The Skinny

A HOUSE DIVIDED: Gov. Jane Dee Hull finally won her ultimate steel-cage political wrestling match with the conservative wing of the GOP last week, when the state House of Representatives overcame the parliamentary shenanigans of House Speaker Jeff Groscost. He's the smooth-talking Mesa Republican who had stalled passage of Hull's proposal to ask voters to hike sales taxes by .6 percent for education.

Legislative passage of the proposal--decried as the largest tax increase in state history by Groscost, who was undoubtedly previewing the anti-campaign sure to be on the horizon--brought a big sigh of relief to moderate Republicans across the state, who are worried that failing to put Hull's plan on the ballot would hurt GOP candidates in the November elections. And with the Republicans holding only a 16-14 majority, even losing one seat means losing control of the state Senate.

With Groscost now seeking a state Senate seat (he's up against term limits in the House), a battle is already brewing to see who will emerge as the next Speaker. The two lawmakers scrambling to line up support are Jim Weiers, a close Groscost ally from Phoenix, and Mike Gardner, a more moderate Republican from Tempe.

Weiers stuck by Groscost, opposing the legislation, while Gardner came out a winner by building a coalition of Republicans and Democrats who supported the governor's plan. The big question: Can Gardner put together the same support next January, when the time comes to choose a new Speaker?

STRANGE TRIP: In a Desert Whisper titled "Growing Strange" last Saturday on the editorial page of the Arizona Smiley Star, one of the morning daily's sly political analysts compared the Citizens Growth Management Initiative with the Arizona Legislature's Growing Smarter plan. In slightly mangled syntax, the pundit noted that developers would be backing Growing Smarter, "which preserves certain state lands, requires voters approve city and county general plans every 10 years and cities could set boundaries beyond which they would not deliver services. --Some consider these as competing ballot measures. However, the interesting question is what might happen if voters approved both measures. The Arizona Constitution says that if two ballot measures conflict in any way, 'the measure or amendment receiving the greatest number of affirmative votes shall prevail.' "

Well, it's not really all that interesting a question, mainly because the portions of Growing Smarter relating to planning were passed into law earlier this year by the Legislature. The only portion of Growing Smarter that is going before voters is the question of changing the state constitution to allow three percent of state trust land to be set aside for preservation, rather than put to the so-called "highest and best use." (Not to digress, but why is it that "highest and best use" is always selling off the dirt for subdivisions and strip malls?)

So, in short, the two ballot propositions won't conflict at all. If voters approve both plans, the regulations of the Citizens Growth Management Initiative will supercede the toothless Growing Smarter legislation passed by the legislature earlier this year, while the constitution will still be amended to allow the paltry three percent of trust land to be set aside. (Hey, it's a start!)

All of which isn't to say lawmakers and the Growth Lobby aren't hoping to confuse voters by putting an alternative to the CGMI on the ballot. Judging from what we're reading in the Star, so far the strategy is working like a charm.

PARTY ON: The Tucson City Council recently postponed action that would have asked voters in November to approve three changes to the city's charter: making city elections non-partisan, adding two additional seats to the council, and giving the mayor the same voting rights as council members.

"Smiling" Bob Walkup and his big-biz buddies railed against this wise decision because the changes would have given them even more power than they have now. But take a look at the political realities of these proposals.

· We have partisan elections for everything from president to justice of the peace, so why should the Tucson City Council be any different? And you're dreaming if you think that Ward 6 Councilman Fred Ronstadt, one of those who pushed to delay a decision on the changes, would be pressing for non-partisan ward elections. As a Republican representing a heavily Democratic ward, what would Ronstadt's chances be next year if he were to run for re-election in a non-partisan primary? Of course he wants to delay a decision on the issue.

· Proponents of adding two seats to the six-member council argue that it will help the drive to annex the Catalina Foothills. They don't mention the additional cost of two council offices, which pencils out to at least $500,000 a year. Besides, the design of state annexation law makes bringing a massive population base into the city overnight virtually impossible, even if foothills residents were eager to become city residents, which they're not. And even if they were, ward boundaries have to be approved by the Justice Department under federal voting regs, so the city can't promise anybody a new ward.

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