FREED PRESSIt's not often you see journalists hauled off to jail in handcuffs in this country.
But last week in Maricopa County, Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin--the founders of the Phoenix New Times and the men in charge of Village Voice Media, the largest chain of alternative weeklies--were arrested by sheriff's deputies and put behind bars for violating grand-jury secrecy rules.
It didn't take long for either man to get sprung. And it took less than a day for Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas to recognize he had an enormous public-relations nightmare on his hands, so he announced that all charges related to the bogus investigation of New Times were being dropped.
During his press conference (which you can watch at phoenixnewtimes.com), Thomas blamed the whole mess on a "special prosecutor," Dennis Wilenchik, who had delivered an absurdly overreaching grand-jury subpoena to New Times that demanded information about the Web browsing and shopping habits of every visitor to the paper's Web site since 2004. It was that subpoena--published last week in New Times in apparent violation of laws regarding grand-jury secrecy--that led to the arrests of Lacey and Larkin.
Thomas said Wilenchik--his former boss when he was running for county attorney--would no longer be doing special prosecutions for the state, although he defended Wilenchik as a talented attorney who might still do civil work for his office. Thomas also denied he owed an apology to Lacey or Larkin for the Gestapo tactics of the entire investigation, which centered on chickenshit accusations that New Times' publication of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's address on the Internet three years ago had threatened the safety of America's Toughest Sheriff, who was still whining last week that he was the victim in the whole mess.
Wilenchik, insanely enough, was insisting over the weekend that he'd done nothing wrong in his investigation. We'll see what the State Bar has to say about that.
In short: Phoenix New Times kicked Thomas' ass. And in the process, the paper kicked the asses of Arpaio and Wilenchik, too. All three weasels ended up flat on their backs in the ring, wondering what had hit them.
There are plenty more details to the whole sordid mess--you can check 'em out yourself at your leisure at phoenixnewtimes.com--but it really comes down to this: Sheriff Joe and Andy Thomas don't like being criticized by reporters from New Times, so they overreached by using a stretched interpretation of a flimsy law to prosecute their political enemies.
And they lost, big time. Thomas' dreams of becoming governor just evaporated. Now that the State Bar is starting to investigate this thing, he and Wilenchik will be lucky to hang onto their law licenses.
EXCLUSIVE CLUBRepublican Lori Oien is trying to show she's got crossover support in her race against Democrat Rodney Glassman for the eastside Ward 2 City Council. (See "Disquiet on the Eastern Front," Page 15.) Last week, she sent out a mailer touting her support from Democrats for Oien.
The honorary chair of the organization is former Ward 3 City Councilman Jerry Anderson, who served one term from 1997 to 2001. Anderson says he's supporting Oien because "overall, she's a better person for the job. She's been involved in the community for several years in neighborhoods and MADD."
Anderson admits that when he was on the council, he had a heated run-in with Glassman when Glassman was trying to convince the City Council to buy his family's now-shuttered ice-skating rink. "Who didn't?" Anderson asks.
But Anderson denies that's the reason he lent his name to the Oien campaign.
"I'm not one to hold a grudge too much," Anderson says. "It was a messy situation back then, but again, I think I really looked at both candidates and thought Lori was going to be a better representative of the community."
Asked what other Democrats were members of Democrats for Oien, Anderson drew a blank.
"Names are escaping me," Anderson said. "I should know them. I guess I'm going to strike out on that one."
INDECISION 2008The latest Cronkite-Eight poll shows why John McCain's presidential bid is in trouble: Even in Arizona, 81 percent of Republicans haven't decided who they'll vote for in February's presidential primary.
Of the 19 percent who know who they're supporting, 29 percent like McCain; 25 percent like Mitt Romney; 19 percent like Rudy Giuliani; 17 percent are going with Fred Thompson; and 10 percent have another choice.
So McCain can count less than 6 percent of Republicans in his home state as solid backers. That's a staggering lack of support.
The question of whether voters have settled on a candidate is a new approach for the Cronkite-Eight poll, which is a joint project of KAET-TV, Maricopa County's PBS affiliate, and the Arizona State University journalism school.
The poll shows that Arizona Democrats are less flakey. Even though they don't have a favorite son in the race, about one in three Democrats have settled on their pick for the presidency.
Hillary Clinton is the choice of 70 percent of them, with Barack Obama in a distant second with 18 percent. John Edwards is down around 9 percent.
But with two-thirds undecided, there's lot of opportunity to sway hearts and minds. Obama's campaign is clearly setting out to do that in Arizona, with volunteers hitting the streets locally and Barack himself visiting Tempe last week.
The Cronkite-Eight poll also showed that Arizona voters aren't buying Bush administration arguments that the proposed expansion of health care through the S-CHIP program was too generous. Nearly six in 10 voters--58 percent--supported the program's expansion, which would have been funded through an increased tax on cigarettes if the president hadn't vetoed the bill. Only one in three were opposed.
Voters also back the Arizona Legislature's new employer-sanctions law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, with 69 percent saying they favor the new regulations and just 26 percent opposed.
That's despite the negative impact that many think the law will have; 37 percent think it will have a negative impact on the economy, while only 16 percent believe it will have a positive impact. (Another 37 percent didn't think it would have an impact at all.) And 46 percent think it will increase racial and ethnic profiling, while 43 percent think it won't.
The poll, which surveyed 677 voters statewide, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points, except in the smaller sub-sample of Republicans and Democrats, where it rose to 6.3 percentage points.