UNFRIENDLY FIREIn one of the most clumsy campaign maneuvers we've seen this season, Pima County Democratic Party chairwoman Donna Branch-Gilby sent out an improvised explosive press release castigating Republican state Rep. Jonathan Paton for having the temerity to serve in Iraq while running for re-election to his District 30 seat.
An intelligence officer in the Army Reserve, Paton volunteered for a six-month stint in the war zone during the Legislature's off-season. He's expected to return by the end of February, meaning he'll miss several weeks of the session. (Oddly, even in Baghdad, he'll still be more relevant than the Democratic caucus.)
Branch-Gilby, reminding us of why we miss Paul Eckerstrom, hauled out three veterans to bust on Paton in an effort to boost Democrat Clarence Boykins, who is seeking one of the House seats in heavily Republican District 30. Incumbent Republican Rep. Marian McClure is also on the November ballot.
All three vets invented reasons that Paton might not return on time, while pretending to praise him for his service. Most reprehensible was Tucson Unified School District board member Alex Rodriguez, who recently got his ass kicked in his hapless run for Congress in CD 8.
A-Rod, who used the press release as yet another opportunity to toss around the tired term "war-torn Bosnia" (assuming--generously--that he actually wrote his own quote), managed to suggest that Paton was putting the lives of his fellow soldiers at risk by running for office.
"Having been deployed to war-torn Bosnia as an Army captain, I can say from personal experience that there is no room for Rep. Paton to focus on anything other than the safety of our troops and the military mission at hand," Rodriguez stated. "To attempt anything more than that puts the military mission at risk."
Rodriguez, who told the Star that he considered Paton a "friend" (and such a good one!) was singing a different tune in August when we asked him what he thought about Paton's deployment.
"I'm glad he's serving our nation," he told us back then, before someone at Democratic HQ started pulling the little puppet's strings. "I think it's a very honorable thing to do. I respect Lt. Paton."
Boykins himself has been whining to the morning daily that Paton isn't around to debate at forums. First of all, hardly anybody who's undecided attends those get-togethers anyway. And second, Clarence should count himself lucky that Paton's not there to clean his clock.
It's a little hard to believe Branch-Gilby's contention in the Star that she didn't raise the issue sooner because she didn't realize Paton was shipping out, given that it was covered everywhere from The New York Times to CNN. She's either lying or hopelessly out of touch. Take your pick.
We disagree with some of Paton's votes, and we never thought it was such a hot idea to invade Iraq. But we respect Paton's decision to risk his life halfway around the world enough not to turn it into a campaign issue. Why don't the Democrats?
SMART STUFFA big welcome home to Project Vote Smart, the national clearinghouse of information about federal and state officials.
Project Vote Smart, which got its start here in Tucson back in 1992 before finding its current home at Montana's Great Divide Ranch, is setting up a branch office just off the UA campus, according to Richard Kimball, the organization's founder and executive director.
Kimball got the idea for a one-stop shop for information about elected officials after an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate. Kimball was so fed up with the lousy media coverage and deceptive advertising that he hit upon the idea of a nonpartisan resource center that could provide voters with non-biased information.
Project Vote Smart has grown into a big success. Voters can call a toll-free number--(888) VOTE SMART--or visit the Web site (www.vote-smart.org) for a wealth of info on elected officials and their challengers. The Web site alone gets upwards of 16 million hits a day during election season.
Every year, the staffers and interns pass out a comprehensive survey of the issues facing the country to candidates to figure out just where they stand. The National Political Awareness Test leaves little wiggle room for the candidates.
The biggest problem Project Vote Smart has run into: Candidates are increasingly refusing to fill out the National Political Awareness Test. Between 1996 and 1998, 72 percent of federal candidates responded to the survey. In 2006, only 48 percent were willing to fill it out. For example, here in Congressional District 8, neither Democrat Gabrielle Giffords nor Republican Randy Graf were willing to share their positions on everything from abortion to gun control.
Why the silence? Because the comprehensive survey has become one-stop shopping for opposition research. We saw an example of that right here during the CD 8 GOP primary, when state lawmaker Steve Huffman--who also refused to fill out the National Political Awareness Test--used the info provided to Vote Smart by Mike Hellon as the basis of a hit piece.
"Campaign consultants now have enormous power over our election process, and they are not accountable to the public in any way," Kimball recently press-released. "One campaign consultant told us, 'It's not our job to educate--it's our job to win.' Another said, 'I advised my candidate not to answer issue questions unless they came with a campaign donation.' This cynical advice strips citizens of the information the founding fathers considered essential if they were to cast the vote out to the masses."
SCRAMBLEWATCH '06: SPECIAL LOSERS EDITIONLast week, we reported what Republican Randy Graf and Democrat Gabby Giffords had raised in the race for Congressional District 8. But what about the also-rans?
Republican Steve Huffman ended up spending nearly $873,000, although that included $65,550 that he refunded after Randy Graf kicked his ass.
Republican Mike Hellon dumped $130,000 of his own money into his campaign, which ended up costing $331,000. We could pay off our house with that kind of money.
Republican Mike Jenkins spent about $10,000 on his campaign, while Frank Antenori spent $9,493, including $1,201 of his own money.
Democrat Patty Weiss spent $479,205, including nearly $65,000 she lent the campaign.
Democrat Jeff Latas spent $123,000, including $12,400 he lent the campaign. Latas has since gone on to land the chairmanship of the Sonoran Progressive Democrats of America.
Democrat Bill Johnson, who finished with just 2.9 percent of the vote, spent nearly $135,000 of his own money on his campaign.
Democrat Alex Rodriguez was either too busy busting on Jonathan Paton to file his report, or the FEC has taken a long time to post the results.
PRESEASON PREVIEWIt's not like we don't have our hands full with this year's political season, but we briefly note that Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup has filed to run for a third term next year.
But what Democrat will he face? We're hearing that Patty Weiss might be a big enough fan of democracy to take him on. Other names in the rumor mill: José Ibarra, Steve Leal and Brent Davis.