The Skinny

MS. KEEGAN GOES TO WASHINGTON: Last September, when the Skinny reported that Lisa Graham Keegan had spent a weekend confabbing with the educational right in the Education Leaders' Council, Keegan's trusty lieutenant Laura Penny sent us a withering note. The conference, she declared, was non-news.

Well, looky here. The self-same council of union-busting, voucher-promoting, standardized-test-loving "education leaders" has now offered the Arizona schools superintendent a plum job as their CEO in Washington, D.C. Guess that South Mountain confab last fall was about more than knocking America's public schools and their teachers. Musta been a little more job schmoozing going on than either Keegan or Penny let on.

Keegan herself helped found the think tank, though a birdy in the state education department confided to the Weekly that its council members are so right-wing wacko that they make Keegan look like a moderate. Councilors include Eugene Hickok, the Pennsylvania education secretary who was part of Republican Governor Tom Ridge's concerted effort last fall to bust the Philadelphia teachers' union. And its full of Bushies. The council's chair, Jim Nelson, is education commissioner in Texas, well-known bastion of educational equity, and council member Frank T. Brogan is lieutenant governor to Jeb Bush of Florida, a state world-renowned for its poor arithmetic skills, at least when it comes to counting ballots.

The new job allows Keegan to go to Washington even without the blessing of President George W. Bush, who had short-listed her for the post of Education Secretary but ultimately went for one of his Texas own, Houston schools superintendent Rod Paige. Keegan seems just as well pleased to get the hell out of Arizona, where her vaunted AIMS program has been a public relations disaster from start to finish. Almost universally abysmal test scores two years ago set off a bewildering chain reaction of backtracking, deadline switching and test-watering-down. The high school sophomores who took their number two pencils into the reading test last week frankly hadn't the faintest idea whether their scores would count or not for high-school graduation. With Keegan no longer at the helm, it seems likely AIMS as it's currently constructed will die a quiet death.

Gov. Jane Dee Hull promises a quick appointment of a successor. Tucson educators have been pushing for Keith Bee, a former state senator from southern Arizona's District 9. He's a Republican, but not one cut out of the Keegan cloth. On educational issues, supporters count him as a progressive. Bee had already declared himself a candidate in next year's race for the elective post. Keegan, constrained by a two-term limit, would not have been eligible to run again in 2002.

ANALYZE THIS! In a recent wrap on the Arizona Legislature, the Arizona Daily Star included a non-bylined piece labeled "Analysis." The anonymous five columns of editorial opinion, purporting to be "news," was labeled "report cards." Obviously, one of the major contributors was the Star's legislative reporter, Rhonda Bodfield Sander.

She and whoever else participated have a real problem with grade inflation. Gov. Jane Dee Hull gets a C? Huh? This is the guv who signed the alternative fuels fiasco, tried to turn over local government's land-use policies to the Growth Lobby, can't get along with anybody in this or any previous legislature, has no clear agenda, and could best be described as somewhere between "surly" and "clueless." How about an F?

Senate President Randall Gnant gets an A? Gnant, who cobbled together a makeshift and temporary coalition with a few stray Republicans and the 15 Demos, had no clear agenda either. His principal attribute from a Star perspective is that he is not former Senate President Brenda Burns. The Star credits him with "letting bills come to the floor for a majority vote whether he supports them or not," which isn't too difficult when you're a philosophical capon whose primary interest isn't substance, but simply hanging on to your title.

Meantime, the committee chairs Gnant relies on to preserve his title still have the privilege of killing bills they don't like. Two fast examples: District 11 Demo Sen. Elaine Richardson sat on a couple of gun bills she disliked and denied them a vote in the Judiciary Committee she chairs, while Prescott's GOP Sen. Ken Bennett held the bill allowing impact fees for school districts in the Education Committee he chairs. We think Gnant's worth maybe a D.

House Speaker Jim Weiers gets a B as he "exceeded the low expectations set for him early on." The Star fails to divulge who set them, but they grade him for basically not making waves and letting everybody sound off and not having late-night sessions. That's all it takes? Again, he's scored on the non-substantive issues and clearly had no agenda beyond making sure he wasn't deposed. Try another D.

Tucson District 14 Democrat Senator Ruth Solomon gets an A along with the "Tucson" (note: not the "Pima County") delegation. The Star slobbered over the great job Solomon did as Senate Appropriations Chair overseeing a $14.6 billion budget.

About two weeks prior, Sander wrote another puff piece about all the good things local legislators were getting for the area. The paltry list included only one local lawmaker who exceeded a million bucks: District 13 freshman Republican state Rep. Carol Somers. Others were all in a lousy six digits--ON A BUDGET OF 14.6 BILLION? When you're in the majority and committee chairs? Pathetic.

Once upon a time, Pima County, with about the same outnumbered forces, sent folks to Phoenix like the late Bill Jacquin and Sam Lena in the Senate and Tony Buehl and Tom Goodwin in the House who would deliver more than that EVERY DAY. Solomon and most of her colleagues would have trouble delivering pizzas. As someone who's been there awhile, she flunks for failing to grasp what she's supposed to do with all that power she supposedly has.

The others get a collective D, as some have yet to find the rest room. Simply showing up, not drooling in public, and avoiding any criminal indictments are not major accomplishments. Airhead award--and there was stiff competition in this category--goes to District 13 frosh Demo Gabrielle Giffords, who wrote a letter to the editor revealing she was shocked by the power of lobbyists in response to another Sander piece about their influence. Hey, Gabrielle, check the $15,000 or so in contributions from those same lobbyists on your own campaign finance reports.

And Sander could try spending a little more time examining the massive influence of those who lobby not for business special interests, but government, which has more lobbyists pressuring and cajoling legislators by a wide margin, many of whom are the same paid professionals used by business groups. Unlike many of the stiffs she writes about and often gushes over, Sander appears to have her own agenda, which seems suspiciously close to the shallow liberalism of her employers.

Between term limits and new districts, most of the above will be gone after next year. They will not be missed.

HART ATTACK: Self-styled victim's rights activist and first-class gossip Vicki Hart is jumping into the clogged fight for the Ward 3 City Council seat that departing Democrat Jerry Anderson is vacating. Hart, 52, is challenging Paula Aboud, a longtime neighborhood activist in the Democratic primary for the northside council slot. Bob Webb, a onetime mobile home park manager, also is seeking the Democratic nomination with a discount (a $500 spending limit that frees him from campaign finance reporting requirements as well as any hope of winning).

Hart's candidacy enables her friends at the Pima County Attorney's Office, headed by "Santa" Barbara LaWall, to carry on the office's long tradition of campaigning on the taxpayers' time and dime. Indeed, Hart should be able to squeeze in a few campaign plugs for herself in the crummy newsletter and other PR she does for the prosecutor's office. Hart is in the third-year of a rollover $24,900-a-year contract to produce prosecutorial puff and other propaganda for LaWall. That's right: $74,700 over three years in a department that screams that it needs every penny of a $29.3 million budget to support its "we-must-go-to-trial" ideology.

Hart's contract calls for puff in the never-read joke of a county newspaper, The Scoop, as well as placement of stories in the Ajo Copper News and other little papers in the county. The sloppily-worded contract actually includes the Casas Adobes Courier, which shut down a while back, and something called the Oro Valley Explorer--we think they meant the Northwest Explorer--as well as the "Green Valley Newspaper," which, we're pretty sure, is the Green Valley News.

We wish that just once the Board of Supervisors, happy to hit their constituents with the highest property tax rates of any of the state's 15 counties, would develop a backbone sufficient to say no when this sweetHart and similar contracts surface.

Awaiting the winner of the Democratic skirmish in Ward 3 are Green Party candidate Ted O'Neill, Libertarian Jonathan Hoffman and Republican Kathleen Dunbar, the former state representative who hopes to be the first Republican elected in Ward 3 since the smart and funny Michael Borozan held the office from 1969 to 1973.

NO SALE: We've heard a lot of stupid comments in the debate over median hawkers, but the most idiotic has to have come from Ward 4 City Councilwoman Shirley Scott. Speaking on a local radio program, Scott suggested that selling the Tucson Citizen on street corners had given hawkers a great deal of sales experience, so she suggested they pursue sales jobs, perhaps in the "hospitality industry."

Gee, Shirley, why not just let 'em browse the web for a couple of weeks to prepare them for jobs in the high-tech field?

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