DASHING FOR DOLLARS
Looks like the fight to unseat Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Congressional District 8 is going to get some national attention.
Chris Cillizza, who writes The Fix political blog for The Washington Post, asked his readers to vote on a race that should get special attention—and they picked our very own CD8. Won't this be interesting?
Speaking of CD8: Now that he's given up his seat in the state Senate, Republican Jonathan Paton is free to concentrate on the Republican primary and the other three Republicans who want a crack at Giffords this November: Jesse Kelly, Brian Miller and Andy Goss.
Paton got into the race late, but he's moving fast to raise the money he'll need for a robust campaign. This week, he had a big fundraiser at the Tucson Country Club hosted by the likes of legendary land speculator Don Diamond and auto dealer Jim Click.
It wasn't that long ago that the Kelly camp was telling The Skinny that Click's contributions to Jesse meant that he had the support of the GOP establishment. Well, it looks like the establishment has switched horses, given that Click is urging people to give money to Paton because he's "the right candidate at precisely the right time."
Kelly did find some new endorsements last week, although they didn't come from Arizona. Instead, Kelly landed the support of Virginia-based Team America, a secure-the-border political-action committee co-chaired by Bay Buchanan, sister of political pundit and occasional presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.
"Jesse is exactly what we need in Congress, a fiscal conservative who believes the borders must be secured with a double fence, and the laws must be enforced!" Bay Buchanan exclaimed on her Web site.
We're not sure how "fiscal conservative" goes along with spending a fortune building a double fence along the border, but perhaps Don Kelly Construction can get into the wall-building business.
Buchanan says Kelly "is anything but establishment"—and we'd have to agree with them about that. Buchanan points out that Kelly, like Team America itself, has also endorsed Republican J.D. Hayworth in the GOP primary against Sen. John McCain.
Meanwhile, the little-noticed Miller has landed his own powerhouse endorsement: Former UA basketball coach Lute Olson will be headlining a fundraising dinner for the Air Force vet next week. Lute also teaches Miller how to hit a three-pointer in a YouTube video that we featured last week on The Range, the Tucson Weekly's daily dispatch.
While we're on the subject of establishment and anti-establishment endorsements: Jonathan Paton picked up an endorsement from Congressman Jeff Flake in the CD8 race.
Paton says he would follow Flake's example and not request any earmarks for Southern Arizona if he defeats Democrat Gabrielle Giffords.
That sounds like a change in tone for Paton, who has frequently said during his state campaigns that he would bring Southern Arizona's fair share back from Maricopa County.
By eschewing earmarks, Paton is essentially saying he won't go to bat to fund specific projects in Southern Arizona, such as Giffords has done. But Paton says Southern Arizona will be better off if he doesn't get any earmarks.
"Earmarks bring back special pork-barrel projects to individual districts, but they don't bring the share of tax dollars that we send to Washington back here," Paton says. "That's one of the reasons I oppose it. It's an unfair system."
Paton supports a new system of federal spending that's based on the population levels of individual states and the amount of tax dollars that are sent back to Washington.
Part of the problem with the discussion is that there isn't any hard and firm definition of what an "earmark" is, although it's generally seen as a request by a lawmaker to direct funding to a specific project rather than allowing the executive branch to spend money as the White House sees fit. But some folks also consider money directed to Israel as earmarks, so the meaning varies.
Although she's said in the past that she'd like to do away with earmarks herself, Giffords maintains that as long as that's how the system works, she'll request earmarks for Southern Arizona.
In her three-plus years in Congress, Giffords has scored tens of millions of dollars for Congressional District 8. A look at her 23 earmarks in 2009, as listed on the OpenSecrets.org Web site, shows that more than half of the $33.5 million she requested was to help support Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Fort Huachuca, including $15 million for a fire/crash rescue station at D-M and $2 million for a radar-operations building at Fort Huachuca. She had another $10 million in defense-related projects.
Paton concedes that not all of Giffords' requests are pork-barrel spending.
"Are they all a waste of money? I would have to say no," Paton says. But he adds that the earmark process leads to corruption and bad deals.
"I'm going to argue that the way in which they are received is bad," Paton explains. "That's the problem. We would have had more money had we not had a system that she perpetuates."
But there aren't many federal lawmakers on either side of the fence who eschew earmarks. In 2008, USA Today reported that only 18 of the 535 senators and members of Congress hadn't requested earmarks in the previous year.
So it strikes us as unlikely that, should he be elected, Paton would have much success in persuading his fellow lawmakers to eliminate earmarking. But nonetheless, Paton hopes he can bring change to Washington.
"A lot of Republicans lost support of their own base because of the spending problems that they had," Paton says. "I think there's going to be a larger groundswell of support for changing the system."
Even if Paton did change the system, though, it wouldn't make much of a dent in federal spending. Even by the estimates of earmarking opponents such as Citizens Against Government Waste, the earmark spending total was less than $20 billion in 2009.
While that may seem like a lot of money, it's less than 2 percent of what the federal government is spending these days.
ANTENORI MOVES UP
The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to name state Rep. Frank Antenori to the District 30 state Senate seat vacated by Republican Jonathan Paton last week.
Democrat Richard Elías cast the only vote against Antenori, saying that the freshman Republican was taking the state in the wrong direction and pointing out that Antenori had threatened to work against the county if they didn't pick him, and he wound up winning the seat later this year.
Antenori was the top pick among District 30 precinct leaders who had met on Sunday, Feb. 28, to decide on three names to submit to the Board of Supervisors. The other candidates were former state lawmaker Randy Graf and District 30 GOP chairman Ted Vogt, who is seeking a District 30 House seat.
Supervisors will now have to pick a replacement for Antenori.
Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our daily dispatch.
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