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The Skinny

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TAKING INITIATIVE: Gov. Jane Dee Hull complained last week that it's just too damn easy to get an initiative on the ballot. Under the state constitution, petition passers need to gather valid signatures from at least 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the previous election. And that's just to change state law; to modify the state constitution, you need to gather signatures from at least 15 percent. (This year, the signature thresholds were 101,762 and 152,643, respectively.)

Hull wants to change the law to require valid signatures equal to at least 20 percent of the total ballots cast in the previous election.

That's just stupid policy. As Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club points out, it won't slow corporate initiatives like the U S West/Qwest-sponsored initiative, which would loosen the Arizona Corporation Commission's regulation of telephone rates. U S West has spent more than a million to put that one on the ballot.

Such a change would, however, effectively derail efforts that don't have such deep pockets--like the Citizens Growth Management Initiative on the November ballot.

We think all this complaining about initiatives is getting tiresome. At this point, six initiatives are bound for the November ballot. Compare that to the eight referendums--referendi?--placed on the ballot by the Arizona Legislature. (Prop 100, the Growing Smarter measure that would have set aside up to 3 percent of state trust land for preservation, was tossed off the ballot earlier this month, leaving seven props from lawmakers.) If there's a crowded ballot, it's not the sole fault of petition passers.

If getting an initiative on the ballot was so easy, Hull wouldn't have had to call the legislature into a special session to put her education tax (which, incidentally, the Arizona Daily Star misidentified as an initiative in an editorial earlier this week) on the ballot. She could have just launched an initiative campaign--which she briefly threatened to do, until she realized it would take too much work.

Fortunately, any change in the number of signatures would require a constitutional amendment, which has to be approved by voters. We've got a challenge for Hull: Why doesn't she demonstrate just how easy it is to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot by launching her own petition drive?

SIGN LANGUAGE: A forest of campaign signs appeared overnight earlier this month, as we crossed the 30-day threshold before the September 12 primary. While they don't tell us much about the candidates, the signs do serve a vital function for campaigns: driving up name recognition.

Perhaps getting the biggest bang for the buck is the father-son team of Ted and Demetri Downing, who are both campaigning for the Arizona House of Representatives. They're sharing Downing signs across midtown Tucson. Ted is running against Colette Barajas, Gabrielle Giffords and Howard Shore in the close Democratic primary in District 13, while Demetri faces no primary opponent in his race in District 14. (He'll face Republican Ed Poelstra in the general election.) Stretched across two neighboring districts, the signs will build name rec for both candidates.

Putting up signs is no easy task. And signs face a number of threats, from monsoon storms to sabotage from rival campaigns. And then there are the civil-disobedient types who just don't like the look of the propaganda. The Skinny recalls watching as a steroid-enhanced SUV plowed down a half-dozen signs on the corner of St. Mary's Road and Granada Avenue in the wee hours of a Saturday night in 1996.

A perp got nailed taking down a number of political and real-estate signs last week. He was spotted by a concerned citizen who alerted the law via cellphone after tailing the suspect home.

Deputy Anthony Sierra responded to the call and confronted the suspect. According to Sierra, the suspect copped to the sign theft during questioning.

"He stated that he took all the signs that were the in area, including the real estate signs," Sierra notes in his report. "He stated that he had been doing so ever since he has had his driver's license. The signs had gone up and he had taken them down because they were an eyesore."

When Sierra wrote the sign thief a ticket, he told the deputy, "That's fine, I'm guilty, I did it. I didn't know that it was against the law." After Sierra finished writing the citation, the two filled the deputy's trunk with the signs, including campaign billboards for Democrats Ted Downing and George Cunningham and Republicans Jonathan Paton and Linda Arzoumanian, as well as advertisements for Sterling Homes, Sabino Mountain and Remax.

"I don't want to press charges," says Paton. "I just want him to put my signs back. That was a lot of hard work."

CONTEMPTOUS BEHAVIOR: On Monday, August 21, Superior Court Judge Kenneth Lee found the Karl Eller billboard cartel to be in contempt of court for noncompliance with a stipulated judgment that required 14 illegal billboards to be removed by July 31. As faithful Skinny readers know, Eller had removed only two of the 14 billboards by the deadline and kept dragging its feet until the final eyesore was finally extinguished on August 18. Had the court hearing not been pending, who knows how many of these monuments to visual pollution would still be standing?

In addition to the contempt order, Judge Lee slapped Eller with a $5,000 fine. Like that's a big deal to a gazillionaire like Eller.

But it appears this community is getting wise to the shell game that Eller engages in. Their idea is to talk about removing an ever-increasing number of billboards (illegal or otherwise), but the date for the removal of any of the billboards is ever pushed further into the future as yet another "deal" is offered. Ad nauseam. But we ain't snoozing gila monsters no more and Eller's house of cards finally collapsed with Judge Lee's contempt ruling.

Since enforcement action is pending on another 121 Eller billboards, not to mention some 50 Infinity (formerly Outdoor Systems) billboards, this public lesson in billboard industry tactics comes none too soon.

DAYDREAM BELIEVER: A few months ago, Tucson City Councilwoman Shirley "Frequent Flier" Scott was contemplating a run at a Congressional seat in 2002. While Shirley likes to travel a lot, particularly to Washington D.C., The Skinny imagines her recent troubles with former aide John "The Mouth" Macko have sidelined her dreams of a job on Capitol Hill. Perhaps she'll stick to defending the ill-conceived Civano project and eventually make up her mind about whether she supports desperately needed impact fees on new development in Ward 4. She can find a sympathetic shoulder in hubby Joe Scott, who last year was telling anyone who would listen that he intended to campaign for the Arizona Legislature but then thought better of it.

SHUTTLES OR SHOOTINGS? While our crack City Council has spent a lot of time recently on such vital issues as eliminating and resurrecting the oh-so-very-important shuttle bus service to Arizona football games, the community's murder rate is on a pace to challenge the all-time annual record. At more than one a week, local murders are becoming way too common.

Tucson's homicide rate bucks trends in other parts of the country, where murder rates have dropped in recent years. But our elected officials have more pressing needs than addressing this depressing situation, since they have football fans to consider. As one obituary of a murder victim noted last year, we live "in a city that brags of clean air, clear skies, all but crime."

FORUM LETTERS: Time to meet the candidates! The Citizens Clean Election Commission is sponsoring a number of legislative forums this week. Clean Election candidates who are accepting public funds for their campaigns are obligated to attend, but the events are open to any candidate who wishes to join in the fun.

· The District 11 forum is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, August 24, at the Quincy-Douglas Center, 1101 E. Silverlake Road. House candidates Carmine Cardamone, Debora Norris and Olivia Cajero Bedford are on the ballot in the September 12 primary. Green Party candidate Bill Moeller will be on the general election ballot.

· The District 14 forum is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, August 29, at the Udall Center, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road. Democrats Demitri Downing and Marion Pickens will face Republican Ed Poelsta and Green Mary "Katie" Bolger in the November 7 general election.

· The District 13 forum is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, August 30 at the Jewish Community Center, 3822 E. River Road. Democrat Andy Nichols is facing Republican Kathleen Dunbar for the state Senate office. House candidates Colette Barajas, Gabrielle Giffords, Howard Shore and Ted Downing are battling for the two Democratic nominations in the September 12 primary. The two winners will face Republicans Jonathan Paton and Carol Somers in the general election.

Corporation Commission candidates, including Democrats Hershella Horton, Barbara Lubin, Sandra Kennedy and Stephen Ahearn and Republicans Bill Mundell and Marc Spitzer, will appear at 7 p.m. August 31 at the Jewish Community Center, 3822 E. River Road.

Another forum, sponsored by the Pima Association of Taxpayers, will be on Saturday, August 26, at the Woods Library, 3455 N. First Ave. Beginning at 1 p.m., you can see candidates for the Pima County Board of Supervisors from District 3 (Democrats Sharon Bronson and Dick Pacheco and Republican Barney Brenner) and District 5 (Democrats Raúl Grijalva and Dan Medina and Republican Rosalie López). The forum will be moderated by Jerry Springer.

At 2 p.m., candidates for state Senate in District 12 (Republicans Scott Alexander and Toni Hellon and Democrat Mark Osterloh) will debate, followed by District 12 House candidates (Republicans Pete Hershberger, Steve Huffman and Jane Madden and Democrats Craig Molloy and Mort Nelson).

PICTURE IMPERFECT: Last week's "Simmering Supes" feature inaccurately identified a photo of District 5 Democratic candidate Dan Medina as District 1 candidate Byron Howard.

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