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The Skinny

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SCRAMBLEWATCH' 08: HARD-LESSONS EDITON

Arizona Senate President Tim Bee, who hopes to knock off Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords this November, must have felt pretty good when he heard that a bunch of teachers and kids were appearing on TV to thank him for all of his hard work on a bill that gave school districts an alternative method for determining teacher pay.

But then people started asking who paid for that ad--and we learned that a group of school districts, including Vail and Sahuarita, had funneled taxpayer money into a political-action committee that was running the ads across--coincidentally enough--most of Congressional District 8. The districts, which had formed the Education Finance Reform Group, had budgeted $16,000 to run the ads under the flimsy cover that they were just advocacy spots with no relation to Bee's congressional campaign.

And, hey: Pay no attention to the fact that the lobbyist who got hired to assemble the ad for the school district also hosted a Bee fundraiser last year.

By Wednesday, April 9, the negative press had convinced the school districts to pull the ad. A few hours after they shut it down, the high-speed Bee campaign issued a statement asking them to please stop running the spot.

In his statement, Bee said it was "unfortunate that some have tried to politicize this extremely important public-policy issue," and that the dustup over the ad was "a distraction from the significance of the bill."

The real distraction wasn't from a bill that nobody had noticed before, but from Bee's congressional campaign. The effort to introduce Bee to CD8 as a guy who supports schools ended up a colossal disaster, with Bee looking like a guy who uses education dollars for his political campaign.

The Democrats are milking the blunder for all it's worth, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee complaining to the Federal Election Commission that the ad was an illegal campaign expenditure. Even if the complaint goes nowhere, it keeps the story alive a little longer.

Bee tried to change the subject later in the week by introducing Women for Bee, a group that includes former National Rifle Association board president Sandy Froman, who is also an honorary co-chair of Bee's campaign, and--get this--Christine Olson, the estranged wife of UA basketball coach Lute Olson. Is having the Yoko Ono of UA basketball on your team really an asset?

Meanwhile, Giffords came back to Tucson and delivered a state-of-the-district speech to the suits at the Hilton El Conquistador.

She also announced she had hauled in another big chunk o' cash in the first quarter of 2008, raising more than $470,000 between Jan. 1 and March 31. Correct us if we're wrong, but we reckon that sets a record for Southern Arizona congressional candidates.

When you subtract her expenses, Giffords was sitting on more than $1.6 million for her campaign.

Bee did nearly as well as Giffords in the first quarter, raising an impressive $466,092. After you figure in expenses, Bee had $525,439 in the bank, according to a report filed with the FEC earlier this week.

Bee might want to rethink some of those expenses--like, for example, the big bucks he's shelling out to political strategist Nathan Sproul, who has skimmed at least $31,000 from the campaign.

Sproul has done most of his work in the Phoenix area, although he has done some statewide campaigns. For example, he managed Len Munsil's 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Munsil got all of 35 percent of the vote as Democrat Janet Napolitano racked up more votes than any governor in Arizona history.

Sproul is also the only political strategist in America who has lost an effort to ban gay marriage. Guess 2006 really wasn't his year.

Sproul has plenty of other experience--he hustled some GOP money guys out of hundreds of thousands of dollars to get an initiative on the ballot to cripple the state's Clean Elections program, only to see it tossed off the ballot by the Arizona Supreme Court before voters could decide its fate--but his biggest liability is all those stories about funny business related to voter-registration drives back in 2004.

In a year when Republicans are still trying to scrub away the stench of corruption that has pervaded the party, Sproul is probably not the sort of guy that Bee needs on his campaign. He might want to ask Jim Click for permission to dump him.


SCRAMBLEWATCH '08: CROWDED-HOUSE EDITION

State Rep. Linda Lopez has termed out in Legislative District 29, which covers south-central Tucson. Lopez is evidently ready to move up to the LD 29 Senate seat, which would set up a primary fight with incumbent Sen. Victor Soltero--except we're hearing that Soltero may not be seeking re-election. But that doesn't mean there won't be plenty of elbows getting thrown in LD 29. Just look for it in the House races, where five Democratic candidates are seeking two House seats, including the open one left behind by Lopez:

• Rep. Tom Prezelski is seeking his third term in the House. Prezelski will have to bring a better game than he did in 2006, when he failed to qualify for the state's Clean Elections program.

Matt Heinz, a recently minted doctor who ran an aggressive if unsuccessful campaign in midtown LD 28 in 2006, is once again showing off his organizational skills. Heinz has already picked up a check from Clean Elections for almost $13K.

Daniel Patterson, a blogger and enviro who put in time at the Center for Biological Diversity,

Ephraim Cruz, a former Border Patrol officer who was cleared of charges that he illegally brought a Mexican national across the border. As Tim Vanderpool reported in these pages, Cruz maintained that he was brought up on bogus charges because he had reported that illegal immigrants were being mistreated while in Border Patrol custody.

Patricia Puig, who came in a distant fourth in the 2006 LD 29 primary.

Republican Bruce Murchison is back for another shot at a House seat in the heavily Democratic district.


DON'T SPEND IT YET

Although they're struggling to resolve a deficit that appears to be somewhere around $3 billion over the current and upcoming fiscal years, the Arizona Legislature remains still determined to cut the amount of money coming in to government.

Senate Republicans managed to find one Democrat to vote for the permanent repeal of the state property tax last week, which allowed it to pass with the required 16 votes.

Sen. Ken Cheuvront of Phoenix was the lone Dem to break ranks and vote for the tax break, which would cut another $250 million annually from the state's collections.

Cheuvront was mad at his fellow Democrats for not supporting a proposal to tighten up restrictions that prohibit the government from financially helping private businesses.

Supporters of the cut talk a lot about how it's going to help out the average Arizonan during these hard times. So what if it means more cuts to health-care programs, education and law enforcement?

The individual burden on the owner of a quarter-million dollar home came out to somewhere around $100 a year, but the big winners are utilities, mines and big retailers, who would save millions from the repeal.

And let's not kid ourselves: When lawmakers need to balance the budget, they have no problem with shifting costs down to the counties--which then have to raise property taxes to cover the next expenses.

Something tells us that Gov. Janet Napolitano isn't likely to sign the bill.

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