The Skinny

COMING OUT PARTY: Gov. Jane Dee Hull still won't 'fess up to attending an April fund-raising banquet for Prop. 102. But Big Red's name has appeared on a list of proposition supporters dispersed by a bunch of lawyers, commercial hunters and cowherds who call themselves Arizonans for Wildlife Conservation.

Which is akin to calling Bubba Clinton a prude: He ain't, and they aren't.

That Hull joins this cloak-and-dagger cabal is pathetic enough. But worse, she even lacks the cajones (figuratively speaking--she is a granny) to publicly explain her new-found position, after more than a year of fence-sitting.

For the uninitiated, Prop 102 was hatched in the legislature last spring and forwarded to the ballot. Also called the supermajority referendum, it asks voters to give up much of their power by requiring a nearly impossible two-thirds, or 67 percent, approval margin for any future wildlife initiatives to become law. If passed, it would be permanently amended into the Arizona Constitution.

That means forever.

Supermajority opponents call the whole endeavor anti-democratic in extremis, saying it will hamper sincere wildlife reforms. The ballot measure has also sparked a split among hunters, many of whom consider it part of a shady agenda by Hull and lawmakers to commercialize hunting, and eventually shift the lion's share of tag permits to ranchers.

This scheme reeks of Hull advisor Joe "Doc" Lane, who also heads the Arizona Cattlegrowers Association.

Meanwhile, Prop. 102 henchmen trumpet a ludicrous notion that they're protecting the Western way o' life from well-oiled national environmental groups, who swoop into Phoenix intent upon meddling with our already hopelessly politicized wildlife policies.

Oh, the Skinny doth chuckle.

And poseth this query: What do Arizonans for Wildlife Conservation call the $150,000 they received (per their last finance report) from the National Rifle Association? In this case, the rabid pistol-packers are lurking behind a murky NRA spawn called the Ballot Issues Coalition. The BIC, as it's affectionately called, has thus amply plumped the meaty $668,000 Prop 102 war chest.

So pack up yer carbine, Leroy! The NRA is gonna show them tree-huggers a thing or two about manhandling Arizona's critters, not to mention brassrooots--er, grassroots politikin'.

AIMS, AIMS, AIN'T IT A SHAME? Well, the scores are out for this year's Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards--better known as the high school graduation test--and they're not pretty. The best that can be said is that the sophomores who took the test last spring improved moderately over the sophomores of the year before. Of the newer batch, the members of the Class of 2002, 68 percent passed the reading test, 34 percent passed the writing test and 17 percent passed math. That's a jump of 7 percentage points in reading, 4 points in writing and 5 points in math over their older classmates. Luckily for the group with the lower passing rates--the current seniors of the Class of 2001--they don't have to worry about passing to get a diploma next May.

This year's juniors are the first to have to ace AIMS in order to graduate, and they got a reprieve on math last July. A team of powerhouse math profs decreed that the math test was simply too difficult to serve as a common high school test. So to give the state time to come up with a retooled, easier math exam, the math requirement was delayed. This year's freshmen will be the first to have to pass AIMS math to graduate.

But what of the kids already in their junior year? As the rules now stand, they've got to pass the reading and writing sections to get their diplomas. They get four more chances to take the test, but we're talking a big chunk of kids who failed--22 percent of the class statewide failed reading and 66 percent failed writing. How far can they progress in their remaining two years of high school?

Critics have slammed AIMS as a college-prep test, wrongfully given to every high school student in the state, college-bound or not. State schools superintendent Lisa Graham Keegan disagrees, steadfastly sticking to the idea that an across-the-board test will ultimately raise the achievements of every student. But the results at University High School, TUSD's school for the academically gifted, suggest that the critics have a point.

As they did in 1999, UHS kids got the highest scores in the state, with 100 percent of sophomores passing the reading test, 97 percent passing writing and 99 percent passing math. If the state's only public college prep school is the only one making the AIMS grade, doesn't that suggest that the test is geared to the college bound?

Expect political fallout if diplomas are withheld on a massive scale, come Graduation Day in May 2002.

CEL LIVES! The Skinny couldn't help noticing that our old friend Celestino Fernández has surfaced in the AIMS debacle. Fernández is the UA prof who was deposed as Arizona International College's provost a few years back, after making an unholy mess of the school's debut. Now he's unfortunately attached his name to a charter school. It's called the PPEP TEC Celestino Fernández Learning Center, an oxymoron if ever we heard one. Not to knock the kids, but Cel's School got dismal results, to wit: 87 percent of sophomores failed the reading test, 100 percent failed writing and 100 percent failed math. Good on ya, Cel! What, were you giving the kids AIC study aids? We can just imagine them studying the art of reading and writing in those impenetrable AIC policy tomes Cel used to write, and learning the beauties of math by perusing his inexplicable AIC budget numbers.

WRONG NUMBERS: So this is how capitalism works today: U S West, a phone-service monopoly with a history of lousy service, gets gobbled up by a new company, Qwest, which pays a bazillion dollars to enlarge its corporate reach. Then Qwest lays off a big chunk of employees and pursues a rate hike to maximize profits to cover the costs of the corporate takeover. We're sure somebody is making plenty of money, at our expense.

Last Sunday, the morning daily took a look at Qwest's request for a rate increase, which is headed for hearings before the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Look at some of the ways Qwest wants to take more money out of your pocket:

· Basic service would climb from $13.18 (before the federal access fees, federal taxes, telecom excise taxes, state taxes and city taxes that account for another $6.60 or so) a month to $15.68. That one hits everybody.

· Not having your name and number published in the phone company's directory would go from costing $1.90 a month to $3. We're sure the company bigwigs have a complex formula to explain why it costs $36 bucks a year to keep your phone number out of the public domain, but it smells like pure bullshit to us. It's just another way to gouge folks who want to retain a modicum of privacy--or, in some cases, avoid stalkers--in today's voyeuristic society.

· Similarly, Caller ID--so you know when those annoying ex-boyfriends or telemarketers are calling--will climb from $5.95 to $6.95 a month.

· Directory assistance would climb from 47 cents to a whopping 85 cents per request. Thank God we can look everything up for free on the Internet these days.

Keep in mind that Qwest isn't losing money delivering these services. Overall, they're turning a tidy 6 to 7 percent profit, but that's just not enough. Under Arizona law, they're eligible to make an 11.5 percent profit, so they want a boost.

This is the company that's poured more than $1.7 million into an initiative to amend the Arizona Constitution to decrease the state's regulation of phone service. Depressingly, a recent poll showed that more than 60 percent of Arizonans were leaning toward voting for Proposition 108.

Is life really better here?