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WEALTHY SPECIAL INTEREST ALERT!

One week after speeding up the collection of commercial impact fees to make sure developers pay their fair share, the new Tucson City Council voted unanimously to essentially waive the fees for the Barclay Group, a Phoenix outfit that wants to transform a southside shopping area into a 620,000-square-foot "power center" on Calle Santa Cruz south of Irvington Road.

What? A break for a wealthy out-of-town special interest? Look out--they're sneaking back into City Hall!

In other business, the new Democratic council asked staff to cook up some changes to the garbage fee. Will Environmental Services be spun off from Tucson Water into a separate utility? Will ES remain a self-sustaining enterprise department at all? Will the city decrease the fee for all Tucsonans? Or increase the subsidy program for low-income folks who can't afford it?

We don't know yet--and neither do council members, who asked staff to war-game all sorts of scenarios before returning next month with a report that promises to be riveting. We're no experts, but we'll hazard this guess: Decreasing the fee and expanding the waiver will result in fewer dollars coming in to the city.


RIVER OF BLOOD

The heads keep a rollin' at the city's Rio Nuevo office. Following Assistant City Manager Karen Thoreson's resignation two weeks ago, City Manager Mike Hein had Randy Emerson, a high-paid assistant to Rio Nuevo boss Greg Shelko, pack up his desk. Hein told council members last week that he wants to see more private developers--presumably not of the wealthy-special-interest ilk--and less central planning.


THE DOCTOR IS OUT

A special report from the Scramblewatch '06 desk: We're told that Surgeon General Richard Carmona is out of the race for retiring Congressman Jim Kolbe's seat. And overnight lows must be below freezing up at the Capitol, because two state lawmakers, Sen. Tim Bee and Rep. Steve Huffman, have a severe cold front moving through their loafers.

So who's in the GOP race? Well, former state lawmaker Randy Graf has been running since the summer of '04, although he did suffer a loss to Kolbe along the way. Graf has the advantage of name ID and organization, and the disadvantage of having Tom DeLay's hair.

The only other Republican who has formally announced, as of this writing, is Mike Jenkins, the auto mechanic who lost by a whisker to Graf in a legislative race a few years back. How different are things in the alternative universe where that went the other direction, eh?

Still thinking about a run:

· Property manager/apartment developer Bruce Ash;

· Dr. Wayne Peate, who has an Ivy League medical pedigree and a medical practice that serves local firefighters and cops;

· Mike Hellon, the former Republican national committeeman.

On the Democratic side, Gabrielle Giffords, who resigned her Arizona Senate seat last month for a shot at CD8, will be making a formal campaign kickoff--with Congressman Raul Grijalva by her side--at the Arizona Inn at 10 a.m. next Tuesday, Jan. 24. Then she's off to a meet-and-greet at the American Legion Post at 1560 W. Duval Mine Road in Sahuarita. Campaign headquarters--5704 E. Broadway Blvd.--will be opening by Feb. 1.

Giffords also boasted she had raised more than a quarter-million bucks in the last five weeks of 2005, with 411 of 457 contributions coming from Arizona residents and 260 from first-time supporters.

While other year-end reports aren't due until Jan. 31, we're betting Giffords has raised more than all of her Democratic opponents, who include:

· Former KVOA news anchor Patty Weiss;

· Former Air Force pilot Jeff Latas;

· Former Bosnia peacekeeper Alex Rodriguez;

· Former TUSD board member Eva Bacal;

· Former federal bureaucrat Francine Shacter.

Joining the race this week: David Grant, who now serves as vice president of vocational programs for the local Easter Seals office. In a letter, Grant concedes that "I'm not a professional politician and need all the help I can get."


TIED TO THE TRACKS

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry convinced the Pima County Board of Supervisors to ask voters to approve $54 million in bonds for psychiatric facilities at the same time they're being asked to approve a half-cent sales tax to fund a transportation plan.

Supporters say: Adding the bond questions to the May ballot will bring more voters to the polls, which will help pass the transportation proposition. Critics say: The new proposals will make people realize that government is greedy and lead a rejection of the transportation tax.

New county board chair Richard Elias says he doesn't think it will affect the outcome either way. He's betting both will pass, in case you were wondering.

Meanwhile, the morning daily's recent story revealing that the cost of the transportation plan's urban streetcar has reached $100 million has opponents of the plan positively aglow. The Star's editorial page has been filled with letters from folks such as Ken O'Day, who's eager to see the plan fail.

The outpouring of correspondence brought an e-mail plea from Steve Farley, who urged streetcar supporters to start sending their own letters to the editor.

"You may have noticed that lately the streetcar has come under attack in the letter section of the Daily Star by folks who are sadly misinformed about the benefits and importance of this streetcar project," wrote Farley. "The streetcar needs you--the people who know best just how vital this project is--to write letters to the Star supporting the streetcar."

So we can look forward to reading those missives in the next couple of days.

Farley, by the way, is eyeing Ted Downing's District 28 House seat, if Downing decides to take on recently appointed District 28 Sen. Paula Aboud.


MONUMENTAL RESPONSE

Once upon a time (OK, in the '80s), Chris Bliss was the It juggler, opening for Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson and Julio Iglesias. Twenty years later, he's a comedian living in Phoenix, dropping tastefully liberal comedy at the Tempe Improv. But it's not all bowling pins and giggles: Bliss has become a semi-serious activist backed by Air America, the left's experiment in talk radio. Too bad the Phoenix station was bought out by Christian broadcasters.

Bliss's cause: erecting monuments to the Bill of Rights wherever there's a monument to the Ten Commandments, specifically the one in Wesley Bolin Plaza at the state Capitol. At a recent performance at the Tempe Improv, Bliss explained that the initiative began in response to claims from the Christian right that Moses' tablet is the basis of our legal system. As any reasonable American knows, Bliss points out, the Constitution and its amendments are the rye of our Democratic reuben.

Bliss founded the Foundation Foundation to raise money for the project, which will be an exclusively grassroots effort, Bliss says. No corporate donations, no contributions larger than $100. According to the Foundation Foundation's Web site (mybillofrights.org), it'll cost $40,000 to $50,000 to erect the monument. In Arizona, the Legislature would have to approve it first.

For the record, the byline on the Wesley Ten Commandments is "I AM the LORD thy God," and the monument was put up in 1964 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. And yes, most of the 10 Commandment Monuments across the U.S. were part of a nationwide promotion campaign that began with Cecil B. DeMille's film, The 10 Commandments, starring Charlton Heston.

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