to make it look like murder to deliver benefits to his family. The Oro Valley cops may have never forgiven the Sheriff's Office for that.

The difference in "bad cop" stories between TPD and the PCSO is no real contest, with the overwhelming majority of the problems occurring in TPD. For its size, Oro Valley has its share of trouble as well. The suburban potted plants who make up the Oro Valley Mayor and Council once again have no clue about what their own bureaucrats are doing in the town they supposedly run.

LUCKY BREAK: It's wacky. It's fun. Name the city and county workers driving government trucks to the Arizona Lottery's Tucson office to buy tickets on taxpayer or ratepayer time!

Although the Lotto and Powerball jackpots were at their respective minimums on November 3, two city workers and one from the county cruised up in "company" trucks to snap up tickets within five minutes around 2 p.m. The first, from Tucson Water, in a Ford 150 with license G949A, had enough brains to park in back of the East Grant Road office.

The others were more brazen, parking right in front. A county employee in a county van, license G328BF, was followed by a dedicated city worker, whose white GMC truck, city number 2127 and license G091BV, carried the "for official use only" tag above the city's logo and Parks and Recreation label.

Sort of reminded us of the retort a county worker delivered when he was reprimanded for driving a county truck to the barbershop for a trim on county time. Said he: "My hair grows on county time."

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