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The Skinny

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WAL-MART WALLOPED: Last week, the state Supreme Court doomed Wal-Mart's attempt to force a vote on the Big-Box Ordinance passed by the City Council last year.

Fearful that the ordinance might prevent its ongoing takeover of all commerce in the country, Wal-Mart hired Phoenix political consultant Mike Crusa to launch a referendum drive to put the ordinance to a public vote. Alas, Crusa didn't listen when City Clerk Kathy Detrick warned him that he was using the wrong forms on his petitions. When the city tossed the petitions out, Wal-Mart sued. After a bizarre series of rulings in Superior Court, the Court of Appeals agreed with the city, ruling that Tucson could have more stringent requirements for petition drives. The state Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

So now poor old Wally-Mart is going with Plan B: filing a suit to overturn the Big-Box Ordinance based on bogus technicalities. This is an even weaker case, but it's a good example of how megacorporations like to bully their way over local elected officials.

REDUCING MEDIAN INCOME: People are least compassionate toward the less fortunate in good economic times, the theory goes, because they believe everyone should be doing well. The steps the Tucson City Council is taking to ban newspaper sellers and beggars from street medians would seem to confirm that.

Over the last decade, as the national economy soared, our local leaders forbade beggars from sitting on sidewalks. While many consumers went on a buying binge, local homeless camps were heartlessly shut down. As the stock market reached new highs, some forms of panhandling were outlawed. With retirement portfolios increasing annually by double digits, the City Council decided to stop feeding poor people at the Toole Avenue soup kitchen.

So this latest move to ban people from street medians would just be a continuation of a longstanding Tucson tradition. We tend to tell poor people: "We don't want to help you, we don't want to feed you, and we especially don't want to see you."

But banning people from street medians doesn't mean they'll just go away. They always have the option of walking back and forth across an intersection, holding up a sign as they do, then approaching any driver that has a handout. They might also stand next to the curb and hit up right-turning cars for change.

Or they could just ignore the law. After all, this is a town where enforcement is an afterthought, and where the motto seems to be, "If I don't get caught, I didn't do anything wrong." Why should they worry?

DASH FOR CASH: The state's new Clean Elections program is proving to be quite generous to Democrat Ted Downing, the only candidate in the District 13 House race who is participating in the program. It provides public financing for legislative candidates who are able to collect at least 200 $5 contributions from residents of their district.

In the race for two House seats, Downing is facing fellow Democrat Gabrielle Giffords and Republicans Jonathan Paton and Carol Somers. District 13 is considered one of the most competitive districts in the state, with a nearly even registration of Democrats and Republicans.

Under the Clean Elections program, Downing is eligible for $10,000 in the primary and $15,000 in the general. But the program also allows for additional matching funds based on the activities of non-participating candidates who break those spending limits.

That's what's happened in District 13. In the primary, Giffords exceeded the limits in the last week of the campaign, making Downing eligible for an additional $4,475 on top of his initial $10,000.

The cash flow has continued because of what one Clean Elections staffer refers to as a "quirk" in the law. It seems that the money available to Downing in the general isn't based on what his opponents spend, but how much they raise. And since Republican Carol Somers has raised at least $37,919, according to reports on the Secretary of State website, Downing is eligible for additional matching funds. To date, Downing says he's received about $34,734 for the general, bringing his total in public funding for both races to nearly $50,000.

That significantly dwarfs the money raised by his opponents. According to the Secretary of State's office, as of September 8, Paton had raised $31,017 and spent $27,881, leaving him with $3,135 in the bank. Through a number of fundraisers, he's refilled the campaign coffers, although a more recent report was not available as of press time.

Giffords, meanwhile, has raised $31,295 and spent $29,599, leaving her with a mere $1,695 in the bank.

That leaves Downing with a significant advantage in the fundraising sweepstakes. But it may not mean that much. The GOP is spending a lot of soft money in District 13 because Republicans are determined to win the Senate race, in which the two House incumbents, Republican Kathleen Dunbar and Democrat Andy Nichols, are battling for the chance to win the seat of Democrat George Cunningham, who is leaving the legislature to run against Congressman Jim Kolbe. The GOP has already spent a good chunk of money on an early ballot mailer in the district, and there's more support on the horizon. Will the Democratic Party step up to match those efforts? Wait and see.

FORUMS FOR YOU: Speaking of the Citizens Clean Election Commission, it's time for the latest round of CCEC debates, moderated by the League of Women Voters. Clean Election candidates who are accepting public funds for their campaigns are obligated to attend, but the events are open to any candidate who wishes to join in the fun--and most of 'em jump at the chance to meet voters.

· The District 14 forum is at 7 p.m. Monday, October 16, at the Northwest Center, 2160 N. Sixth Ave. In the Senate race, Democrat Ruth Solomon is facing Libertarian Ed Kahn. In the House race, Democrats Demitri Downing and Marion Pickens are facing Republican Ed Poelsta and Green Mary "Katie" Bolger.

· The District 13 forum is at 7 p.m. Thursday, October 19, at the Jewish Community Center, 3822 E. River Road. Democrat Andy Nichols, Republican Kathleen Dunbar and Libertarian Wayne Sunne are fighting for the Senate seat, while Democrats Gabrielle Giffords and Ted Downing are fighting Republicans Jonathan Paton and Carol Somers for the two House seats.

· The District 12 forum is at 1 p.m. on Thursday, October 26, at the Rancho Vistoso Club House (Social Hall), 1495 E. Rancho Vistoso Blvd. in Oro Valley. Republican Toni Hellon is facing Democrat Mark Osterloh in the Senate race, while Republicans Steve Huffman and Pete Hershberger and Democrats Mort Nelson and Craig Molloy are fighting for two House seats.

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