FIFE'S BACK!Is J. Fife Whiteguy III really considering taking on Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano next year? The press was abuzz last week about the possibility that Fife, the onetime governor who got popped with a 23-count federal indictment accusing him of fraudulent financial shenanigans, wants his old job back.
Fife's financial scam--to simplify a complex shell game--was playing with his books so that he looked rich when he wanted to borrow and poor when it came time to pay back the loans. He ultimately declared bankruptcy, sticking it to the banks and a union pension fund that had been foolish enough to trust him. The whole sorry saga was an appalling example of the insider dealing and crooked behavior that runs through too much of the development community.
In a complex criminal trial, a jury ended up convicting Fife of seven charges in 1997, triggering his resignation and the ascension of Secretary of State Jane Dee Hull to the executive tower.
Fife's conviction was tossed by a federal appeals court, because the judge in the case replaced the one juror who just couldn't believe such a nice young man would ever do anything wrong with an alternate who joined the other members in a unanimous guilty verdict. Before the feds could retry him, Fife got a pardon from outgoing President Bill Clinton, assuring the tough-on-crime Arizona governor could pursue a new career as a pastry chef. Really.
Fife, who's taken to declaring himself an innocent victim of out-of-control federal prosecutors whose trumped-up charges unfairly drove him from office, is certainly arrogant enough to figure he can make a comeback in politics. He reckons that the Arizona population has turned over enough to ensure that a lot of voters have never heard of him and his legal complications. We imagine that would change once the press recapped his history during a campaign, but it would sure be a fun ride for us.
Do you suppose Fife is trying to smoke out Congressman J.D. Hayworth, the former sportscaster who's been talking about taking on Napolitano in 2006? We're hearing that J.D. is getting cold feet, especially following a recent poll that showed him trailing Napolitano by somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 points.
If Fife and J.D. are the best players the GOP has on the bench, Napolitano might as well get comfy in that governor's chair.
CABLE CRAPOLAAccess Tucson, Tucson's award-winning public access outfit, had enough trouble last year when the City Council trimmed its budget by $300,000 as part of former City Manager James Keene's budget-balancing act.
But a new bill at the Arizona Legislature would pretty much kill it outright by making it illegal for cities to require more than two public-access channels as part of the franchise contract. Cable companies could still provide public-access channels, in lieu of paying a fee to the city, but they'd get to determine the value of the channels.
House Bill 2563, sponsored by Republican Chuck Gray (who seems delighted to be servicing the cable industry), has already met with resistance from the Tucson City Council, which voted last week to oppose the legislation. But it cleared the House Committee on Federal Mandates and Property Rights earlier this week on a party-line vote.
That's the bad news, but we hear the Senate version is already marked for death. Stay tuned!
BREAKING THE LAWThere's no love lost between the conservative wing of the Arizona Legislature and the courts, but the latest assault on the judiciary breaks new ground in the stupidity sweepstakes.
Rep. Russell Pearce has sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 2031, which would ask voters to amend the Constitution to eliminate a little something called English Common Law, which is basically the notion that the legal system is built on precedent. Instead, all court decisions would be based solely on current legislative statute, without regard to previous court rulings.
What's really astonishing is that the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee last week. Guess somebody must really want to suck up the Pearce, given that he's the head of the House Appropriations Committee.
HALF-BILLION DOLLAR FAILURERoger Pfeuffer, the capable and refreshingly local new face of the Tucson Unified School District, has been thrust into the spotlight to explain that the beleaguered school system will try to tell U.S. District Judge David C. Bury that it is through with its 27-year-old desegregation program. TUSD, Pfeuffer said, is no longer a system of separate schools, one for whites and one for minorities.
But Pfeuffer was also told to say: Don't mess with our desegregation booty that, at $62.5 million, is nearly 20 percent of TUSD's $319 million budget this year. TUSD will seek to reopen the settlement, hammered out in U.S. District Court in 1978, if legislators vote to strip away TUSD's desegregation cash. With the exception of several million dollars, most of that money comes from local taxpayers, particularly business owners, who have been subject to TUSD's tax-at-will policies since 1983. TUSD has spent more than $563.3 billion for desegregation since 1983 to supposedly wipe out "vestiges" of TUSD's dual system noted by the late U.S. District Court Judge William Frey.
Ed Kahn, the frequent and unsuccessful Libertarian political candidate who also has long served as the lawyer for interveners in the desegregation case, applauded--sort of--TUSD for seeking to get out of the court order.
"It is a shame," Kahn said in court documents filed Jan. 31, "that TUSD spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and waited over 25 years to do what it should have done long ago."
Kahn is making two main points. One is that Frey noted that "existence of racial imbalance in the schools (is) insufficient for a finding that a Mexican-American/Anglo Dual System has ever been operated by" TUSD.
The other point is that the order said nothing about the need for magnet high schools, favorite spending targets for TUSD.
Rubin Salter, an attorney for the African-American plaintiffs in the desegregation lawsuit filed in 1974, is right to question whether TUSD has or would really provide equal educational opportunities for all students. Keep in mind: African-Americans were sent to wholly separate schools in Tucson; Mexican-Americans might not have received a fair shake, but they were fully integrated. They also could join school athletic teams, choir, band and the like while blacks could not. Salter, whose wife is a longtime TUSD principal, pointed to the achievement gap between white and minority students.
Pfeuffer has countered that Salter is missing the point and the issue isn't achievement, but rather equal access.
We're with Salter. Minority students don't get equal access to the classes they need to achieve. They are tracked and kept out, in large part, from the courses they need to qualify and prepare for college. This happens all over the country. One version of that dirty little secret was uncovered in the Denver Public Schools several years ago by a Denver East High School freshman, Kara Cayce. After two years of research, she wrote: "On the Outside Looking In: Racial Tracking at East High School."
Now a student at Temple University in Philadelphia, Cayce and others showed that African-Americans and other minorities were kept out of advance placement and other college-prep classes. She was recognized last month with a Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award in Colorado.
Students in TUSD know the same tracking is happening here.