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BLOCKADE

Democrat Gabby Giffords got hammered last week by Arizona Daily Star reporter Daniel Scarpinato, who thoroughly dissected "Blocked," her TV spot boasting that she used a procedural maneuver to outwit Republicans who were introducing a budget proposal in 2003.

Scarpinato pointed out that the budget bills that Giffords delayed with a quorum call ended up getting introduced less than 24 hours later--and that Giffords promptly left town to attend a Democratic Leadership Council confab in Washington, D.C., missing a chance to sideline the bills in the state Senate Appropriations Committee. Not that it mattered all that much, because the bills ended up getting scrapped when a different budget from the House of Representatives reached the Senate.

Former newscaster Patty Weiss, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination, wasted no time going after Giffords. The same day Scarpinato's story ran, the Weiss campaign released a statement hammering Giffords for leaving town and missing the approps committee votes.

As Weiss spokesman Andrew Myers put it: "The main reason to sit on Appropriations is to play a role in the budget process, and Giffords missed the most important week of the session. Gabby abandoned the governor in the middle of a no-holds-barred budget fight to socialize with people like Sen. (Joe) Lieberman at the DLC conference. Where are her priorities?"

Former state Sen. Sandra Kennedy also weighed in on behalf of the Weiss campaign: "Giffords' quorum call did not affect the budget legislation at all. The only way she could have had a measurable impact on the budget process is by staying in town and voting."

Later in the week, Weiss herself took a shot at Giffords' integrity.

"Gabby released an ad; the ad was wrong; the ad should be pulled," Weiss said in an e-mailed bulletin. "So what did Gabby do? Dug in her heels. ... We cannot afford to send another leader to Washington who manipulates the story."

Giffords responded with her own press release with support from three lawmakers who were serving with her at the time.

State Sen. Bill Brotherton and Rep. Linda Lopez, as well as former Sen. Slade Mead (who was a Republican back then but is now seeking to be state schools chief on the Democratic ticket), say that Giffords effectively slowed the bill down.

"Gabrielle Giffords stood up to the Republican leadership in the Senate when they tried to move a very bad budget bill through a nearly empty Senate chamber after a majority of senators had gone home," Brotherton said. "Giffords' action helped run out the clock on the Republican budget. ... Her advertisement is accurate."

So depending on which version of the story you want to believe, Giffords either temporarily gummed up the legislative works, or she greatly exaggerated her impact. Either way, the Star's headline--"Giffords' ad skirts truth about late-night vote"--is a juicy piece of ammo for a hit piece.

Here's the bigger question: Why is Giffords focusing a campaign spot on a relatively obscure legislative maneuver that took place three years ago?

It's probably because as a left-leaning member of the Democratic caucus, Giffords had little chance of getting any sort of major legislation passed, so she doesn't have much in the way of legislative accomplishments to tout in her ads.

Which brings up another point: Some of Giffords' critics delight in pointing out that she was once registered as a Republican and that she only registered as a Democrat for political advantage.

But there is zero political advantage to being a Democrat in the Arizona Legislature. In fact, Giffords could have gotten a lot more done if she had been a Republican--or even a conservative Democrat who was willing to cut more deals and sell out educators, environmentalists and other lib interests.


BIG-BOX BATTLELINES

Certainly the most amusing sideshow in city politics this summer has been the effort to develop a massive parcel near Kino Parkway and Interstate 10. KB Home, which recently acquired the property, wants to plop down a subdivision on 240 acres while dishing off chunks of land to Eastbourne Investments Ltd. for commercial development, and the UA for a biosciences park. The shell game starts to get complicated, because the biosciences park deal rests on the ability of the UA to finagle a land swap that allows KB to build homes out at the southeast-side tech park, provided the city can annex the property, which in turn seems to ride on whether potable water will be used on a golf course at the UA's planned resort.

But Eastbourne has been whining that it can't possibly make the Kino deal work without a big-box store that includes a grocery outlet, which violates the city's big-box ordinance. So this is what commercial development has come to: Even the Starbucks and Borders of this world can't make it without a Wally-Mart anchor. And Wally-Mart can't make it unless they get to undercut union grocery shops.

Welcome to your low-wage clerking future, Tucson!

The entire affair has been a comedy of public-relations disasters, with the climax coming last week when an Eastbourne rep told the Star's Rob O'Dell she knew nothing about a memo that, it later turned out, was a collaborative work between Eastbourne officials and Mayor Bob Walkup's office. Big credibility boost there, gang!

Nonetheless, it appears a deal is in the offing: Eastbourne is going to get its variance, allowing the big-box grocery to move in. In exchange, they'll kick in somewhere around a half-million in job-training dollars, which will help people learn how to work cash registers and computers to manage inventory, according to Ward 5 Councilman Steve Leal.

Still to come: How much money the city can squeeze out of KB Homes for school construction.


VOTE NOW!

Voters are on the march already. Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez told The Skinny that as of Monday, Aug. 14, 23,254 voters had asked to vote by mail in the Sept. 12 primary.

Most of those voters are in Congressional District 8, where 10,452 voters have requested Democratic ballots, and 8,678 voters have requested Republican ballots.

Early voting now accounts for about half of the ballots cast in local elections. Much of that is driven by candidates, who invite supporters to fill out cards that the campaigns then drop off en masse at the County Recorder's Office. That way, they can track the early ballots and make sure their literature and phone calls hit at the same time as the early ballots.

Which candidates are delivering the most early-ballot requests this year? Rodriguez says it's Gabby Giffords and Patty Weiss on the Democratic side, and Mike Hellon, with a smattering of Randy Graf, on the GOP side. She hadn't seen anything from Republican Steve Huffman yet--which is kinda odd, given that Huffman has led the fundraising race among the GOP candidates. What's he waiting for? Is he saving all that money for the general election? Because he might not make it that far.

To request your early ballot, call 740-4330.


SET YOUR TIVO

Still trying to decide which candidate you're supporting in the Congressional District 8 primary? Arizona Illustrated is hosting debates featuring all the candidates over the next two weeks.

Republican candidates Frank Antenori, Randy Graf, Mike Hellon, Steve Huffman and Mike Jenkins square off this Friday, Aug. 18, in a special one-hour edition of Arizona Illustrated beginning at 6:30 p.m. on KUAT Channel 6. Moderators are Arizona Illustrated's Bill Buckmaster, Skinny scribe Jim Nintzel and Ann Brown of the Arizona Daily Star.

The following Friday, Aug. 25, will feature Democratic candidates Gabrielle Giffords, Bill Johnson, Jeff Latas, Alex Rodriguez, Francine Shacter and Patty Weiss. Moderator Buckmaster will be joined by Mark Kimble of the Tucson Citizen and Ernesto Portillo Jr. of the Arizona Daily Star. The one-hour special will also start at 6:30 p.m.

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