GOV'T SHUTDOWN WATCH, CONTINUED: Since the collapse of the Republican's leadership's $6.2 billion state budget package, lawmakers have been bouncing around the Capitol like pinballs, unable to come up with a new plan.

This couldn't have turned out better for Gov. Janet Napolitano if she'd handed the GOP's wacky wing a script. First, Republicans threaten to shut down everything that people like--y'know--health care, education, basic social services. Then they come back with a slightly less miserly budget that can't even pass the Arizona Senate. Now they're horribly splintered and unable to come up with anything.

And unless they re-group before the fiscal year ends on June 30, state government operations will shut down--which will be blamed on GOP lawmakers, too.

If the Republican leadership had been smart, they would have come back with a compromise budget halfway to Napolitano's numbers to force a veto so that some of the gridlock could have been blamed on her. Let's face it: Ultimately, that's the budget they'll end up sending her way anyway, provided they come up with any budget at all.

Instead, the leadership looks like a gang of bozos who have lost control of the moderate troops, while Janet looks great.

Of course, the push to starve government into remission does help some of the righties in the East Valley districts, but it hurts moderate Republicans elsewhere in the state.

JUDGES DON'T CRY, THEY SAAB: There are more problems for the misguided, mismanaged and worthless security at Pima County's government complex downtown. Vandals played a bad April Fool's prank on Judge Deborah Bernini of Superior Court by painting ugly gray stripes and smears on her previously "pristine" red Saab convertible. With the top down in the supposedly secured top-level parking garage under the administration, court and health buildings, the graffiti artists had an easy time messing up the black leather rear seat.

Bernini, in a claim filed against Pima County, said she put in a full day, parking her "pristine" Saab at 7:30 a.m. and retrieving it at 6:55 p.m. Two court employees, she reported, "passed car at 4:55 p.m. and it was still pristine."

It could have been worse. Thieves stole a judge's truck from the same garage a few months ago.

This lapse of security regarding the Saab will likely cost taxpayers $227.16, according to the repair and cleaning bills that Bernini submitted along with her April 22 claim. Bernini is to be commended for that bargain, but not commended for her use of Superior Court stationery to write the cover letter for her claim.


Also in the claim bin is one from Barbara Gelband, the chief aide to Republican Supervisor Ann Day.

Gelband, a lawyer who forced the county to go through hoops to hire on as a contractor, was date-stamping her books at Nanini Library when she tripped over a cabinet door that mysteriously swings open on its own.

She got banged up pretty badly, with two breaks to her right shoulder. No laughing matter.

The city-county finger pointing is. The joint operation--city employees and city managed but funded by both county and city--is bouncing Gelband around more than her fall did.

She is seeking $350,000. Day and her buddies on the Board of Supervisors have until June 19 to accept the settlement offered by Gelband's top, er, cabinet lawyer Stephen Weiss.

DERAILING THE STRAIGHT-TALK EXPRESS: Is Sen. John McCain really going to face a challenge from Maricopa County Congressman Jeff Flake next year?

It's no secret that some conservative Republicans, unhappy with McCain's maverick positions on such items as campaign-finance reform and the insanely irresponsible Bush tax cut, are urging Flake to take on the snowy-haired senior senator.

We're told Flake is awaiting a Supreme Court decision regarding whether political parties can be forced to allow Independents to vote in primaries. As long as Arizona has an open primary that allows non-Republicans to cast a ballot, Flake might as well pack it in. But in a low-turnout, GOP-only primary, he might stand a chance--a slim chance, but a chance.

If Flake does run, look for him to attack McCain on the campaign finance bill that's been waylaid by the courts. Flake is already positioning himself to head up the effort to repeal Arizona's Clean Elections program, which will give him a high-visibility platform to hammer McCain.

BLADE-AND-GRADE BLUFF: Tucson lawyer Larry Schubart, representing developer Jonathan Tate, should've been in Vegas for the World Series of Poker. He just ran a great bluff by the bozos in the city attorney's office, claiming that the mayor and council lack any discretion once certain land-use requirements are passed on by their own bureaucrats--and, even more disturbing, that the elected officials can be held personally responsible if they don't acquiesce and rubber-stamp the decision via a formal vote.

In this case, the City Council voted 6-1 to deny Tate's development plan to build the 14-home Westview Estates, a blade-and-grade development on 6 1/2 acres near Speedway Boulevard and Painted Hills Drive. After Schubart threatened to sue 'em, they reversed themselves and voted 6-1 to approve the development.

Attorney Spencer Smith, representing neighborhood groups opposing the item, told the morning daily it seemed odd that the city code would call for a vote on an item that allowed for no discretion by those voting.

No shit.

Deputy City Attorney Michael McGrory's bizarre opinion isn't the first to come out of the city's ace conglomeration of legal beagles--check out Dennis McLaughlin's notion that City Council members and candidates are receiving an in-kind campaign contribution if they're interviewed on local talk shows.

The real problem here is not the council's cowardice in caving into a perceived threat (we would request the city's ace legal staff to tell us where there is an example of an elected official being held responsible for voting on anything short of taking a bribe for it) but their failure to let their own legal staff know who's supposed to be in charge.

And thanks to the Star's Joe Burchell for telling us what really went down, even though big chunks of it were hidden under "executive session"--which translates as "lawyer empowerment."

STAN PAUSE: Looking for TUSD Superintendent Stan Paz, whose demand for a contract extension before his evaluation was rejected? Check Texas or Las Vegas, where his resumes are floating. Paz is playing TUSD well. The TUSD board, under the leadership of senior members Mary Belle McCorkle and Joel T. Ireland, consistently failed to evaluate Paz in a timely manner throughout his three-year spin here.

MANGELING OLD TUCSON: A gunman for los dos Dons--Diamond and Pitt--Pete Mangelsdorf got the drop on Pima County last week by canning nearly all of Old Tucson's 270 employees and shuttering the park through the summer. Guided tours will be offered on a limited basis. What's to see?

"When we return to the fall schedule, we will advise you of job availability," Mangelsdorf said in a letter to office staff, stuntmen, dancers and the others.

Good luck.

Diamond and Pitt, meanwhile, have their other, more expensive and more deadly shooters in Superior Court trying to convince a judge that Pima County taxpayers should forgive the nearly $200,000 their Old Tucson company owes. Their bluff usually works. When an arson fire took out 60 percent of the movie set, Diamond and Pitt first vowed to rebuild as was. They chose another path based on consultant recommendations, but now say they won't follow the gaggle of consultants who tell them Old Tucson needs to be a water park.

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