The Skinny

BONDS AWAY! The Pima County Board of Supervisors wisely decided to avoid screwing around with the $451 million bond proposal shaped by a citizen committee.

Supporters of the bond hope that they'll be able to retire current bonds and take advantage of low interest rates to peddle the package without raising tax rates. But even bond committee chair Larry Hecker admits that taxes could increase, albeit by a marginal amount, as property values continue to climb.

A slight bump in property taxes, though, isn't reason enough to oppose the bond package, which includes money for a city-county court facility, additional funds for Kino Hospital and more money to spruce up neighborhoods and expand parks, among other benefits.

The biggest element, $180 million for open space, is crucial to jumpstarting the county's Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan by acquiring vanishing ecologically sensitive land for a biological reserve. Without that money, implementing the conservation plan becomes a whole lot harder--especially since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, bowing down before political pressure from the Bush Administration, has asked the federal courts to forget about listing the poor ol' pygmy owl as endangered, which could scuttle the whole critical habitat issue for the foreseeable future.

That chance to screw the conservation plan is one reason the Growth Lobby will likely oppose the open-space proposal with an aggressive campaign. Look for them to focus on the trust issue that arose from the county's 1997 road bonds.

Another factor: Will city officials actually campaign against the bonds? Mayor Bob Walkup and some members of the City Council are rattling sabers, because they feel county officials have dismissed their priorities.

Walkup and the gang are demanding a joint meeting with the Board of Supervisors. The supes look increasingly unlikely to go for the big meet, figuring--correctly--that it would provide little more than a stage for political grandstanding.

If City Council members really want to see more cooperation between the city and the county, they're likely to be more effective by just getting together informally to discuss common ground. Even Ward 6 Councilman Frodo Ronstadt is saying he sees fresh opportunities for cooperation with new board members Ramon Valadez and Richard Elias. (And after all, Ronstadt already has such a warm relationship with District 4 Supe "Sugar" Ray Carroll. )

HALF-SENSE: Appointed Supervisor Ramon Valadez, a Democrat filling Dan Eckstrom's shoes, advised the Pima Association of Governments last week to abandon its push for a half-cent sales tax for regional transportation improvements.

City voters have crushed sales taxes for transportation plans by whopping margins twice since May 2002, and voters throughout Pima County similarly smashed sales tax for transportation in 1986 and 1990. Valadez has embraced Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry's proposal to pursue legislation that would give the county the authority to enact a sales tax that would be doled out among local jurisdictions. Two of his colleagues, Republicans Ray Carroll and Ann Day, oppose the sales tax.

Sugar Ray, in fact, has used his single vote to kill a general half-cent sales tax that could have been implemented with a majority vote of the Board of Supervisors.

"Without general consensus for a sales tax to fund transportation, efforts at the Legislature to obtain such authority are, in my judgment, doomed," Valadez, a former state rep and senator, said in his letter to the usually pragmatic James Altenstadter, acting executive director of PAG.

Valadez said that local officials must demonstrate that past and recent opposition was based on flaws in the plans, not the sales tax. (Ha! That's why county voters also crushed a quarter-cent sales tax for jails and juvi in 1994 but approved property taxes for similar projects three years later.)

"If (the PAG) subcommittee ignores this threshold issue in a rush to get to Phoenix in January," Valadez said, "it will have ignored the elephant standing in the middle of the room."

PRIMARILY SPEAKING: Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean rolled through the state again this week, picking up an endorsement from Bruce Babbitt, the former Arizona governor and secretary of the Interior under Bill Clinton. While it's not as impressive as Al Gore's endorsement last week, Babbitt's seal of approval will help Dean appear more attractive to undecided Democrats who worry that he's slightly to the left of Fidel Castro.

As near as we can figure, Dean's machine is the only presidential campaign that even has a pulse here in Southern Arizona. The Skinny has gotten an early ballot mailer from Dean for the upcoming Feb. 3 primary, as well as a walking piece left on our door when we were out stocking up on bargains the day after Thanksgiving. Hey, it's not much, but it's more impressive than Wesley Clark's TV ads.

Over the summer, Dean had a meet-up that drew more than 1,600 people to an off-campus hotel; a few weeks ago, Democratic scold Joe Lieberman made an appearance downtown that drew about 50 people--and half of them were protestors from For Our Grandchildren, a special-interest gang seeking to privatize a portion of Social Security.

That turn-out pretty much says it all: Having tapped the anti-Bush anger constituency, Dean looks like he's going to sweep Arizona on his way to the nomination.

Of course, whether he can knock out George W. is an entirely different matter, especially after Karl Rove schedules Saddam's trial the same week as the Democratic National Convention.

MOD SQUAD: Republicans Jack Jewett, a former state lawmaker, and Grant Woods, former state attorney general, have started Mainstream Arizona, a new GOP group designed to combat the conservative Club for Growth, which is muscling its way into Arizona politics to support the Kool-Aid drinkers currently in leadership positions at the Arizona Legislature.

Jewett and Woods are promising to back candidates who support the nutty notion of investment in education, health care, economic development and environmental protection. (Oddly, though, they say they won't support candidates directly, because that opens up a can of worms regarding campaign finance laws.)

Their first move ought to be to help out poor District 30 Rep. Marian McClure, who is facing a shit storm from cave dwellers who are looking to purge her right out of the House of Representatives. They're shopping to find someone more ideologically in step with Rep. Randy Graf, the majority whip who's slightly to the right of Ann Coulter.

TUSD RECYCLES: Longtime teacher and administrator Carolyn Kemmeries took a walk into politics in 1998 and was carried by the Tucson education elite to election to the governing board of the Tucson Unified School District.

A decent sort, Kemmeries nonetheless allowed board members Mary Belle McCorkle and Joel T. Ireland and TUSD bureaucrats to lead her by the nose. She was a spineless cheerleader who knew things were bad, but did little to stop the madness.

She had great promise. A former principal who had to mop up several TUSD messes, Kemmeries, we thought, would clean house and be skeptical of McCorkle, Ireland and the two superintendents she let run wild, George Garcia and Stan Paz. Most significant was Kemmeries' inability to pull the plug on the worst influence in TUSD, legal counsel Jane Butler. Kemmeries knew Butler had lied on the serious Bloodsworth-Berryhill matter at Sahuaro High School and said so. Yet she caved to pressure and, through a botched and improper motion last year, allowed Butler to stay and play her power games.

Why did Kemmeries go along to get along?

Look no further than her current job as the $250-a-day project coordinator for a TUSD special program called Opening Minds Through the Arts.

Kemmeries seems similar former two-term TUSD board member James Christ, who deftly sucked up simultaneously to colleagues, administration and the unions to stay in such grand esteem as to win the unjustifiable appointment as principal of Secrist Middle School.

CAGED HEAT: At the YWCA annual Women on the Move banquet on Dec. 7, they spread the loving to some who deserved recognition--and to others who need image rehab.

The biggest con at the Y was the Women on the Move award to Ann Weaver Nichols, an associate professor at the Arizona State University School of Social Work. A Columbia and Stanford genius, Nichols, when she is not nodding off, teaches not only young social workers (CPS anyone?) but also the crafts to promoting social change. You know, how to protest.

She is a woman to be admired. Just check her numerous awards for her "devotion" to death penalty abolition. It was that devotion, and passion, that led Nichols back in the day to bypass a visit with her husband, state Sen. Andy Nichols, while on her weekly trip from the ASU branch office in Tucson to the main campus in Tempe. Instead, Mrs. Nichols would hightail it over to Florence for a chance to meet her separated-by-bars object of affection, Anthony Chaney, a cop/doctor-killer languishing on Death Row.

State Department of Corrections officials finally had to put a stop to the super-XXX letters, cards and tapes Nichols lavished on Chaney when, department officials assert, the good professor was violating prison regs on the types of material and origination points of her shipments to Chaney.

How dirty were sweet ol' Ann's sex tapes and letters? Trust us; it'd drive anyone to monastic celibacy.

No doubt the DOC brass enjoyed picking on one of the leading abolitionists and prison reformers--who happened to be married to a Democratic senator. But it is likely that the officials were forced to cut off Ann's "professors gone wild" sex talk with Chaney for fear of being hauled before the federal court on a cruel and unusual punishment rap.

This woman on the move took more fast steps and made more headlines when she demanded to enforce some agreement to get Chaney's body after the state executed him in 2000.

Andy Nichols died at the desk of his Senate office the following year.

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