GROWING INTERESTGov. Janet Napolitano has recently been huddling with city and county officials to cook up new strategies to handle the state's ever-explosive growth. It's all leading into her State o' the State speech next month, when she's expected to propose a big ol' growth package.
Details remain sketchy, but Napolitano has already said it won't involve Oregon-style growth boundaries. We're guessing it will focus more on how to responsibly plan for the growth that's coming our way--widening highways, building schools, ensuring water supplies, maybe even preserving a saguaro or two.
But will the Legislature play ball? It remains to be seen, but Senate President Tim Bee said last week that he's hearing a lot of members talk about the need for more highway spending.
"Transportation has risen to the top of the list as a No. 1 priority," said Bee, who added that he'd also like to take a look at expanding higher-ed opportunities in rural counties.
Of course, it would be a lot easier to find the money for that highway spending if lawmakers and Napolitano hadn't cut a deal earlier this year for gigantic income-tax cuts that mostly went to the wealthiest Arizonans. Oh, well--we're sure the average earners will appreciate their chump change while sitting in traffic between here and Phoenix.
Let's not kid ourselves: There's a lot more congestion on the way--and while the State Transportation Board is talking about bypasses, it'll be a long time before they become a reality. If and when they get built, they'll probably have to be toll roads, because the costs are going to be staggering. And they're likely to create more sprawl once they're in place.
In the meantime, northern Pinal County is expected to become a suburb of Phoenix (and, to a certain extent, Tucson) over the next decade, with the latest projections showing that Pinal will eventually have a bigger population than Pima County.
There are plenty of plans for development down in Cochise County as well, which will jam Interstate 10 in the other direction. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has predicted that the highways are going to turn into parking lots at rush hour.
And that's on a good day. With more cars on the highway, it just takes one careless driver to tie things up for hours. The Skinny experienced that on our way to Flagstaff over the Independence Day weekend when we spent two hours inching along a 30-mile stretch on Interstate 17 after some knucklehead's trailer full of three-wheelers overturned. If we don't start planning--and investing--better, we're in for a load of trouble in just a few short years.
The real question: Is anything Napolitano does in the next four years enough to prevent us from spreading so far and wide that we turn the state into a stucco cesspool?
CAPTAIN COMEBACKCaptain Al Melvin, the conservative Republican who lost his bid for a Senate seat in GOP-dominated Legislative District 26 to Charlene Pesquiera last month by about 500 votes, recently announced he was already training for a rematch in '08.
Hey, why not? Melvin, a rock-solid conservative--except when it comes to taking money from the government to run for office--collected about $87,000 in Clean Elections bucks for his primary and general campaigns this year.
Melvin defeated moderate Republican incumbent Toni Hellon in the September primary.
It's a safe bet that Republican Pete Hershberger, who will be termed out of his LD 26 House seat at the end of this term, will also want to take a crack at the Senate seat, setting up a contentious GOP primary.
SPEAKING OF COMEBACKSWe're told that Mayor Bob Walkup will tap Republican Lisa Lovallo to manage his '07 re-election campaign. Lovallo, a former exec with Proctor and Gamble who has taught at the UA Eller School of Business, lost a primary bid for a House seat up in the aforementioned Legislative District 26 to the more moderate Pete Hershberger and more conservative David Jorgenson; Jorgenson in turn lost to Democrat Lena Saradnik.
Democrat Steve Leal, who has represented Ward 5 since 1989, says he's still weighing whether he wants to challenge Walkup.
NOW HE JUST HAS TO PASS THE BARState Rep. Russell Pearce may have offended a lot of people recently, what with the talk of Operation Wetback (followed by a defiant defense of the term) and his distribution of neo-Nazi literature (followed by a rambling apology).
But he's still got his supporters, too. He's been reappointed to head up the House Appropriations Committee by Speaker Jim Weiers.
And over the weekend, Pearce was awarded an honorary degree by the Alexander Hamilton Evening Law School, run by none other than perennial candidate Joe Sweeney, another big supporter of Operation Wetback.
BAGHDAD DISPATCHThe Skinny got a note in the inbox the other day from Rep. Jonathan Paton, aka First Lt. Paton, who is spending his break from the Legislature in Iraq:
I returned from Fallujah in time to see Sen. McCain who visited Baghdad today. I got a chance to ride to the Al Faw Palace with him. It is surrounded by a beautiful lake, which is interesting because it is this small island of beauty surrounded by wreckage everywhere. I told him that Saddam used the lake to drown over 700 opponents of the regime. It is one of the strange quirks of the country that even the beautiful things we have seen are tinged with something dark. He had Sen. Susan Collins, Lindsay Graham, Joe Lieberman and John Thune with him. It was interesting to see them under the current circumstances.
They met with Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli and I got the chance to sit in on the meetings. The comments about the war were fascinating. It felt like I was a part of a historical moment by being in that brief. They asked the two 3-stars some tough questions and got some blunt and honest answers back. The most important questions, however, came from Lieberman. He asked about Al Qaeda. The reality, he was told, is that Al Qaeda is less and less of a problem. It is the sectarian violence, principally these Shia militias that are causing the violence. Iran's actions in arming them and training them through Hezbollah, along with corruption and/or complicity in the Iraqi government are becoming an ever greater factor in the problems here.
I felt like Dante's tour guide in the inferno, pointing out the significance of this piece of rubble or that. I got to show Sen. Collins Saddam's throne. She seemed to enjoy seeing the throne. (It's become sort of the favorite tourist picture at Camp Victory.) I liked talking to her the most. She was quiet but very thoughtful.
She didn't say much during the brief, but after it was over, she leaned in towards me and asked, "What do you need more of here?"
Her whisper kind of hung there in the air while I thought about it. "You mean more than booze and good cigars?"
She smiled and nodded. I thought back to my trip to Fallujah with the Marines and the trips I had hitched a ride alongside Al Qaeda detainees on what I call "Con-Air" flights. I thought of mortar attacks and small arms fire I had experienced. I thought of the underlying difficulty with every operational element I have been a part of since I got here--whether it had to do with air transport, intelligence analysis or the guys pulling the trigger in the field. I had the feeling that what I said might actually make a difference some where, at some point (or maybe I'm just fooling myself) so I just told her the honest truth as I saw it at the time: "We need more troops, especially here in Baghdad."