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CLEAN ELECTIONS UPDATE

Attorney John Munger, who is challenging Gov. Jan Brewer in next year's GOP primary, blasted the state's Clean Elections program last week.

"Giving taxpayer funds to career politicians at a time when we're cutting government is an abomination," Munger declared in a press release.

We don't know if we'd go as far as "abomination," but we're not fans of Clean Elections, either, mostly because we think it helped radicalize the Legislature by helping social conservatives knock out moderates in the Republican Party.

Munger suggested that the money in the Clean Elections bank account—which mostly comes from surcharges on criminal and civil fines, although taxpayers can voluntarily contribute to the program—should be given to education or another state program.

The only problem with Munger's proposal is that it's not legal, given that Clean Elections was created by an initiative that's voter-protected. But his proposal sure has a nice ring to it on the campaign trail.

Munger is using the issue to take a shot at Brewer, who has said that she'll be using Clean Elections next year—which could prove problematic, because the program's matching-funds provision is in legal jeopardy.

Candidates who use Clean Elections get public dollars for their campaign as long as they agree to limit their spending to that amount. But the program also provides additional matching funds of up to three times that original amount—which varies depending on the office sought—if a privately funded opponent or independent campaign committee exceeds the spending limit for Clean Elections candidates.

The provision is designed to discourage private candidates from overwhelming Clean Elections candidates with unlimited private dollars.

But U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver ruled way back in August 2008 that the program's matching-funds provision is unconstitutional, because it deters privately funded candidates from raising money and thereby limits their speech.

Silver declined to actually put a stop to matching funds in the heat of the 2008 campaign, because she said it would be too chaotic for candidates.

But in the 14 months since her original decision, Silver has still not updated her ruling on whether Clean Elections should provide matching funds going forward. Now that we're on the verge of another election season, we hear some kind of decision may be imminent.

That leaves candidates who are considering using Clean Elections in a bit of quandary: If they go forward with it, the matching funds could vanish, which would leave them vulnerable to big-spending opponents.

Given that uncertainty, we're a bit surprised that Brewer would choose to be a Clean Elections candidate, although it may just be a sign that she expects to have trouble raising money from the private sector.

Proponents of Clean Elections were pushing for a fix during last year's legislative session that would have temporarily done away with matching funds in exchange for increasing the initial amount of money available to candidates.

But the deal fell to pieces in the chaos of the final days of the session, and it doesn't look like anyone is in any rush to now make any kind of fix. We can't say we're surprised, given that lawmakers are probably a little reluctant to increase the amount of money for their own campaigns while cutting everything from education to health care.

Sen. Jonathan Paton, a longtime critic of Clean Elections, is talking about sponsoring a bill to put a proposition on next year's ballot that would amend the state Constitution to forbid the use of taxpayer dollars on political campaigns. While that wouldn't repeal Clean Elections outright, it would make it impossible for Clean Elections to actually use the dollars collected for campaign purposes, so it would essentially cripple the system.

Of course, that assumes that Paton will be at the Legislature next year and doesn't step down to pursue a campaign against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords ...


WATER PRESSURE

The city of Tucson and Pima County are wrapping up a long-overdue survey of available water resources and the state of the local water infrastructure.

The study, which began in April 2008, is setting the stage for the really hard work: setting new water policy in Pima County. That means elected officials are going to have to make some real decisions about how to allocate water and guide growth. (Admittedly, there's not much growth to guide these days, but one assumes that homebuilding will recover someday.)

It's a little shocking to realize that until now, the city and county had no easy-to-access data on the amount of water available, or the condition of the pipelines that deliver it. Without that information, making water policy has been a stab in the dark.

We're not sure if this is the first step toward an overarching water authority, but any significant moves in that direction remain years away.

Critics of the city and county have complained that the two jurisdictions didn't include other water providers in the current study.

That's nonsense. Nothing has stopped other jurisdictions from conducting their own surveys of their supplies and infrastructure. City and county officials have said all along that they plan to broaden the process once they have a handle on their own situation.


SCRAMBLEWATCH 2010: DEMOCRATIC DOGPILE

The dust is still settling from our 2009 City Council election, but candidates are already preparing themselves for next year's election.

In 2008, we had the seven-way super-slam in Legislative 29, where seven Democrats jumped into a primary for two House seats.

Something similar may be brewing next year in midtown Tucson, where District 28 Rep. Dave Bradley is hitting his four-term limit.

Bradley's seatmate, Rep. Steve Farley, will be seeking re-election, although he tells us he may not be using Clean Elections this time out, because—as we explained earlier—the publicly financed election program is facing a constitutional challenge that may eliminate matching funds.

At least five other Democrats are looking at the race:

• Local blogger Ted Prezelski, who made a run for the seat in 2006, has gotten a much earlier start on his campaign. Prezelski's brother, Tom Prezelski, lost a House seat in the aforementioned seven-way super-slam.

• Democrat Tim Sultan, who lost a 2004 congressional primary to Eva Bacal back in the Age of Jim Kolbe, has lowered his sights to the state Legislature.

Mohur Sidhwa, a former Democratic chair of LD28 and a current Arizona Democratic Party vice chair, is making her first run for a major office.

• Former LD28 House member Ted Downing is making noises about running, although he has not formally filed for the race. Downing now has an exploratory committee for an unnamed office.

Bruce Wheeler, a former Tucson city councilman and a one-term lawmaker back in the 1970s, is talking about making a political comeback.


COMING ATTRACTION

We promised last week to share more numbers from the city of Tucson election, but city staffers hadn't released the canvass as of press time. Check The Range, for updates once it becomes available.

Find early and late-breaking Skinny on The Range, our daily dispatch.

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