NOTHING SPECIALIt appears that state lawmakers will not be having a special session to trim state spending. Although budget experts predict a shortfall of $1.2 billion in the current fiscal year, Gov. Janet Napolitano is busy learning about her new gig as director of Homeland Security, and the current GOP leadership has pretty much lost interest.
No big surprise there; House Speaker Jim Weiers has been deposed by Republican Kirk Adams of Mesa, while Senate President Tim Bee is retiring, thanks to term limits. (And how much can Bee care about the spending lobby, anyway? Despite all the love he showed them during his legislative career, they dumped him in favor of Democrat Gabrielle Giffords in last month's congressional election.)
So the lame ducks are going to hand the whole problem over to the new Legislature that will be seated next month, and which will be largely dealing with Soon-to-Be-Gov. Jan Brewer.
Brewer announced her transition team last week, which included political strategists/lobbyists Chuck Coughlin, Jay Heiler and Doug Cole, who were all tight with former Gov. Fife Symington, or as we used to call him, J. Fife Whiteguy III.
This is shaping up to be one hell of a session for Capitol political reporters--who, incidentally, were recently evicted from the office space they'd occupied in the Senate building for decades.
That's sure to set a tone for 2009.
THE NEW FACE OF JUSTICE?With a new presidential administration comes a new U.S. attorney for Arizona. The current top federal prosecutor, Diane J. Humetewa, has only been on the job for about a year. She replaced Paul Charlton, who was one of several prosecutors forced out during the strange and terrible reign of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. If there were good reasons to get rid of Charlton, Gonzales probably can't remember 'em--if he ever knew 'em to begin with.
Charlton was a decent guy who didn't shy away from pursuing the ongoing prosecution of Congressman Rick Renzi on corruption charges.
So who's likely to be President Barack Obama's pick for U.S. attorney for Arizona? We hear Dennis Burke, a longtime Napolitano pal, is high on the list.
It's not a bad spot to launch a political career. After being appointed U.S. attorney for Arizona by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Napolitano won the Arizona's Attorney General Office in 1998 before moving on to the governor's condo.
BIG BUCKS, LITTLE LUCKTurns out that it's not easy to buy Arizona voters after all.
The final campaign-finance reports from 2008 are finally in, informing us that a lot of very wealthy folks blew a lot of money on unsuccessful efforts to enact laws in Arizona.
The biggest losers were the payday-loan sharks, who dumped a staggering $14.8 million into their campaign to regulate their own industry, while trying to convince voters they were offering up tough reforms. End result: Nearly 60 percent of the voters rejected Proposition 200. Now that's a lousy return on investment.
Fast-food mogul Jason LeVecke didn't spend nearly as much on his Majority Rules proposition, but he still ended up being one of the big losers. LeVecke provided the bulk of the nearly $1.6 million spent on Proposition 105, which would have required that any future ballot initiative that raised taxes be passed by a majority of all registered voters, not just the ones who turned out on Election Day. That harebrained idea was rejected by two-thirds of the voters.
LeVecke was also a big backer of Stop Illegal Hiring, the effort by the business community to water down Arizona's over-the-top employer-sanctions law. That group spent about $1 million on its campaign, only to be rejected by 59 percent of the voters.
A few big spenders did prevail on Election Day. The folks who wanted to ensure that marriage remains limited to one man and one woman spent more than $7.7 million to make gay marriage even more illegal in Arizona by banning it with a constitutional amendment.
Opponents of the gay-marriage ban, which passed with 56 percent of the vote, could only scrape together $820,000.
The Arizona Association of Realtors spent more than $5.8 million on their successful campaign to block any future tax on real-estate sales. Nearly 77 percent of voters supported Prop 100, which had no organized opposition.
CASH QUEENSpeaking of final reports: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords filed her post-election report with the Federal Election Commission.
Giffords ending up spending roughly $2.7 million on her successful re-election campaign, in which she defeated Republican state Sen. Tim Bee by 12 percentage points.
Giffords raised a total of $3.3 million and ended up with $741,747 in the bank at the end of the race. That's a pretty good start on a 2010 campaign, but we're sure those coffers will be swelling as the next election draws closer. If nothing else, Gabby has demonstrated that she can coax money out of donors.
Bee showed that he was also no slouch in the fundraising department. His final report shows that he raised and spent more than $1.9 million on his campaign, which is a new record for a GOP congressional challenger in these parts.
With all that money, it's a shame he couldn't afford a professional press guy.
BIG WIN FOR GARCIAThe morning daily recently reported that Pima County is in the midst of developing a policy to define appropriate and inappropriate off-duty behaviors for all county employees. The proposed policy was inspired by complaints that flooded the county about Legal Defender Isabel Garcia's involvement in a July 10 protest outside of a Tucson Barnes and Noble, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was signing copies of his new book.
The complaints (fueled by listeners of local right-wing talk radio) focused on Garcia picking up the head of an Arpaio piñata and carrying it over her shoulder. A report from Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said Garcia claimed that she picked up the head and walked to the sidewalk to move protestors further from the store entrance in order to prevent further escalation--not to incite violence.
While Garcia was cleared of wrongdoing by Huckelberry, his office moved forward to create the off-duty-behavior policy for all county employees. (However, Pima County Board of Supervisors Chair Richard Elías and Supervisor Ray Carroll have made it clear that they aren't 100 percent behind the policy proposal.)
But in the meantime, if you're a county employee and you're wondering what you can and can't do, Garcia may have proven that irking those in charge of your budget can eventually pay off. The New York Times brought us the news last Thursday, Dec. 4, that Garcia was awarded one of five 2008 Lannan Cultural Freedom Awards, which includes a $150,000 cash award. The Lannan Foundation honors individuals working on behalf of communities struggling to uphold and defend their rights to cultural freedom and diversity. Garcia was recognized for her border activism and work with Derechos Humanos.
See, sometimes speaking your mind (and not worrying about what your boss will think) can pay off.
(Full disclosure: Mari Herreras is married to a Pima County public-defense attorney, but he does not know or work with Garcia.)