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The Skinny

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MARCH MADNESS

You've got to appreciate the determination of Derechos Humanos, the local immigrant-rights organization that came out against the federal STRIVE Act last week. Not so much their stance, mind you, but their determination.

The leaders of Derechos Humanos, such as Pima County Legal Defender Isabel Garcia, are complaining that the STRIVE Act--the latest effort at comprehensive immigration reform in Congress--is too tough on people who have entered the country illegally.

They're planning a big May 1 march to demonstrate support for their demands, which include unconditional amnesty to anyone who has snuck into the country illegally. In addition, they oppose guest-worker programs, employer sanctions and deportations of people in the country illegally. This is the real "open borders" crowd.

The members of Derechos Humanos represent the bizarro-world counterpart to the seal-our-border bunch, who are griping that the STRIVE Act is just another effort at amnesty. They want to round up the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the United States and toss them over a wall stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.

It's obvious to anyone with a lick of sense that the resolution to this issue won't be found on the fringes of the debate.

The big question: Can the rest of us in the middle--from Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake, who co-sponsored the STRIVE Act, to Congressman Raul Grijalva, who supports it as a step toward resolution--actually work out a solution to a crisis that has been out of control for far too long?

And can we do it the next five months, before the politics of presidential campaigns make the chances of reform vanish for another two years?


FROZEN OUT

One of the odder debates being played out at the Legislature this year is over Senate Bill 1345, which would allow consumers to freeze their credit reports so that identity thieves who steal your Social Security number and birth date can't get credit cards or other loans in your name.

The bill outlines a pretty simple system already in use in more than half the states: You'd pay a reasonable fee, and no one would have access to your credit report until you used a PIN to unlock it.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously, but it's been held up in the House Rules Committee by chairman Bob Robson, a Republican from Chandler.

Robson's refusal to give the bill a hearing is particularly odd, given that he's said to be considering a run for the Arizona Corporation Commission. This hardly seems like the kind of consumer-friendly action voters like to see from candidates for the ACC.

Robson had another brilliant moment on the House floor this week during debate on a bill that stiffened penalties for gang members. When Democrats offered an amendment that would have provided more funds for gang prevention, Robson blurted out words to the effect that "the time for prevention is after they're in custody." Even his fellow Republicans were scratching their heads when they heard that one.


MONEY TALKS

Lawmakers can bicker all they want about the denying Golden Rule license plates to illegal immigrants or allowing payday loans outfits to set up in high school libraries, but they ain't going home until they produce a budget that Gov. Janet Napolitano will sign.

So, with the session now nearing that magical 100th day, where is the spending plan?

We hear it's close to being unveiled. Senate President Tim Bee--a Republican who proudly hails from Tucson--has been working with both parties in his chamber and the governor's office to produce a budget that might actually be acceptable to Her Majesty. He's had to freeze out a few of the more purist members of his GOP caucus--we're looking your way, Ron Gould--but he hopes to have something to unveil soon, although details of the framework haven't been leaking into our bucket. We have heard that Bee wants to extend last year's property-tax cut permanently, but whether state revenues are strong enough to justify that remains to be seen.

In the House, Republicans are cooking up their own spending plan, but Democrats have been frozen out of the process, and it's not likely to be a proposal that could withstand a gubernatorial veto. It might not even be a budget that could get out of a narrowly divided House.

For what it's worth, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee is reporting mostly good news: Through February, the state had brought in more than $6 billion, which was about $149.5 million ahead of the original forecast.


SCRAMBLEWATCH '08: SHOW-US-THE-MONEY EDITION

Earlier this month, the presidential hopefuls were talking about how much they had raised in the first quarter. With the latest Federal Election Commission filings now online, we have the rest of the story: How much they spent.

The news continues to be bad for Sen. John McCain. While the FEC reports show he raised just more than $13 million, he spent nearly $8.4 million, leaving him with a little more than $5 million in the bank.

McCain has been blowing through money way too fast and has already started to trim back on his bloated staff.

McCain is struggling to keep up with his chief rivals. Mitt Romney, the flip-floppin' former Massachusetts governor, raised nearly $21 million from individuals and opened his checkbook to loan himself $2.3 million. While he had spent more than McCain--close to $11.5 million--he still had nearly $12 million left in the bank at the end of March.

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani also outpaced McCain, raising more than $14.7 million in the quarter and spending less than $5.7 million, leaving him with nearly $12 million as of March 31.

These are staggering early figures compared to campaigns in the past, but that's the way presidential candidates roll these days, mostly because so many states are moving up their primaries in the ridiculous hope that they'll get more attention from presidential candidates. What they'll get is more TV ads, which is why early fundraising is so important.

It still strikes us as loony to be talking about poll results for the 2008 race in April 2007, but since the city races this year have all the excitement of the student-council races at Lineweaver Elementary, we'll do it anyway. McCain, who has been making major speeches about the importance of eliminating pork-barrel spending and putting more troops in Iraq to defeat the insurgency, saw a little bounce in the latest CNN poll. Released earlier this week, the poll showed that 24 percent of 368 Republicans or Republican-leaning independents surveyed said they'd support McCain, while 27 percent said they'd support Giuliani. Last month's CNN poll showed Giuliani with a 16-point lead over McCain--but the latest poll also included Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator, and Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker. Neither one has entered the race, though both are flirting with the idea.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times offered its own poll last week, showing that McCain is running behind both Giuliani and Thompson. In that survey, taken in early April, Giuliani had the support of 29 percent of Republicans, while Thompson had 15 percent, and McCain had only 12 percent. Romney had 8 percent.

Still, we're having a hard time putting much faith in any of this--partly because it's so early, and partly because these are national polls, and the campaigns will be fought state by state.


SPEAKING OF CAMPAIGN CASH ...

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is already filling up the bank for her 2008 campaign. She collected $326,857, including $220,286 in individual contributions and $104,966 from political action committees, in the first quarter of 2007. Giffords, who had $141,680 at the start of the reporting period, had $415,274 in the bank as of March 31.

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