The Skinny

MEET THE NEW BOSS: Running in a state where Republicans hold a 5-percentage-point lead in voter registration, Democrat Janet Napolitano couldn't afford to make many mistakes in her run for governor--and to her credit, she handled the campaign just well enough to squeak past Matt Salmon by about 11,000 votes when they were done counting earlier this week.

We've heard an awful lot about how Pima County voters made the difference. And sure, the turnout here was important to the win, what with about two-thirds of the voters coming to the polls to give Napolitano a nearly 30,000-vote margin.

A state Democratic Party field team swooped into town, took over county headquarters and did what a political party is supposed to do: conduct an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort. They set up phone banks, put 300 people on the streets to walk 180 precincts--some twice--in the days before the election and rented about 20 minivans to get voters to the polls.

Despite the congratulatory coverage from the giddy local media, however, the win in Pima was only one factor in a complex race. After all, Napolitano had a wider edge four years ago, when she won the AG's post. And let's face it: Democrats are supposed to carry Pima County; it's the Demo stronghold. If they don't, they're getting beat so bad elsewhere it doesn't matter.

For most of the season, both Napolitano and Salmon had almost non-existent campaigns here. Salmon ran his from a corner of the local GOP headquarters amidst loud complaints about unanswered phone calls from would-be supporters, who would then call Phoenix, only to discover that everybody was out or in a meeting. And that's when they got through at all, because Salmon's material featured a phone number that was disconnected, which tells a story in itself.

Meanwhile, Napolitano's local operation considered it a big week when they booked her on a local community cable show.

The race was won across the state. The results in Maricopa County, for instance, were just as vital to Napolitano's victory. Up there, Salmon's margin was smaller than Napolitano's here, with a much lower percentage of voters going to the polls. Napolitano also managed to keep pace in the rural counties, which normally go Republican. The gal had crossover appeal.

And don't forget another reason Napolitano had such a wide margin in Pima and in some rural areas: the high turnout of predominately Democrat Native Americans for Prop 202. Without the casino issue on the ballot, Salmon may have squeaked into office.

So what was the real secret behind the Democrats win? We credit the $5.5 million that the Arizona Democratic Party spent to boost the slate. That money paid for the Democratic streetwalkers, the attack ads blasting Salmon's lobbying and legislative career, and for coordinators for the GOTV effort. As Democrat George Cunningham, who lost a tight race for Corporation Commission to Republican Mike Gleason, said earlier this week: "It was the first time I've seen the Democrats have enough money to make a difference."

Somewhere around $2.3 million came straight from party chair Jim Pedersen. Is he ready to spend that kind of money in every election cycle? Sounds like a pricey hobby.

So what happens now? Janet's bold leadership will undoubtedly lead to a new dawn at the Capitol, with both parties laying aside their partisan bickering, rolling up their sleeves, and going to work to re-craft state government as an efficient machine. Surely, lawmakers will agree to review the state tax code to make sure every person and every business pay their fair share of the social burden, even if it means increased income taxes or new taxes on services that now are exempt from the sales tax. We'll climb out of our deficit, restore funding the universities, help the downtrodden and do a better job of protecting the environment.

And if you believe that, we have some real estate in prime pygmy owl habitat to sell you.

In reality, Janet will probably mostly play defense with her veto against a legislature that has swung further to the right. She won on election night, but unless the economy turns around real soon, it may not turn out to be much of a victory.

RURAL RULES: How many times have we heard the whine that Pima County can't get anything out of the Legislature because Maricopa County lawmakers run everything?

Well, look what just happened: The GOP caucus just met and elected leaders. The Senate President, Ken Bennett, is from Prescott. And the Speaker of the House, Jeff Flake, is from Snowflake.

Tucson used to produce legislative leaders. They may have started to again, with heavily GOP District 30 (Tucson, Green Valley and Sierra Vista) producing one leadership post in each house: Sen. Tim Bee as Majority Leader, and Rep. Randy Graf as Majority Whip.

UPSET OF THE NIGHT: The daily papers hardly covered the race--hell, they hardly covered the result--but Jennifer Burns, Republican of Three Points, will represent District 25 for the next two years after ousting incumbent Democrat Bobby Lugo of Bisbee.

This is a weird district that starts in Yuma and ends up in Cochise County, picking up pieces of Pinal and Pima along the way. (We'd call it a gerrymander, but we have an independent commission now to eliminate those.) This district is heavily Democratic and heavily Hispanic, so a Hispanic Democrat would have to be a real loser to lose. Then there's Lugo, who distinguished himself in the Legislature mostly by being accused of sexual harassment by his secretary.

The Star, apparently believing it was only covering Tucson, ignored this race. The GOP leadership did too, giving Burns no direct campaign help. Lightweight first-time legislative candidate Manny Alvarez cruised to victory, but Burns edged Lugo.

Surprise. To introduce her, she's a recent UA law school grad and a former aide to U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl. Congrats, Jennifer. Try to remember you don't owe the bastards a thing.

PROPPING OFF: The Tucson Citizen's staff doofus Joe Garcia weighed in a bit of election analysis in his column this week.

Garcia bitched about voters being overwhelmed by "15 initiatives on last week's ballot." He said supermarket parking lots would soon be filled with "an army of paid volunteers shoving a clipboard in your face, seeking your John Hancock for yet another proposition."

What jolted Joe doesn't seem to realize is that just because it's a proposition doesn't make it an initiative.

In fact, just four of the 15 props on last week's ballot--three gambling questions and the marijuana decriminalization effort--were initiatives, placed on the ballot by petition drives from special-interest groups. The number of initiatives has actually dropped from previous years.

The rest of the props were referenda placed on the ballot by the state Legislature. If you want to blame somebody for loading down the ballot, blame them.

BILLBOARD WARS, PART 37: As Pima County prepares to rebuild the aging Veterans Memorial Overpass that carries Palo Verde Road over the railroad tracks, it's also in a position to tear down yet another non-conforming billboard.

The county code doesn't allow relocation of non-conforming billboards, but in this case Jones Outdoor Advertising says it's building a new billboard essentially in the same place as the old one. So far, the District 2 Board of Adjustment has given them a huge variance for the billboard.

Before that can happen, the Board of Supervisors has to approve a billboard permit. They'll be voting on that question this Tuesday, November 19. Why don't you give board members a ring and encourage them to vote no?

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