The Skinny

GOOBERWATCH: Seems you can't swing a dead pygmy owl around the state Capitol these days without hitting a GOP candidate for governor. Last week, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless and Senate President Randall Gnant made their expected announcements they were in the ring; a week earlier, state Treasurer Carol Springer made the jump.

The trio all trail former Congressman Matt Salmon in the early polls, but the key word there is "early." The battle for hearts and minds is just getting under way and the three new candidates will each grab $409,950 through the magic of the state's Clean Elections program for the primary, provided they can each get 4,000 citizens across the state to cough up $5 contributions. Salmon has disdained the public dollars, saying the money would be better used for a tax break or something.

Salmon's own fund-raising efforts had him collecting just over $281,850 as of the end of 2001. He'd already blown through about $86,850, leaving him with roughly $196,000 in bank. If he's going to follow through on all that talk about a multi-million-dollar campaign, he and campaign chairman Dan Quayle had better get some special interests to start writing some fat checks.

By the way, if Salmon spends more than $409,950, then his opponents' funds get matched.

And what about Sheriff Joe? Is he in or out? Tune in next month for the answer--

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Janet Napolitano is holding a pretty solid lead against former state lawmaker Alfredo Gutierrez, but that one ain't over yet--and some insiders have taken to referring to Gutierrez as Captain Chaos. Will the race get dirty? We'd ask telephone psychic Mistress Cleo, but she seems to be having some legal difficulties down in Florida.

GOOBERWATCH, PART 2: Most of the frontrunners skipped a candidate forum earlier this month co-hosted by the Clean Elections gang and Hispanic and Native American groups. Betsey Bayless and Janet Napolitano were out of town, Matt Salmon was off celebrating Ronald Reagan's birthday on television and Randall Gnant backed out at the last minute.

By default, the spotlight of the first soiree of the campaign season fell to the dark horses. Eight gubie underdogs took the low-key opportunity to test out a few slogans and collect those all-important $5 contributions they'll need to qualify for public campaign money.

For obvious reasons, Alfredo Gutierrez was the clear favorite at the event, but it was his buddy, former secretary of state Richard Mahoney, who made the only substantial campaign promise of the evening. Running as an independent, Mahoney wants no more than 18 students to a classroom. Now if only we could build enough classrooms to make such a thing possible while the state faces a billion-buck budget shortfall.

Crammed in at the end of the stage, Carol Springer was pretty much braving the lion's den. She was lucky to make it out alive after dismissing the entire class/race struggle while answering a question about discrimination and the state government.

Mike Newcomb, a Backstreet Boy with a medical degree, outshone the other third-string Democrat candidate, starchy Mark Osterloh, also a physician. And a lawyer. And a perennial candidate. Newcomb was already playing dirty, spitting all over the microphone before handing it off to Osterloh.

Libertarian candidate Barry Hess, a former door-to-door salesman who now sells replicas of the Ten Commandments, wouldn't shut up about repealing the income tax, while Republican unknown Frank DeVera was just vague and nasally.

If the night belonged to one candidate, it was long shot Reform Party candidate Scott Malcomson, the king-sized computer nerd from Tucson who also ran in 1998. Commanding the middle of the stage with a two-liter of Mountain Dew Code Red, Great Scott's stance on tribal independence incited whoas and wows with the largely minority crowd. If Malcomson qualifies for matching funds, we're running for governor in 2006 on the Mania Party ticket.

HOUSE DIVIDED: Lower down the political food chain, a few local legislative races are starting to take shape. Last week, District 13 Rep. Gabrielle Giffords announced her plan to seek promotion to the state Senate in the new Midtown District 28. Giffords has already moved from wherever she was living into the Sam Hughes area to establish her residency.

Her potential opponents in the Senate race are District 13 Sen. Virginia Yrun, who was appointed to her seat by the Pima County Board of Supervisors, and District 14 Rep. Marion Pickens. Like Giffords, both Yrun and Pickens will have to find new digs within District 28's boundaries to base their run.

When she first won office in 2000, Giffords led the pack in a three-way primary in which Yrun's husband, Howard Shore, proved to be the weakest link. (A fourth candidate, Realtor Colette Barajas, dropped out of the race just days before the primary amidst a scandalita involving a fraudulent application for Clean Election dollars.) Giffords then went on to win a tough general race.

Yrun has yet to win office, although she has a political base from her work leading the local chapter of Planned Parenthood. Pickens, meanwhile, has what passes for reasonable name ID among voters in part of the new district, although she hasn't had much in the way of tough races during her incumbency.

HOUSE DIVIDED, PART TWO: Another race to watch is in the new northside District 26, where three incumbent Republican House members will be playing musical chairs over two seats. When the music stops playing, who will be left out: Steve Huffman, Carol Somers, or Pete Hershberger?

Huffman and Hershberger have already tried to muscle Somers out of the race, even though Hershberger doesn't even live within the new district boundaries and will have to give up his Winterhaven home to establish his residency. But Somers, to her credit, isn't budging. And there's no reason she should. She's a bright freshman who has impressed a lot of Republicans, while Huffman is in the unenviable position of having pissed off a whole bunch of his constituents. If it weren't against the law, we'd put money on Somers in the September primary.

HOUSE DIVIDED, PART THREE: On the west side of town, Elaine Richardson is giving up her District 11 state Senate seat to join the crowded primary race for U.S. Congress in the new federal District 7. That Democratic donnybrook looks to include, at the very least, soon-to-be-former Pima County Supervisor Raúl Grijalva, former state lawmakers Jamie Gutierrez and Luis Gonzales, and attorney Jesus Romo. Given that line-up, Richardson's got a real shot at winning.

With Richardson leaving the stately pleasure dome of the Capitol, the old District 11 Rep. Carmine Cardamone has announced he'll seek the state Senate seat in the new District 27. With Debora Norris leaving District 11 to seek a congressional seat in the sprawling District 1, that leaves two open House seats. Among potential candidates: former Demo Party county chair Jesse George, who lost a bid for county treasurer in 2000, and Pima County public defender Peter Hormel, who ran for county attorney on the Green tickets in 2000 but has since switched to the D-team. We might also hear from Val Romero, a doofus who likes to see his name on the ballot. (In a 1999 city council race, the perennial candidate showed his maverick approach to economic development when he called for the construction of football stadium in Rio Nuevo so that the Arizona Cardinals could play exhibition games down here.)

DEAD WRONG: A recent study from Columbia Law School alleged that Pima County death-penalty cases had a shocking error rate of 70 percent--which, if true, would mean prosecutors only get it right in three of every 10 capital-case trials.

But Pima County prosecutor Rick Unklesbay says the error rate in the study just doesn't add up. His numbers substantiate his claim: Of the 67 capital cases imposed since 1973, nine killers have been executed. Another 37 have had their death sentences confirmed and remain on death row. Two have died in prison, 13 had their sentences reduced to life, two got retrials and cut deals for lesser terms, two are pending resentencing and two came back for trial and beat the rap.

There's a reason so many errors turn up in capital cases: they get a strict review at several levels, including a pass through the liberal Ninth Circuit. As Martha Stewart would say, "that's a good thing"--if the state is going to execute somebody, they ought to be damn sure it's the right scumbag.

You can make plenty of arguments against the death penalty, from moral objections to the expense to taxpayers. But suggesting they've got the wrong guy seven out of 10 times is absolute bull.

MILLER TIME: Raúl Grijalva is out of his Pima County office, but chief aide Glenn Miller remains the most powerful person in county government. Pending appointment of a new supervisor in District 5, Miller stayed on in his $60,000-a-year job. He's the chihuahua without portfolio. Grijalva is signing up onetime aide Ana Ma, who went off to Washington to do deep Democratic Party work, as boss of his campaign for Congress.

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