THE STRONG STUFFMayor Bob Walkup, looking mighty confident for a guy who stands as the lone Republican on the City Council, assured us in his eighth State of the City address last week the "city is strong." Someone tell us: Has a mayor ever suggested the city is weak and rotting?
OK, so the cliché is a tradition--just like Bob's tendency to be a bit too longwinded in his annual address. Take it from us showbiz pros, Bob: You always want to leave the stage with them wanting a little more.
If you didn't attend the speech, let us boil down the big themes: We're fixing up the city and we've got more regional cooperation.
Both points are pretty accurate. The City Council has managed to invest more in streets, cops and firefighters, mostly because the council freed up money by establishing a garbage fee that brings in about $20 million a year. (Despite all the opposition to the garbage fee from the Democrats who now control the council, we haven't seen much effort to get rid or it--or even reduce it. Guess that won't be much of a campaign issue in this year's mayoral race.)
And there's a lot more regional cooperation, especially since former City Manager James Keene, who was constantly butting heads with County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, shuffled off to California. The new city manager, Mike "Huckelberry 2.0" Hein, has smoothed relations between the county and the city.
Hein even managed to persuade Huckelberry to go along with the idea of cutting off city funding for the library. Hey, why not? It just meant that county taxpayers saw their library taxes shoot up by 50 percent. Who's gonna complain about funding libraries? But we do wish Bob would quit trying to sell the county library takeover as "consolidation."
Bob also identified some of the major challenges ahead, including downtown revitalization. He tried to defuse some of the upcoming conflict, saying the City Council needed to "resist false choices, such as arenas vs. science centers, government vs. the private sector or eastside vs. westside."
But with a limited pot of money--and a greedy University of Arizona seeking $226 million for a science center and a state museum--we're not persuaded there is enough money to go around when it comes to paying for both museums and an arena. That's not a false choice; it's a tough decision. Unless, of course, the UA suddenly gets a lot more realistic about its demands, or we manage to sucker the Legislature into extending the Rio Nuevo tax deal into the 23rd century.
Finally, there was Bob's big announcement: Westcor is working with the State Land Department to plan 8,000 acres on the southeast side within the Houghton Area Master Plan, as well as a fancy shopping center so folks in Rita Ranch won't have to drive all the way to Park Place to shop. Get ready, gang: The construction of New Tucson is about to begin.
BOMBS AWAYIt was quite a week at the Arizona Legislature, with the House of Representatives being evacuated after Rep. Kyrsten Sinema--who has received a handful of death threats after sponsoring legislation that would make gathering with guns to patrol the border into the crime of domestic terrorism--thought a suspicious package might be a bomb. Turns out it was just a big package of quasi-legal mumbo-jumbo from a fella who doesn't believe the state has much legal authority of him.
Sinema's domestic terrorism legislation has been assigned to the House Homeland Security and Property Rights Committee, where it should draw quite a crowd if/when it gets a hearing.
In other important legislative action:
· Democratic Sen. Debbie McCune-Davis has sponsored a bill that would make it a crime for a lobbyist to lie to a lawmaker. That strikes us as bit over the top--can't lawmakers figure out who to trust on their own, without creating a criminal penalty? Maybe it ought to be amended to make it illegal for politicians to lie to voters. Wouldn't that keep the attorney general busy!
The bill, SB 1121, got held in the Senate Government Committee earlier this week.
· Republican Sen. Jack Harper released the result of a drug test showing he was drug-free as part of his campaign on behalf of SB 1066, which would require legislative candidates to submit to a drug test when filing for office. The bill is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
MEET THE NEW BOSSThe Arizona Republican Party has a new chairman: Randy Pullen, who managed to defeat his opponent, political strategist Lisa James, by a mere four votes at the GOP's get-together last week. Two groups that are delighted: Hard-right Republicans and Democrats of all stripes, who are certain Pullen will be less competent than James would have been.
Pullen was the choice of party purists who are fiercely opposed to guest-worker programs, any compromise of political principles and anything having to do with U.S. Sen. John McCain--who was undoubtedly less than pleased that Pullen managed to get 408 votes to James' 404. We're sure that McCain doesn't want Pullen--and the Republicans who support him--undermining him in his home state as he pursues the White House.
The biggest challenge facing Pullen is keeping GOP moderates--and, equally importantly, the folks who write the checks--inside the Big Tent. It's certainly true that Republicans can't win elections without the conservative base. But as local GOP pollster Margaret Kenski has observed, the last election showed they can't win with just the base, either.
Here's what we're waiting for: McCain and/or his minions to form a shadow organization to bypass the state party altogether when it comes to funding candidates and doing a get-out-the-vote operation. That kind of operation would be less beholden to the hard right and more flexible when it comes to spending on campaigns.
FRESH MEATAs we mentioned last week: If Councilman Steve Leal goes ahead with his mayoral run, other political dominoes start to fall. Since Leal would have to resign from the Ward 5 seat he's held since 1989, the City Council would have the job of appointing a new member.
We mentioned that a few of the names we've heard as possible successors are Sunnyside School Board member Eva Dong and former Tucson Pima Arts Council staffer Annabelle Nuñez.
We've since heard from Democrat Daniel Patterson, formerly of the Center for Biological Diversity and now with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, who announced on his blog that he'd also be in the hunt for appointment to the Ward 5 office. Patterson also tried to get appointed to the Board of Supervisors when Dan Eckstrom retired, but the fix was already in for the District 2 seat to go to Ramon Valadez.