The Skinny


For the second time in his first two weeks in office, newly elected Congressman Ron Barber cast a vote that has upset members of the local Democratic Party.

On the day he was sworn in to finish the term of Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, Barber crossed party lines to support a GOP-backed bill that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to waive environmental laws near the border.

That triggered some grumbling among Democrats (even though the bill isn't likely to pass the Senate in its current form, and wouldn't be signed by President Barack Obama even if it did pass).

But those grumbles grew louder after Barber voted in favor of allowing Congress to go to court to get records the White House has declared privileged (and therefore secret) in the matter of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' botched Fast and Furious investigation.

Fast and Furious has been held up by Republicans as a screwed-up operation that allowed somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 guns to end up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

Congressman Darrell Issa has been spearheading a congressional investigation into Fast and Furious since one of the weapons involved in the investigation was recovered from the site of the shootout between Border Patrol agents and a "rip crew" of border bandits that left U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry dead in December 2010.

But the general narrative of the ATF investigation as a free-for-all that was merrily shipping guns to Mexican drug lords was complicated last week by the publication of a Fortune magazine investigation that revealed ATF agents wanted to stop the straw purchasers who were buying guns and then flipping them to the criminals who were taking them south of the border, but prosecutors prevented them from taking action, because lax gun laws made it too difficult to prove a case against them.

There's been GOP pushback against the Fortune story, and The Skinny is awaiting an upcoming Inspector General report that might shed more light on what happened behind the scenes before making any final judgments. But we'll note that while mistakes were made by the people behind the Fast and Furious investigation, the guns that ended up in Mexico in that operation was a mere drop in the "river of iron" that flows across the border.

Back to Barber's votes on the Fast and Furious congressional investigation: While many of his Democratic colleagues walked out without voting on the criminal-contempt-of-Congress charges, Barber stuck around to vote against them. He tells The Skinny that such an "overreaching" charge was "an outrageous proposition that I couldn't support at all."

FWIW: The U.S. Justice Department, which Holder heads up, has already said that it won't be prosecuting the attorney general.

Then there's the second vote, which has been called a vote to consider Holder to be in "civil contempt" of Congress.

Barber voted yes on that one, but he says the legislation has been "mischaracterized," because nowhere in the resolution does it mention anything about civil contempt. Instead, it authorizes Issa to go to federal court to determine whether the White House has to turn over certain records related to Fast and Furious.

"To me, that's an essential thing that we have to get done," Barber says. "No matter what the issue is, I don't think it's appropriate for Congress or the administration—no matter which administration it is—to hold back important information that will allow us to reach a fact-based conclusion about a matter as serious as Fast and Furious. Fast and Furious was a terrible idea, as were its predecessors. ... Putting guns in the hands of cartel members and criminals is not what the ATF or any other federal agency ought to be doing, but having happened, it needs to be fully understood at what level it was authorized and who actually signed off, and we owe it to the parents of Brian Terry ... to give them answers that they've been waiting for, for 19 months."

Barber adds that he voted for another bill that would have required Issa to take testimony from other witnesses that Democrats wanted to call in front of the House Oversight Committee involving similar investigations during the Bush administration, but the measure failed.

Whatever Barber's reasoning may be, the vote has a vocal contingent of Democrats grumbling about Barber's willingness to go along with the Republican agenda.

State Rep. Matt Heinz, who is challenging Barber in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary, says that he was "dismayed" by Barber's vote with the Republicans.

"To address the problem, we must strengthen the laws to provide law-enforcement agencies with the tools to stop gun-traffickers," Heinz says. "This is a partisan witch hunt which does not solve the problem for Southern Arizonans."


He might not have wanted to be a politician, but it appears that Republican Jesse Kelly, the Tea Party champion who has now lost two congressional campaigns here in Southern Arizona, is going to Washington, D.C.

We're told by multiple sources that Kelly has landed a job with Citizens United, the political operation that produces right-wing documentaries and, through its Political Victory Fund, supports GOP candidates. (Kelly himself was endorsed and given a cool $10,000 by Citizens United during the recent special election; the group also spent $100,000 airing an ad on his behalf.)

We'll see if Kelly can do for Republicans nationwide what he did for them here in Southern Arizona.


A footnote to our cover story this week on the campaigns for the District 1 seat on the Pima County Board of Supervisors: Fundraising reports, which came in earlier this week, show that the GOP candidates have not been raising a lot of money.

We're sure that with the presidential race and the special congressional election that voters decided last month, a lot of donors are feeling tapped out by the time local candidates ask for a check. Also, the reports just cover activity between Jan. 1 and May 31.

But check out these numbers: Mike Hellon had only raised about $20,000 from 91 contributors and had loaned his campaign nearly $25,000 of his own money. State Rep. Vic Williams had only raised about $2,100 from nine contributors and loaned his campaign $125,000. Stuart McDaniel had raised about $14,000 from 30 contributors and loaned his campaign $300, and Ally Miller had raised just less than $13,000 from 99 contributors and had loaned her campaign more than $7,000 (about $2,800 of which has been repaid).

Democrat Nancy Young Wright, who will face the winner of the Aug. 28 GOP primary, had outdone all of them by raising more than $31,000 from 335 contributors, and she hadn't loaned her campaign a nickel.

That had Wright's campaign boasting that she had more contributors than all of the GOP campaigns put together. Wright's finance chair, Brian Clymer, said the finance reports "show a wide range of voters throughout District 1 support Nancy Young Wright's vision for our community. ... She will be a worthy successor to Ann Day."

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