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THE FATE OF THE PHOENIX

The UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory has probably heard the last signal from the Phoenix Mars Lander, which landed on the Red Planet's arctic plains on Memorial Day weekend.

Earlier this week, the Phoenix team announced that it hadn't been in touch with the spacecraft since Sunday, Nov. 2.

Peter Smith, of the UA Lunar and Planetary Lab, called heading up the science end of the Phoenix mission "the thrill of my life."

Smith, who said there's still plenty of raw data to sort out, regrets that the lander didn't last a few more weeks so it could have snapped some photos of snow collecting on the ground around the lander.

Among other high points, the Phoenix proved that frozen water was beneath the soil of the Martian north pole.

NASA will continue to look for a signal for another few weeks, but it's likely that dust storms, shortened days and extreme cold have finished off the plucky Phoenix, which will soon be encased in dry ice as the Martian winter sets in.


WINNERS AND LOSERS

Every election has 'em. Besides the Democrats on the federal level and the Republicans at the state Legislature, let's cover a few of the ones we didn't touch on in our companion story, "Bizarro State."

The winners:

• Rep. Russell Pearce somehow managed to beat the Stop Illegal Hiring initiative, even though the backers in the business community spent more than a million dollars on the ballot prop. Pearce also survived an effort by the business community to block his move up to the Senate.

• Arizona's real-estate agents successfully passed a ballot prop that prohibits any future real-estate transfer tax.

• Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson brushed aside challenges in both the primary and the general election, capturing about 60 percent of the vote in both races.

Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy reversed a 2006 loss by successfully amending the Arizona Constitution to limit marriage to being between one man and one woman.

The losers:

• The payday-loan sharks spent more than $14 million on a ballot proposition to create new regulations that would have kept them in business past 2010, when the law that allowed them to open in the first place expires. However, 60 percent of voters rejected the proposition, leaving the future of the industry in doubt.

• Unions representing teachers, firefighters and other government employees poured money into an independent-campaign committee aimed at helping Democrats retake the Arizona House of Representatives. They failed and now face payback from the conservative Republicans who prevailed on Election Day.

• Republican strategist Nathan Sproul had one of his worst years yet. He was behind the dumb Majority Rules initiative, which would have counted all registered voters who didn't cast a ballot as "no" votes on initiatives that increased taxes; voters rejected the prop by a 2-to-1 margin. He was behind Stop Illegal Hiring, which would have weakened the state's employer-sanctions law--if 60 percent of the voters had not rejected it. Sproul was advising Republican Tim Bee's unsuccessful congressional campaign. And his candidate in Congressional District 5, Laura Knaperek, lost in a GOP primary earlier this year.

• While we're talking about Majority Rules: Fast-food mogul Jason LeVecke was a big loser, having spent more than a million dollars on the Majority Rules initiative, only to see it crushed by voters. LeVecke was also a big contributor to Stop Illegal Hiring, as was his fellow fast-food titan, Mac Magruder.

• Rep. Jim Weiers was deposed as speaker of the House following last week's election.


CRUNCHING NUMBERS

Pima County's Election Division did a much better job of counting ballots in last week's election than they did in the primary. Nearly all of the votes cast on Election Day were counted by midnight, even though the Elections Division couldn't get results from individual precincts via modem.

Here's a suggestion for the folks in the Election Division: Recognize that the public is clamoring for results. The early ballots that had been counted weren't uploaded onto the county's Web page until sometime around 8:30 p.m. on Election Night, while other counties were reporting those numbers right at 8 p.m.

County officials were in no rush to update their Web site as they counted the rest of those early ballots later in the week. As of our Tuesday deadline, the county hadn't updated their Web site since Saturday afternoon at 3:13 p.m. How hard is it to upload the latest results, anyway?

As we were wrapping up this column, a final count on the turnout remained out of reach, but we can say that some folks in the media were a little premature with their pronouncements that only two-thirds of Pima County voters cast ballots.

Based on the preliminary numbers we've seen from the Recorder's Office and the Elections Division, it appears that at least 386,500 voters cast ballots. That number will increase as more provisional ballots are approved, but as of this writing, it comes out to slightly less than 78 percent of Pima County voters.

That's a few points below the 82 percent turnout Pima County had in 2004, but in raw numbers, it exceeds the 369,321 people who voted in that last presidential-election year.


MOVING TARGET

As home prices plunge, Pima County's 2009 bond election may also be taking it in the financial shorts.

Back in May, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and the county's Bond Advisory Committee came up with a list of about $1.36 billion in projects.

But the county is legally prohibited from borrowing more than 15 percent of the total net assessed valuation. In his May memo, Huckelberry said he wouldn't want to ask voters to approve more than $922 million in bonds. If county voters did agree to borrow that much, financial variables would prevent the bonds from being sold until 2010 or 2011.

But with home prices on a continuing slide, what the county's net assessed valuation will be in two or three years is anybody's guess. County officials refuse to even discuss their forecasts.

That's just one of the uncertainties that the Bond Advisory Committee will consider when it meets downtown at 8 a.m., Friday, Nov. 14, at the Manning House, 450 W. Paseo Redondo.


GERALDO ON THE BORDER

Geraldo Rivera, one of the most colorful journalists of his generation, is coming to Tucson next week to talk about his book, His Panic: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S., which examines the hysteria surrounding illegal immigration.

If you'd like to see Geraldo in person, he'll be onstage at the Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St., alongside Skinny scribe Jim Nintzel for a discussion of immigration issues and a Q&A with audience members. The free event begins at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Rivera, a UA alum, will also be visiting the university's Media Arts Department to meet with students and faculty, and will be signing copies of the book at the UA Bookstore in the Student Union at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

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