LINE SHINE: With the appointment of registered Independent Steve Lynn of Tucson as chairman, the newly formed five-member state commission to handle legislative and congressional reapportionment is complete. Now we'll find out if this voter-passed "reform" is just another crappy idea whose time had come.

The problem lies in the fraudulent notion that political items like reapportioning districts can somehow be removed from the political process and given to a group of apolitical "neutrals." Surprise--there aren't any.

Lynn himself typifies this. Presently an employee of politically neutral Tucson Electric Power, he was the ad agent behind the election of Tucson's current Republican Mayor, Bob Walkup. As he wasn't on a "campaign committee" but merely running one, that didn't legally preclude his eligibility.

The commission nominees were chosen by the supposedly neutral state Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, where a key player was venerable Tucson attorney Tom Chandler, once a partner of Congressman Mo Udall and a Democrat fixer since Ernie MacFarland was governor.

Most of the initiative's funding came from Jim Pederson, a wealthy Phoenix shopping-center developer who has since been elected state chairman of the Democratic Party. The principle support for the measure came from Democrats, who masked their desire to gain political clout in the process behind a hokey plea for "good government." Republicans opposed it with one of the more incompetent campaigns in the history of statewide elections.

The GOP was expected to keep its tight grip on the legislature and when it comes to drawing district lines, even Gov. Jane Dee Hull could be expected to act like a Republican. For the same reason that many GOP types went for term limits a few years back in hopelessly Democrat states like California, Arizona Democrats rolled the dice to dump the GOP out of reapportionment control here.

Only it didn't quite happen that way. The Senate is now into partisan anarchy with a 15-15 tie, which would have made re-districting a wonder to behold and may have ultimately given Demos more juice than they'll get from a commission already under fire for having no Hispanic member--just one of the many things the poli-sci wonks who drew this turkey up forgot to consider.

The commission is charged with framing a platitude called "getting competitive districts" into an actual law. Consider the obvious restrictions of court-mandated minority representation, geography and population distribution--let alone such niceties as keeping together communities of interest--and you have almost insurmountable problems. The bozos who drafted this further complicated it by insisting it be accomplished by people with minimal political experience--kinda like fighting a war with commanding generals who were 4Fs and draft resisters.

Successful reapportionments require genuine political skill--something that frightens the media and the reformers, who possess little if any themselves. It's gotten so bad that they now define its absence as a virtue--by statute.

And who decided that "non-competitive districts" were a good idea, anyway? Proponents prattled about how it would make it easier to recruit candidates, but having to fight like hell every two years to keep a "competitive" office would probably mean fewer people would want to be bothered to run. These are the same reformers who also bitch about office holders spending too much time campaigning for re-election!

The possible ironic result? An increase in GOP seats, which allows them to win back the Senate. The more competitive the districts are, the better off the Republicans in a state that has a slight GOP registration edge. Theoretically, you could have 30 districts each with a slight GOP lead, which would spell overall Democratic disaster.

And the commission method may ultimately work to the GOP's advantage. The party reapportioning usually gets its best gerrymander foiled by the insecurity of its own elected members, who grab more good turf than they really need to have a safe district. To override that, it requires strong leadership like that provided by a Madigan in Illinois or a Willie Brown (or even better, a Jess Unruh) in California. That's something Phoenix hasn't seen since Burton Barr left 15 years ago.

So the Demos may have been better off under the old system of letting people we actually vote for make the political decisions. Remember that when some kooky zealots bring you their next crappy idea.

COUNCIL CLASH: The preseason lineup for this year's City Council races is taking shape. Last week, Democrat Jesse Lugo signed papers to challenge fellow three-term Democrat Steve Leal in the southside Ward 5 primary. A former gas-station owner, Lugo lost a six-way primary bid for the state House of Representatives last year. He'll find support from the conservative wing of the local Democratic Party--folks like County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez and former county assessor Steve Emerine.

In Ward 3, Democratic incumbent Jerry Anderson is now facing a potential primary fight from Bob Webb, a political unknown who has taken out papers. Webb will need 318 signatures from registered Democrats to land a spot on the ballot.

A more serious threat awaits Anderson should he survive his primary: Republican Kathleen Dunbar announced last week she is definitely running for the council seat. Dunbar, who was elected to the state House of Representatives in District 13 in 1998, lost a bid for the state Senate to Democrat Andy Nichols last year.

Republicans have found new hope in city politics since Fred Ronstadt won the Ward 6 office four years ago. (Earlier this month, Democrat Gayle Hartmann, a Sam Hughes environmental activist, announced she would challenge Ronstadt, who is seeking a second term.)

Ronstadt's election broke a long GOP losing streak. No Republican had won a council seat since Leal knocked off Roy Laos in 1989, primarily because the Democrats held a roughly 3-to-2 voter registration advantage.

The GOP has lately figured out a winning strategy by campaigning hardest on the edges of the city. Both Ronstadt and Mayor Bob Walkup won office with strong showings on Tucson's perimeter. Dunbar and Ronstadt are close political allies, which will make it easy for campaigns to share resources, and both can expect solid backing from the Pima County Republican Party. Both Ronstadt and Dunbar will be limiting their campaign spending to roughly $83,000 as part of their participation in the city's matching funds program, but we wonder if independent campaign committees will emerge to smear the Democrats, as we saw in Walkup's race two years ago.

The races will test how well the Democrats and the neighborhood associations can hang on against the GOP and its allies in the business community. Most GOP candidates in recent years have lost, but many of 'em barely had a pulse, much less a clue.

As a first-term incumbent, Anderson could prove vulnerable. He's focused much of his effort on some of Tucson's roughest neighborhoods along the Stone Avenue corridor, pressuring landlords to meet standards and investing in other neighborhood reinforcement.

Along the way, Anderson has certainly made his share of enemies. He's tangled with most members of the business community over his support for impact fees, big-box regulations and the city's living-wage ordinance, as well as his tough stance on Karl Eller's billboards. Second Amendment enthusiasts were enraged by his push for background checks by private sellers at TCC gun shows, but that could prove a tricky issue; Dunbar could shoot herself in the foot if she campaigns against background checks, especially since her big supporter Walkup provided the fourth vote on the restriction earlier this month.

DON'T TELL, DON'T ASK: Beginning in January of last year, the City of Tucson implemented a living-wage ordinance requiring many contractors doing business with the city to pay employees a minimum of $8 an hour if they received health care benefits, and $9 an hour if they didn't.

Before the ordinance was passed by the council, its yearly fiscal impact was widely debated. Some believed it wouldn't cost city taxpayers much to put in place, while others estimated the annual compliance bill would run into six figures.

More than a year after it went into effect, the financial cost of the living-wage ordinance remains unknown. A living-wage report recently delivered to the council made no mention of the fiscal impact. Apparently, if a member of the council doesn't specifically ask for the information, Tucson taxpayers will never know how much the living-wage ordinance is costing them.

TUCSON'S LOSS: Condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Ray Terlizzi, the gracious and efficient judge who was the longest-serving magistrate in the United States court system. Terlizzi died February 8 after battling leukemia. He leaves his wife, Judy (a former Tucson Citizen reporter and editor), a son and his mother.

We spotted Judge Terlizzi in December at the Arizona Cancer Center and were happy to see he looked wonderful. As usual, he was courteous and fun with caregivers and fellow patients despite the long and unpleasant treatment he faced.

He was the first U.S. magistrate in Tucson, having been named to the predecessor job of court commissioner in 1966. Not surprisingly, he saw most of Tucson's celebrated crime figures, including the Mobbed-up Bonannos and "Bats" Battaglia, swindler Don Cozzetti and the recently deceased Joe Rae, he of Rocking K land fraud fame and once identified as The Devil by a witness under hypnosis. Terlizzi's job was to read charges, take initial pleas and set bond and conditions of release.

In the last years of the old James Walsh courthouse, the conditions for Terlizzi, the public and the accused were deplorable. Waves of detainees would be herded into Terlizzi's court, where swarms of lawyers would flit about like flies trying first to find their clients and second to provide some advice. It created a frenetic, disruptive stir. Yet Terlizzi, a graduate of Notre Dame and Cal-Berkeley, somehow maintained a direct and polite control. His dignified approach put all at ease.

He will be missed. It is heartening to know something in government worked, and may have set a standard for the future. Terlizzi's successor, Bernardo Velasco, also is gracious and polite and has achieved his positions, as a Superior Court judge and now federal magistrate, without being a stuffed shirt.

MINE GAMES: Republicans from western states are eager to "fix" the 1906 Antiquities Act that allowed President Bill "Beg Your Pardon" Clinton to set aside five national monuments totaling close to a million acres here in Arizona, as well as others across the country.

As long as we're talking reform of archaic laws, perhaps those same western Republicans ought to take a look at one of the country's biggest giveaways, the 1872 Mining Act. Originally written with pick-and-shovel prospectors in mind, this ancient boondoggle allows corporations to stake a claim on public land under the control of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. For a nominal annual fee, mining operations can take all the hard minerals--gold, silver, copper, uranium--they want without paying a dime of royalties to the taxpayers who own the land. As if that's not bad enough, there's no reclamation requirement to ensure the land is repaired following the rape and pillage.

Environmental organizations took a stab at reforming the law in the mid-'90s, but intense lobbying by the American Mining Congress killed the proposal.

Evidently, the GOP's zeal for reform is limited to reforming dusty laws that preserve land for tomorrow. If it's an anachronistic law that encourages corporate hijacking of public resources, it's OK by them.

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