AIRHEADED: We have oft opined about the similarity between potted plants and such august deliberative bodies as the Tucson City Council. Council members enjoy the trappings of power, while the real decisions are made by staff and the lawyers who advise them in those closed executive sessions that are a product of the Open Meeting Law, which was supposed to allow all of us to know how we are really governed.

Here's another example of where the real power lies. Councilmember Shirley Scott asked a question concerning the occasional hosting both she and Councilmember Fred Ronstadt do on a local radio show. In response, Deputy City Attorney Dennis McLaughlin has told City Manager James Keene that an appearance by an incumbent City Council member on a radio talk show within 16 weeks of a general election in which the election itself and the council member's candidacy are discussed constitutes, under current state law, an in-kind contribution by the radio station to the council member's campaign.

McLaughlin cites no real case law on the subject. He does mention that elected officials who had talk shows in the Phoenix area, such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Attorney General Grant Woods, went off the air during re-election campaigns and probably did so because of what he has concluded. His memo makes it clear that McLaughlin never checked with the stations that ran the shows for an explanation, nor did he apparently check in with any lawyers familiar with broadcast law.

This opinion is simply ludicrous. First, it only restricts incumbents. What about their challengers? And it only applies to radio talk shows. How about television (or radio) news broadcasts that interview candidates before elections? If they present both or several candidates, why are they only contributing to the incumbent? If this is, in fact, an "in-kind" contribution, how much is it worth and who decides the value? How do you count it if a radio talk-show host spends time endorsing a candidacy? Or trashing one? Why do in-kind contributions only involve broadcast media? What about print? Is it an in-kind contribution when a newspaper endorses a candidacy?

This would be a big so-what, except that candidates who have signed up for city matching funds have agreed to spending limitations that include in-kind contributions, so the City Manager now has to decide what to do with the opinion while he and the City Clerk are handing out campaign funds!

Now you know why there are so many anti-lawyer Web sites, and why the people you finally are allowed to elect are so often meaningless pawns.

GOOBERS: The next gubernatorial election is still more than 16 months away, but ambitious wannabes are lining up fast.

Gov. Jane Dee Hull is out, since she's reached her term limit. The early GOP favorite is former Congressman Matt Salmon, who has already announced that he'll seek the seat. Current Arizona Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, also up against term limits, wants to run as well, but she can't announce her plans until next January, thanks to Arizona's dopey resign-to-run law. (But that hasn't stopped her supporters, including a high-ranking SOS staff member, from running a "draft Betsey" campaign, which allows her to skirt the law and thank all those who believe so strongly in her.) State Treasurer Carol Springer is floating her own trial balloons.

Two Republicans who have been mulling runs for secretary of state are also said to be considering a gubernatorial run: Senate President Randall Gnant and former Senate President Brenda Burns, the Maricopa County conservative who was deposed by Gnant when he made book with Senate Democrats before the start of this year's session. With the bad blood between those two, the GOP goober primary could take some very nasty turns.

John Greene, an ex-senate prez, is also talking about a GOP run, but you can expect the GOP list to shake out a bit before candidates file a year from now.

On the Democratic side, the three prime gubernatorial candidates are Attorney General Janet Napolitano, the only Democrat to hold statewide office; Alfredo Gutierrez, a former state lawmaker who has worked as a lobbyist since leaving office; and Terry Goddard, a three-time loser for the governor's office.

The big X-factor is Dick Mahoney, who served as secretary of state from 1990 to 1994 before making a failed bid for the U.S. Senate. Last month, Mahoney left the Democratic Party, planning to run as an independent candidate.

What are his chances? Well, he's no Jesse Ventura, that's for sure. And his most high-profile cause in recent years was last year's initiative campaign to eliminate Arizona's income tax, which got tossed off the ballot by the Arizona Supreme Court.

Mahoney is backpedaling away from that effort something fierce. Asked about it in the Arizona Republic earlier this week, he said he still supports it, but "before we would ever do something like that, we need to make new kinds of social investments, particularly in children -- . As we made clear, it wasn't just the abolition of the income tax we were after. It was a reformation in the way fees and taxes were collected in Arizona."

That's a cute revision of history. The proposition did no such thing--it merely eliminated the income tax and forced the legislature to send any tax that would replace that revenue stream to the ballot for voter approval. In fact, one of the prop's prime supporters, Phoenix physician Jeffrey Singer, told the Weekly last year that he thought the state budget could just be drastically cut and supported by sales tax revenues.

The income tax remains the only progressive feature of the state tax system. Most Arizonans pay a pittance, and the majority of the revenue raised comes from the top 10 percent of earners. Eliminate it, and you're just giving another big break to the rich while screwing the poor.

SECRETARIAL POOL: If Randall Gnant and Brenda Burns do decide to run for governor rather than secretary of state, it makes life a little easier for Tucsonan Sharon Collins, the bright aide to Gov. Jane Dee Hull here in the Southern Arizona office. Collins, who ran for mayor in Tucson in 1995, has already spent months building grassroots support across the state.

The pack of candidates looking for the GOP nomination in the race is thinning, at least this week. Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, who had been eyeing a run, may be out, thanks to her husband's poor health. State lawmaker Barbara Leff may dive in but, like many lawmakers, she's waiting to see how the legislative lines are drawn in the new redistricting process.

The potential Democratic opponent is Sen. Chris Cummiskey. Given the way we depose governors in this state, perhaps they all think winning the secretary of state's office is the best way to capture the top seat in Arizona government.

SALUD PARA NADA: Brenda Even soaked taxpayers of Pima County, the state and Tucson Unified School District for money to support her 16, then 12, Salud Para Todos healthcare clinics at various schools and neighborhood centers. Just a month ago, Pima County released a check for $50,000 for Even's non-profit. She bamboozled TUSD out of a similar amount before that. Taking money from TUSD was nothing new for Even. She milked TUSD for money for Salud Para Todos even while she served her two terms on the TUSD board, a bleak period that thankfully ended in 1998.

A recent, too-soft story in the Arizona Daily Star about Salud's demise also failed to note that Even's agency was a tenant in the Lawyers Title Building, 177 N. Church Ave., which she owns with legendary land speculator Don Diamond.

Salud was one of the great beneficiaries of the tobacco tax money, raking in a half-million dollars a year from the state.

Appointed to the Pima Community College Board of Governors to fill the seat of the late Ted Koff, Even has moved into new political territory. She left her eastside District 4 house, from which she unsuccessfully sought to replace late husband John Even on the Board of Supervisors, to a swanky new foothills address in District 1.

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