The Skinny

VANISHING VOLGY: In a letter to supporters last week, Democrat Tom Volgy announced he would not take another shot at GOP Congressman Jim Kolbe this year.

Volgy, the former Tucson mayor who narrowly lost to Kolbe in 1998, said the race would simply cost too much. In his unsuccessful bid for the District 5 seat two years ago, Volgy made campaign finance reform a centerpiece of his campaign. He refused to accept PAC contributions and limited his own spending to $250,000 (and even sent back contributions once he had reached that threshold). Kolbe, meanwhile, spent about three times as much and beat Volgy by about eight percentage points.

This time out, Volgy said he was willing to raise more money, but he was also facing a tougher three-way Democratic primary against state Sen. George Cunningham and county prosecutor Mary Judge Ryan. Given that scenario, he decided to sit this one out, which may have been a smart move for Volgy. The eight-term Kolbe would be tough to beat under the best of circumstances.

Besides, as Volgy noted in his letter, the upcoming census may deliver another congressional seat to southern Arizona. Depending on how it's cut, Volgy could skip the race this year and run in 2002 for an open seat.

As Volgy dropped out of the race last week, Ryan stepped up her campaign, holding a press conference on Kolbe's doorstep complaining that the congressman's recent advertising blitz delivered a load of crap to local TV screens.

Ryan charged that Kolbe's recent propaganda spot, in which he claimed to support a Patient's Bill of Rights, distorted his record. In fact, Kolbe voted against the Patient's Bill of Rights that passed the House of Representatives, but he did vote for a watered-down version that failed. That's par for the course for Kolbe, who always seems to be on both sides of an issue.

DAY BREAKS: State Sen. Ann Day made it official last week: pushed out of the Legislature by term limits, she declared she was seeking the District 1 seat on the Pima County Board of Supervisors held by Mike Boyd. Boyd was spotted later in the day in El Presidio Park, holding an impromptu press conference to announce he had not flip-flopped on his plan to give up his seat. We imagine Boyd was pushed into meeting the press by his aide, Toni Hellon, a Day supporter who is now going to seek her state Senate seat.

Although Boyd said last year he'd seek a "real job" in the private sector, he's waffling on that plan. He's now weighing a run for the Arizona Corporation Commission or the county treasurer's office.

Meanwhile, Day may face a primary battle from state Rep. Dan Schottel, who's also reached his term limit. Schottel said last week he was leaning toward a run for the Board of Supes over the state Senate seat.

So is anyone else jumping into the primary? We hear that Rich Genser, an apartment developer who's active with the Sierra Club, is leaning against running.

We're also told support for Day remains weak in some GOP circles. Growth Lobby types have been trying to recruit another candidate for the District 1 seat: Larry Aldrich, head honcho of Tucson Newspaper Inc., the publishing company of the Star/Citizen created by the Joint Operating Agreement that keeps the Citizen breathing. But it appears that Aldrich, who also serves on the board of Greater Tucson Leadership (formerly known as the Southern Arizona Leadership Council), isn't interested in running.

The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Byron Howard.

PYGMY POWER: Legal troubles -- and legal bills -- continue to mount for the Amphi School District in the ongoing effort to build a high school on the edge of habitat for the endangered pygmy owl.

The latest twist came after a federal appeals court sided with the district and lifted the injunction barring construction. The Amphi administration declared a contrived "emergency" and began bulldozing the land immediately.

Work came to a halt, however, when the Environmental Protection Agency told district officials that a permit related to storm water discharge might no longer be valid, given that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had declared the school site to be within critical owl habitat. District officials and their lawyers insist the permit is still good, but the EPA evidently sees things differently.

According to notes from a meeting earlier this month between district staff and federal officials in San Francisco, the district was given a few options to continue with construction. Basically, the feds want Amphi to purchase another 80 acres adjacent to the school property to make up for the habitat they've destroyed. Or, failing that, Amphi can abandon the site and build somewhere else.

District officials say they don't have the estimated $2 million the additional land would cost. Attorneys for the district also say the district has no legal power to buy land for an environmental set-aside.

Superintendent Bob Smith has turned to Arizona's congressional delegation for help. Sen. Jon Kyl and Congressman Jim Kolbe have in turn begun leaning on the EPA. Kolbe and Kyl, along with their GOP House brethren John Shadegg, J.D. Hayworth and Bob Stump, have written a letter to EPA officials asking for "an explanation of any possible legal grounds EPA may have to further hold up construction of this essential facilityÉ."

So how much has this ongoing fiasco cost the district? Well, the original land cost about $1.8 million; in his letter to Kolbe, Smith reports the district has now invested more than $4 million in the site -- and they haven't even been able to start construction. Some of those additional dollars may have been spent on designing the school and scraping the land, but the bulk has been spent fighting to build in this ill-considered location.

In the meantime, the two environmental organizations who originally sued to stop construction, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, have notified the EPA that they plan to sue if the new permit is issued -- which means more money going to legal bills and the possibility of further delay.

BLIGHT-HEADED: Like an undead vampire, Karl Eller is back again in the state Legislature with another bill (HB 2559) that would instantly legalize over 100 of his illegal billboards in Tucson. This is in addition to continuing his lawsuit against community activist Mark Mayer for having the audacity to point out the billboard violations to the city in the first place.

While Eller's bill was expected, the mayor and council response -- or lack thereof -- was not. At Monday's meeting they took no action to oppose this obscene piece of special interest legislation. Councilman Steve Leal put forward a motion to oppose all state bills that would cut city revenues or preempt city powers and Councilman JosÉ Ibarra seconded it. In an attempt to do Eller's bidding, Councilman Fred Ronstadt then pulled the billboard bill out of the package, cited some Eller-induced non-issues about the bill, and stated he "needed more information." Sadly, council members Shirley Scott and Carol West fell like dominoes for this lame delay ploy and the city is now left with no position before the state legislature on a bill that rapes its fundamental code enforcement authority. And, of course, this putrid drama has nothing to do with the fact that Karl Eller made the rounds to the council offices earlier this month, with Jim Click in tow singing the praises of Eller's blight agenda.

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