The Skinny

RED ALERT: At long last, the identities of Tucsonans for Alert Government can finally be revealed.

The independent campaign committee that has been helping Democrat Jesse Lugo unseat Councilman Steve Leal in next Tuesday's southside Ward 5 primary is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Growth Lobby. The very first contribution--$50--came from big spender Alan Lurie of the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association.

Lurie's pals have coughed up bigger contributions--and unlike contributions to candidates, the contributions to independent campaign committees are unlimited. The committee had raised $11,950 as of August 22.

And who did the money come from? The biggest bucks came from Morgan North of Borderlands Construction Co., who pitched in $1,500. Other notable contributors include legendary land speculator Don Diamond ($500), Contravest Properties president Robert Storie ($500), Genesee Co. president David Greenberg ($500), developer Terry Klipp ($500), bigshot attorney Sy Schorr ($200), car dealer Jim Click and wife Vicki ($1,000 combined), developer David Mehl and wife Bonnie ($500) and A.F. Sterling Homes president Peter Aronoff ($500). Seems like big checks to write, but if they're successful in knocking off Leal, it'll prove a smart investment.

The campaign committee has also done a good job of tapping high-level staffers at Tucson Electric Power, who were angered by Leal's vote against TEP's plan to build a big honking plant out near Rita Ranch. Five employees, including TEP lobbyist Larry Lucero and PR whiz Steve Lynn (who also serves on the state's new redistricting committee), contributed a combined $500.

By August 22 the committee had spent $10,102, mostly on phone banks. The group has also bought billboards supporting Lugo throughout Ward 5.

The Growth Lobby's effort is being countered by Tucsonans for Excellence in Government, an independent campaign run by labor interests. That group had raised $22,023, with the biggest contributions coming from the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 99 ($10,000) and the United Phoenix Firefighters, Local 493 ($10,000). The group had spent $13,449, mostly on direct mail and consulting services.

The amount of money spent through August 22 courting voters in Ward 5 is enormous, especially considering that few observers expect turnout to top 4,000. Besides the $37,702 spent by Leal and the $30,325 spent by Lugo, the independent campaigns have combined to spend more than $24,000. Total spending will easily crack six figures by election day. One sure result: the number of early voters has skyrocketed. As of August 31, 1,376 early ballots had been requested in Ward 5. Compare that to the measly 451 early ballots requested in the Ward 3 Democratic primary.

A final note: Four years ago, the Tucson Weekly raised questions about political strategist Carol Zimmerman, a Democrat who was seeking the Ward 6 City Council seat now held by Republican Fred Ronstadt. We suggested voters take a close look at Zimmerman's tight ties with the Growth Lobby before voting for her. They did, and Zimmerman's campaign collapsed on primary day, when she came in third in a five-way race. (Winner Alison Hughes would lose to Ronstadt in November '97.)

Zimmerman cried foul, arguing that her hubby Pete did the political consulting. She was just a good little Democrat worried about the children of Tucson.

Well, look who's picked up $2,500 working for the Growth Lobby's campaign to unseat Leal: 1 to 1 Direct, a political consulting firm run by--you guessed it--Carol Zimmerman.

Oh, Carol, how could we have ever doubted your virtue?

GOP DREAMS: Is it really true? Is the GOP gubernatorial primary next year really going to include Congressman J. Dunderhead Hayworth and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio? The political gods must be smiling on the Skinny these days. Talk about material!

There are plenty of other Republicans now testing the waters: conservatives such as former Congressman Matt Salmon and state Treasurer Carol Springer and liberals including Arizona Secretary of State Betsey Bayless and state Sen. Randall Gnant, who cut a deal with Democrats to get elected Senate President during the last legislative session.

The race gets even more interesting now that Salmon has announced he won't accept public financing. Under the provisions of the state's Clean Election program, Salmon's five opponents could each be eligible for up to $1.2 million in public funds, depending on (a) whether they qualify for matching funds, and (b) how much Salmon spends in the primary.

Suppose that happens, and Salmon wins the primary. He'd then face a Democratic nominee (so far, Attorney General Janet Napolitano, former lawmaker Alfredo Gutierrez and delusional failed state senate candidate Mark Osterloh are in the Democratic race) also running as a clean election candidate. If Salmon continues to spend freely, the Democratic nominee could be eligible for up to $1.8 million.

That's a $7.8 million hit to the Clean Elections fund for just the gubernatorial race.

LINES IN THE SAND: Last year, the voters of Arizona were sold another great "reform" that would help save democracy. Actually, there was the usual crop of these, but the one we focus upon is the "non-political reapportionment" measure that current Democratic Party state chair Jim Pederson blew more than $600,000 of his own money convincing us was the only way we could have a fair and honest reapportionment. Believing that Demos were losing most elections because the game was played with rigged district lines, Pederson's initiative set up the usual "non-political" committee to get the politics out of, well, politics.

The idea was to make all the congressional and state legislative districts more "competitive" while also staying within certain other constitutionally required guidelines, such as equal population and protecting minority representation, as well as keeping the integrity of communities of interest such as towns and counties.

Anybody who ever passed a poli-sci course could've told Pederson and the rest of the goody-two-shoes reformers supporting them that they had just set up conflicting criteria, so there was no way you could square the circle. And the current non-partisan appointed commission and its professional consultants have just proven it.

Under the old, bad, politicians-do-it method, there were five reasonably safe Republicans and one safe Democrat. Under the new non-political set-up, there are five safer Republican districts and one safe Democratic district, with one of the new districts going Democratic and the other appearing "competitive." (We would like to remind the whiners who keep bitching about "non-competitive districts" that all districts are competitive in the primary.)

Duh. And you shaved your legs for that, people?

So what's Pederson's response? He's threatened to sue over the new lines. Lotsa luck, Jim.

GOVERNMENT WITNESS PROTECTION: In a lengthy cover-up Sunday, the Arizona Daily Star managed to protect two of the worst local governments, Pima County and the Tucson Unified School District. Attempting to report on the disparity in property taxes among school districts and counties, the Star enabled the full Pima County Board of Supervisors and the TUSD board triumvirate--Joel Ireland, Mary Belle McCorkle and Carolyn Kemmeries--to escape responsibility for the sky-high property taxes they impose.

The Star downplayed Pima County's property taxes--$558 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home and $1,395 for owner of a small business worth that much. Despite huge reserves and windfalls from higher property values, supervisors refused to lower taxes for the third straight year. They kept them high even though long-term debt from health and medical services was erased a year ahead of schedule.

Perhaps it would be easier for the Star to understand the high-tax issue using the properties of its hot-shot brass. Publisher Jane Amari paid $489,000 for her house and 4.6 acres of horse property under the Rincons. For tax purposes, it is valued at a little more than $300,000. She pays $1,674 in county taxes. If she gets that promotion to the other, bigger Gannett paper in Phoenix (whoa, we're getting ahead of ourselves--the Star is still officially in the Pulitzer stable) and hitches up in Scottsdale or Paradise Valley at the same price, she'll only pay $485 in Maricopa County taxes.

The same breaks would be afforded to her two hands, Randy "Gunslinger" Wright and Dennis Joyce. Wright paid $205,000 for his Casas Adobes Nuevo house that generates $1,221 in Pima County taxes. The same spread in Chandler would cost Wright just $344 in Maricopa County. And Joyce, who paid $148,000 for his East Whittier house in Tucson, pays $538 in Pima County taxes. If he can make the jump to Phoenix, he'll pay just $146 in Maricopa taxes.

Only Pinal County to our north comes close to Pima County's level of taxes.

On the school side, the Star made TUSD look tame, completely unlike the unruly tax-and-spend beast that it is. The Star cloaked TUSD's high taxes--the highest for daily operations of any of the county's 16 school districts at $8.09 per $100, or $809 for a $100,000 home (if TUSD and the county weren't at the state cap) and $2,022 for a business with that value. Remember, this is the tax, when boosted 14 percent, that Ireland called a "fantasy."

Instead, the Star focused on Sunnyside, the smaller, southside district whose residents suffered from the TCE dumping by Hughes and the Air Force. But TUSD's tax for daily operations--and all the bureaucrats with their fancy new hand-held computers--is 56 percent higher than Sunnyside's. And voters in Sunnyside have approved the other portion of Sunnyside's budget and taxes. Voters have given Sunnyside permission to borrow and exceed spending limits, which has resulted in a secondary tax rate of $5.19 per $100--a couple cents higher than the Sunnyside primary rate.

Revealing an embarrassing lack of even short-term memory, the Star also failed to note that many properties were devalued by government action for tax purposes in 1993-'94 to note the devastating effects TCE had on real estate as well as human health. Some homes in the TCE plume that are on the rolls for $60,000 now were on for half that seven or eight years ago.

It was Ike, the World War II general and two-term Republican president, who warned of the military-industrial complex on his way out of office. It's hardly our role to defend the Hughes/Raytheon/Air Force love nest. But the Star cried that Raytheon's operations are on government-owned land and buildings and therefore not taxed. Ha. Most of Raytheon's tax is on its expensive equipment, machines, tools and the like. And the exemption on business equipment skips taxes on the first $50,000 of equipment. That is a spit in the ocean for Raytheon.

OFF THE BUS: The school bus rolls up. The doors swing open and the young student, already battling some first-days-of-school butterflies, looks beseechingly at the driver. She hears: "You're Yaqui! You can't ride this bus!" The doors slam shut.

Believe it or not, this happened to a bunch of Hohokam Middle School students in the last few weeks in the Tucson Unified School District, which has that huge property tax to pay for its $63 million desegregation budget.

Only through the courage of Hohokam Assistant Principal Ralph Lim and his boss, John Michael, is this horrendous practice being stopped. TUSD's bumbling bureaucrats dithered after Hohokam kids were stranded last week, trying to use their PR machine to ensnare the public in the TUSD policy of "no rides for those who live within 2.5 miles of a school." Associate Superintendent Rebecca Montano flipped and flopped. TUSD bus boss Ron Stacy was the intransigent bureaucrat. Only Lim defied Teamster-like drivers, boarded a bus and welcomed students aboard. Later Lim showed Montano and Marla Motove, a rare, positive and solution-seeking assistant superintendent, maps and routes that left Hohokam students high and dry and unsafe.

Lim and Michael are doing a good job inside the school as well, restoring hope where the revolving-door administration has beaten down the predominantly minority and Yaqui population. Michael, a popular former principal at eastside Booth-Ficket, didn't think Hohokam was a prison, so he ordered the bars removed from windows. Dignity is being restored in other seemingly small measures. Students who have to use the restroom no longer have to be marched by a monitor.

Too bad the dignity does not extend to Sam Hughes Elementary, where Principal Roseanne Cole used her students and their parents to cry about budget constraints at TUSD. She sent notes home with students begging for toilet paper, paper towels and sponges. Cole lamented the budget cuts ordered by Superintendent Stan Paz, who inherited a mess from his predecessor George "Expense Account" Garcia and his roll-over majority on the TUSD board. What Cole didn't say is that she is in charge of the Sam Hughes budget--development and allocation.

We are tired of the manipulation and whining from Cole. We are tired of the manipulation and whining from the Tucson Education Association leadership, which has installed the very TUSD board majority that has imposed this budget. We are tired of TUSD crying about money when it has adopted outlandish property tax rates. And we'll take not one bit of whining from Paz, who in his second year needs to take charge and sweep aside meddling board members and dead-weight bureaucrats.

And no, Paz does not need a boost in his $207,000-a-year salary. If he gets his requested raise, he'll make $215,280. Roy Romer, the former high-plains cowboy/lawyer governor of Colorado, is making $250,000 to run the unruly Los Angeles Unified School District, which dwarfs TUSD in budget, students, problems and complexity.