CHARTER FLIGHT: City Councilmember Fred Ronstadt needed every bit of help to narrowly win re-election last month, including help from Manny Herrera and his Sunnyside family. The thanks? Ronstadt bounced Yolanda Herrera La Fond from the city's Blue Ribbon Charter Advisory Committee. He chose Michael Crawford, the lawyer and Democrat whose appointed term on City Council in northside Ward 3 ended in 1997.

Meanwhile, newly elected Councilmember Kathleen Dunbar has made a change of her own on the committee: She booted former Tucson Mayor Tom Volgy in favor of Ann Charles, a Democrat who worked hard on Dunbar's campaign.

A longtime advocate of campaign finance reform, Volgy has been loudly complaining about the impact of independent campaign committees on last month's election. Volgy says the committees make a mockery of the city's program that provides matching funds for candidates who agree to limit their campaign spending. He's been calling for a charter amendment that would provide 50 cents to candidates for every dollar spent by independent committees that oppose them.

Since Dunbar was a prime beneficiary of the independent campaign that smeared her opponent, it's little wonder she didn't have much in common with Volgy's perspective. And given that all three Republicans on the council, including Mayor Bob "Big Spender" Walkup, have enjoyed support from independent campaigns that have run negative ads against their opponents, it's unlikely this council would consider such a proposal. Besides, the city might not be able to afford it, what with Walkup running up his city credit card on Very Important Power Lunches.

Volgy and others are talking about an initiative to ask voters to approve the proposal, but special interests may find ways to sabotage that effort, including well-funded counter-initiatives to confuse voters.

JOE WON'T GO: Political columnists and cartoonists across the state have one simple Christmas wish: We want Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to run for governor next year.

Arpaio, a boneheaded buffoon who enjoys stratospheric approval ratings despite the big bucks taxpayers have shelled out in legal settlements as a result of his administration, is doing a little dance about his intentions to join the GOP gubernatorial primary, which will likely include former Congressman Matt Salmon, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, state Treasurer Carol Springer and Senate President Randall Gnant. In recent polls, Arpaio leads the pack; without him in the equation, Salmon emerges as the front-runner, although many voters remain undecided.

With his idiot posturing and simple-minded politics, Arpaio is a rainmaker for the press. Sadly, though, we're told Santa won't be able to help us this year: Sheriff Joe will soon announce he won't seek the gubernatorial post.

SECRETARY SCHOOL: Sharon Collins, the bright aide to Gov. Jane Dee Hull here in Southern Arizona, made it official last week, announcing her intention to run for secretary of state next year. Incumbent Betsey Bayless has hit her term limit and is planning a bid for the governor's office.

Collins, who previously failed in her bid for mayor here in Tucson against Democrat George Miller back in '95, has been quietly laying the groundwork for her campaign for the last year, visiting rural counties and building a support network.

She'd need that rural support against her two potential opponents, state Sen. Brenda Burns and Maricopa County Supervisor Jan Brewer.

The only Democrat openly sniffing around the race is Sen. Chris Cummiskey.

BALANCING ACT: State lawmakers finally wrapped up a loooong special session last week, managing to balance the state budget without killing anybody. Yet.

As part of the session, lawmakers agreed to spend about $50 million teaching kids who don't know English. The plan, which comes out to about $340 per limited-proficiency student, still has to be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Alfredo Marquez, who found that the state is violating the Equal Education Opportunity Act by failing to make sure kids who don't understand English have a decent shot at learning it.

Tim Hogan, the troublemaking attorney from the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, says the plan isn't enough. He promises to ask Marquez to block federal funding for Arizona until lawmakers cough up more dough.

If Marquez agrees to Hogan's request, lawmakers will have to find more money somewhere. And that's just the start to the slashing they'll need to do to next year's budget, which has a projected shortfall of more than $800,000.

One potential revenue source may already be dead on arrival in the next session, which starts next month. Lawmakers are already saying they won't address the issue of services, such as haircuts or real-estate work, that are currently exempt from sales tax.

WORKING FOR A LIVING: The bullying Pima County Interfaith Council couldn't get immediate action on a law to set wages for county employees and workers of companies doing business for the county at $9 an hour (or $8 an hour if health insurance is provided). A little problem called "failure to provide legal notice" put the hearing off until January 8. This is a good idea, sadly neglected for years. But PCIC needs to be smacked for excluding a whole class of workers--home health aides--and for having member churches that don't practice what they preach.

THERE GOES RHYMIN' SIMON: Wigs off to Justice of the Peace Paul Simon, who found time to color a new map for 10 justice precincts in Pima County.

Still suffering from the stench of their own redistricting scam, the Board of Supervisors wisely kicked this back rather than stamp approval earlier this month. Staff will independently analyze the handiwork, conduct a full range of public hearings and bring a proposal back to supervisors within 60 days. Don't be surprised if Democratic supes or their staffs draw up new lines for the JPs and the anachronism known as the constabulary at the last minute. They've demonstrated the skill.

The map, according to Presiding JP José Luis Castillo Jr., should not have been the work of incumbent judges. Castillo sent an obtuse memo to his political benefactor, supes Chairman Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat, to say he should not have agreed earlier to have sitting judges carve out their political bases.

Canon 5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, he said, prohibits that type of direct political activity. Castillo, a southside Democrat first elected in 1994, is correct. He also said public review was far too scant, with only three citizens at the one full hearing.

ELECT-SHUN: Supervisors made another obvious, overdue move to expedite recruitment of a county elections director. Funny how that got botched during the redistricting and how the supe maps were done while the director's office was vacant. Screening must be more professional and less stacked this time around.

It must be said that the director-less department is a rare bright spot in county government. Isabel, Romie, Mary and the crew are pros. They are efficient and open and do their work, despite the strain of all sorts of political wannabes, with unruffled and pleasant finesse.

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