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The Skinny

Frank Antenori can't get his signatures and more!

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DEADLINE WEEK

This week is the moment of truth for a pair of referendum efforts designed to block two big pieces of legislation passed earlier this year.

Both efforts need nearly 87,000 valid signatures from Arizona voters to make the ballot. If they have enough sigs, the laws would be on hold until voters decide them in November 2014.

The first is the effort by asking voters to approve the expansion of Medicaid that was pushed by Gov. Jan Brewer and passed by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers over the objections of GOP leaders in the House and Senate.

Former state lawmakers Frank Antenori and Ron Gould headed up the effort, although Antenori has credited local activist Christine Bauserman of doing most of the work to get the petition drive rolling. Antenori told The Skinny last week that he'd be spending the weekend rounding up petitions and counting signatures. Asked whether he expected to have enough for a successful referendum, Antenori said it was "going to be close."

The second referendum is an effort to block an overhaul of Arizona's election laws.

Julie Erfle, who is chairing the referendum effort, told The Skinny via email that she expected the group to turn in its petitions on Wednesday, Sept. 11.

"I can tell you that this referendum will be on the ballot in 2014," Erfle said. "We have well over 100,000 signatures and are confident our signatures are solid. The hard part is over. Now, on to the next phase, which will be educating voters on why they need to veto this legislation."

SYRIAN SHUFFLE

President Barack Obama's push for a military strike in Syria took a weird turn on Monday, after Secretary of State John Kerry suggested sarcastically that action could be stopped if the Assad administration agreed to give up its chemical weapons.

"Sure, he could turn over every bit of his weapons to the international community within the next week, without delay," Kerry said when asked if there was anything Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could do to avoid a U.S. attack. "But he isn't about to."

But within hours, Russian officials said they were trying to work out a deal with their Syrian pals to get the chemical weapons under international control and Syrian officials were saying that the proposal sounded like a great idea.

It was enough for the Obama administration to call off a vote this week in the Senate seeking approval of the military strike.

Congressman Raul Grijalva, who opposes a military strike against Syria, said Monday that the proposal "suggests a way forward."

"Syria's offer makes any bombing campaign aimed at neutralizing its chemical stockpile unnecessary," Grijalva said in a statement to the press. "Once these weapons are in hand, we should refer the atrocities already committed by the Assad regime to the International Criminal Court for potential indictment and prosecution. ... We cannot hope to broker a transitional process that ends Assad's rule and prioritizes the needs of the Syrian people through unwanted military force."

Sen. John McCain had something of a wild week trying to whip up support for the authorization of force. First, he said it would be "catastrophic" if the U.S. failed to follow through with an attack; then he said he might vote against a resolution supporting an attack if it didn't do enough to topple Assad; and he said that Obama would face impeachment if he allowed American "boots on the ground" in Syria.

On Monday, McCain still wanted Congress to support a resolution authorizing military action, even though more and more members of Congress were saying they were leaning against supporting such a measure.

"It should be clear to Members of Congress that only the threat of military action against the Assad regime's chemical weapons capabilities is what could create a possibility for Assad to give up control of those weapons," McCain said in a joint statement with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. "For this reason, Congress should proceed with its plans to consider and vote on the authorization for use of force that is now before the Senate, and today's development should make Members of Congress more willing to vote yes. This will give the President additional leverage to press Russia and Syria to make good on their proposal to take the weapons of mass destruction out of Assad's hands."

PENSION PROPAGANDA PREVIEW

The Skinny spoke too soon last week when we reported that the legal battle over an initiative to scrap the city of Tucson's pension system was over.

Although Pima County Superior Court Judge James Marner ordered the initiative onto the ballot last week, opponents of the measure filed an appeal and arguments were heard earlier this week in the Tucson division of the Arizona Court of Appeals.

If opponents are not successful in knocking Prop 201 off the ballot, look for a campaign against it to focus on the immediate harm it would do to the city's budget. We've already heard Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik and others come out strong against the measure, with Rothschild warning that it could cost the city $24 million in its first year alone.

As Rothschild told The Skinny earlier this summer: "By cutting off new employees from paying into the existing system, the money to pay those obligations will have to come out of the general fund, and that would mean significant cuts to city services. The outside group that's trying to impose this on Tucson does not have our city's best interests at heart."

The anti-200 campaign, Tucsonans 4 Truth, is being chaired by Republican Bob Walkup, who served as mayor of Tucson from 1999 to 2011, and has firefighter Michael Heinz as a treasurer.

The campaign should be a mighty clash of interests. The group behind the initiative, the Virginia-based Liberty Initiative Fund, has shown that its willing to dump a lot of dough into the effort. Just funding the signature collection and legal battle so far has cost about $160,000, nearly all which came from the Liberty Initiative Fund or another Virginia-based political action committee, the National Taxpayers Union.

It reminds The Skinny of a similar effort four years ago to require the city to hire a certain number of police and firefighters, based on Tucson's population. That effort, led by the Tucson Association of Realtors, had the support of police and fire unions and started out strong out the gate.

But as opponents, including the Pima County Democratic Party, got the word out that the initiative would cause big cuts in other areas of the city's budget, support for the initiative collapsed. It ended getting rejected by seven out of 10 voters on Election Day.

The dynamic here seems similar: Public employee unions have become a new favorite villain of right-wing political groups, so city workers would seem to be an easy target. Expect the proponents of Prop 201 to tell voters that if the pension program isn't ended this year, the city will teeter on the edge of bankruptcy in the future. Pete Zimmerman, the political consultant who is handling the campaign, has argued that the city's projections of financial disaster as a result of the initiative are overblown.

But you can bet that Walkup and his allies will continue to argue that scrapping the pension program under the terms of Prop 201 will require the city to divert dollars immediately from the police and fire departments, the parks system, transportation and other programs in order to make up the difference, immediately creating the very hardship that the proposition purports to prevent.

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