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CROSSING THE LINE

Under pressure from Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields, the Independent Redistricting Commission released revised maps of the state's legislative districts with the aim of making districts more competitive. The new map, approved after the two Republican members of the commission failed to sneak in some last-minute changes, now has eight districts that are "competitive"--that is, the difference between Republican and Democratic registration is less than 7 percent. The old map had just four such swing districts.

That could be bad news for Republicans, who now hold 17 of the 30 Arizona Senate seats. But GOP candidates can take some comfort in the knowledge that they usually have more money and more support than Democrats in Arizona, giving them an edge in close races.

Locally, the shifts bring about some fun scenarios. One ying-and-yang example: House Majority Whip Randy Graf, the poster boy for kneejerk conservatives, is now in the same district as Rep. Pete Hershberger, the moderate Republican who was slapped around this session by House Speaker Jake Flake for disloyalty. That's a race to watch--if Graf doesn't abandon the Legislature to launch a kamikaze run against Congressman Jim Kolbe.

On the Senate side, Democrat Gabrielle Giffords is now sharing a district with Republican Tim Bee. The Democrats hold the edge there by a mere 2 percentage points--and the district includes the Houghton corridor that's becoming home to a lot of young Republican families, so those demographics could change dramatically during the next few years.

It's not certain these maps will be in place for this year's election cycle, because they still need approval from the federal Justice Department, which could hold up the process. Candidates must turn in nominating petitions by June 9.

The Independent Redistricting Commission is still appealing Fields' original ruling against the maps used in the 2002 election.


NO TIME FOR DETAILS

Rep. Marian McClure doesn't seem overly eager to defend her bill to force Pima County to split up its open-space question in the upcoming May bond package.

McClure drafted the bill because Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry combined $164 million to purchase land for preservation with $10 million to buy land near Davis-Monthan to prevent development near the Air Force base.

When McClure's bill came up for debate during the Committee of the Whole last Thursday, March 4, two Tucson representatives, Phil Lopes and Tom Prezelski, stood up to make statements about the bill. After they'd had their say, McClure refused to yield to questions and made a quick closing statement, saying there just wasn't time to go into details about the legislation.

Because the May bond election is fast approaching, McClure needs to get a two-thirds majority in the House and the Senate to enact the bill with an emergency clause. Good luck.


MOCA MAYHEM

Downtown's Museum of Contemporary Art recently opened a show which features "Sugar-Coated," a gumball-covered Hummer. But the museum's relationship with the city of Tucson is more sour these days.

As part of the planning for a prelude party before the March 12 Tucson Symphony Orchestra concert, MOCA staff applied for a temporary liquor license, which they've done countless times in the past. But this time, city officials told them they didn't have the required Certificate of Occupancy for the property, even though they've rented their government-owned building for years.

Eventually, the same city officials admitted their mistake and said the museum had been issued a Certificate of Occupancy--but that they never should have been. That conclusion threatens the continued existence of MOCA.

Even worse, government officials have pointed out electrical problems with the nonprofit organization's aging structure on Toole Avenue. Repair estimates range as high as $15,000. A year ago, the estimate was only $1,000.

Despite the hassles and the glacial pace of identifying them, MOCA's Ann-Marie Russell was upbeat last week while guaranteeing that the March 12 party would happen. She had nothing but praise for city staffers.

"Everyone has been phenomenal, and we will be victorious," she said.

By Monday, however, more hurdles had appeared, and her mood was more restrained.

"To hold the TSO party, we'll end up spending a few thousand dollars getting a temporary Certificate of Occupancy we already had," she said.

After that, the cash-strapped museum will be still be faced with finding the cash to pay for the required electrical repairs, even though the city of Tucson has money now to pay for the work.

"I believe museums are a good thing, and city governments should support them," Russell said. But if she doesn't get the city support, she vowed to find another source of funds.

"MOCA will close over my dead body," she said.


MESS WITH BEES; GET STUNG

Former state Sen. Keith Bee promised the tiny but turbulent Tanque Verde Unified School District last year that his family's Bee Line transportation company would behave if the school board would just approve a dirty little deal that enabled Bee Line to flout bidding and zoning laws on a two-acre lot next to district headquarters.

Bee, a Republican who handed over his Senate seat to his brother Tim Bee, was delighted last fall when the then odd-ball majority running Tanque Verde schools allowed the Bees to violate terms of a lease for space in the school's bus lot and garage.

Bee Line went from delinquent tenant to slumlord. But Tanque Verde's current board is none too happy that Bee Line's scraping of the new bus yard has left messy drainage and other problems. What, no engineering?


JUDGE NOT

Terry Chandler is a smart and supremely politically connected judge-in-waiting. She was a media-darling boss of the Tucson division of the U.S. Attorney's Office for Arizona, but quietly got reorganized out. No problem. She landed a position as a Pima County Superior Court commissioner. She is assigned to Juvi.

As an aside: Commissioners, who never face any sort of ballot or merit-selection processes that other judges must, are just black-robe pork. What's worse is the tab for these commissioners -- $108,675 in annual pay -- is picked up entirely by Pima County taxpayers, rather than the system that splits the $120,750 annual salaries for full judges between the county and the state.

Chandler's daddy, Tom, is an 83-year-old powerhouse lawyer who still calls the shots on who will be sworn in. Terry Chandler's husband, Peter Cahill, is a respected judge in Gila County Superior Court.

The funny thing about Terry Chandler's move for the next tier is that she had told colleagues that she, appropriately, would not seek an appointment until longtime Judge Pro Tem Frank Dawley got his due. The nominating panel will forward three names to Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, by the end of the month.

Along with people like Chandler and Dawley, there are some unqualified and underqualified candidates in the 18-person field, including Barry Corey, who helped former leaders of the Amphi School District twist the Open Meeting law to such a degree that the public was shut out; Stephen Rubin, who cannot separate his own experiences, situation and salary from his opinions and rulings when dealing with litigants who are much different; and two components of the Raúl Grijalva political machine: Jose Luis Castillo, a justice of the peace, and Hector Estrada, a Tucson lawyer.

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