The Skinny

ODDS ON THE ODD: We're hearing candidates--such as GOP gubernatorial less-than-hopeful Betsey Bayless--and media pundits complain that the Arizona Legislature screwed up by not addressing tribal gaming agreements during the last legislature session, leaving the future of gambling in Arizona in the hands of voters, who will roll the dice on three competing gaming initiatives this November.

Hey, we're as critical of the knuckleheads in the Legislature as anyone, but the gripe doesn't track for us.

Over the last couple of years, Gov. Jane Dee Hull had been meeting with representatives from a 17-tribe coalition to hammer out a new gaming compact, which she sent over to lawmakers during a not-so-special session with the caveat that they couldn't change anything or all bets were off. The Legislature stalled the plan and it eventually died.

But even if it had made it through both chambers, the gang from the dog and horse tracks, who put one of this year's initiatives on the ballot, would have gathered signatures to force a referendum on that law, so voters would have been voting on the plan under any circumstances. In other words, it wouldn't have made any significant difference if lawmakers had passed the Hull plan.

What's more interesting to us is the legal wrinkles that will result if more than one of the plans passes in November. By the time the lawyers are done sorting out all the different provisions, we could end up with more casinos than Las Vegas.

We just hope that by the time all is said and done, we won't have to drive to Nogales anymore for our sports betting action.

LEARNING CURVES: The contest for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction has had a racially tinged undercurrent for months now.

The incumbent superintendent, Jaime Molera, is a up-and-coming Nogales native who has been warmly welcomed by Republican Party officials eager to woo Hispanic voters. He's even made it to the White House for a photo op with George W.

Molera is facing two former state lawmakers, Tucson's Keith Bee and Mesa's Tom Horne. Bee has yet to show up on political radar screens, but Horne has been attacking Molera for months.

Horne's campaign had barely launched before he started subtly highlighting Molera's ethnicity, particularly with complaints about the incumbent's alleged failure to implement the bilingual-ed ban passed by voters on the 2000 ballot. (Horne's not the only one complaining about bilingual ed; Republican gubernatorial front-runner Matt Salmon recently griped that the ban isn't being enforced, although he refrained from blaming Molera, probably because the two campaigns have been working together on educational issues. Jaime wants to grab coattails for the primary, although he may want to let go in the general; Matt wants Hispanic crossover in the general, although he doesn't need Molera in the primary.)

At any rate, Horne recently touted the endorsement of Ron Unz, the California entrepreneur whose life's work has become the elimination of bilingual ed across the United States. Unfortunately, the endorsement came right around the same time that Unz referred to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige as a dumb jock who was the equivalent of an Affirmative Action appointee.

That little outburst had Horne backpeddling from Unz as fast as he could just days after the endorsement. But we hear state party officials are taking a dim view of Horne's eager play of the race card.

BEAL KILLS BAMBI: Arizona Daily Star writer-at-large Tom Beal served greenhorn readers/drivers a cautionary tale of avoiding deer, elk and other wildlife crossing mountain roads in their search for food and water. Beal, who grew up in New Jersey, wrote from experience. He nailed a deer while returning from a Rodeo-Chediski fire gig. Is that a lovely, simple venison risotto we smell?

DOUBLE OR TRIPLE SCOOP? Jim Ronstadt, of Tucson's Royal Ronstadts, is happy to tell anyone that Pima County government is flat corrupt. He's still smarting that in the waning years of his too-long career as director of Tucson Parks and Recreation the county and Army Corps of Engineers restyled Randolph South into a detention basin that is now Dell Urich Golf Course.

Before he hit the Rotary lecture circuit, Ronstadt was the type of all-powerful department head who had to have it his way: with the Conquistadors and the golf tournaments, with his failed Senior Olympics, even with a lonely, unobtrusive hot dog vendor in El Presidio Park. Note: The hot dog man won.

Ronstadt lusted for the city's top job, but could never muster the votes. Not to worry, he's pulling down big bucks--$63,450 a year--as director of scholarship development at the University of Arizona.

ECKSTROM'S ACHING BACK: Democratic Supervisor and South Tucson King Dan Eckstrom is getting no break from the heavy lifting he's had to do to prop up his majority, Raúl Grijalva's campaign for Congress and the special election campaign for Richard Elias, the Democrat who is trying to fight off a challenge from the bright and talented Frank Felix. Now he has to save Sharon Bronson, chairman of the Board of Supervisors and target of a recall in District 3.

Bronson's perverse spin is that the recall, handled on paper by a couple of real political no-names, is the work of those against the county's sacred Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. Really? The key opponent, and the only one with any money and power, to the plan is legendary land speculator Donald R. Diamond. And as we've noted before, Bronson is a true Diamond girl, having drained The Donald and his wife of $2,320 for her razor-thin re-election two years ago and another $3,600 from Diamond family and staff.

The real issues are the horridly mismanaged county transportation bond program that has left many of Bronson's northwest side constituents stalled in traffic and the county's chronic high taxes that are the highest in Arizona. Bronson's answer to Pima's high property taxes is--get this--more sales taxes.

The recall group needs to collect the signatures of 13,450 of the 81,233 voters in District 3 by Nov. 26.

The last attempt to recall a supervisor was aimed at Bronson's predecessor, Big Ed Moore, by Bronson's friend John Kromko in 1993. It failed, but Bronson--with Eckstrom's backing--has behaved worse than Moore in how she runs roughshod over the minority GOP, cutting off Sugar Ray Carroll and Ann Day at any opportunity. She is every bit as rude and crass as Big Ed.

But like Kromko's flaky and failed effort, this will be an uphill battle made more difficult by the powerful resources, including Diamond and his crew, that Bronson can summon. And remember, Diamond, whose family the Daily Star told readers this week is terribly in arrears in payments to the county for Old Tucson, knows how to call in a favor. In addition to Eckstrom, Bronson also has at her disposal: genius duo David Steele and Matt Smith, and powerful Pima Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry.

KEENE-O: City Manager James Keene boastfully made it clear that Tucson was the challenge he sought to complete his career as a migrant muni boss. Since The Kommander's arrival, the city has struggled mightily through two budgets totaling nearly $2 billion, misspent (under his direction) more than $1 million on propaganda for the proposed 25 percent increase in transportation sales tax that voters smashed, reneged on pledges to employees and botched the city's big recycling re-entry. For that, the City Council--Democrats Steve Leal and Jose Ibarra dissenting--awarded him with a $16,800 raise. That may be more than you make all year, but it's only a 10 percent raise for The Kommander. He started at $168,000 in August 2000.

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