The Pima County Democratic Party is funding an independent campaign committee that's hammering Joe Flores, the Democrat who is challenging Councilwoman Regina Romero in the Aug. 30 primary election for the westside Ward 1 seat.
The independent-expenditure committee, Tucsonans for Democratic Leadership, is hitting Flores for his ties to a payday-loan operation.
"We're going to make sure that people know he's a payday lender," says David Higuera, the treasurer of the committee and a political strategist with Strategic Issues Management Group.
Voters can expect to see billboards in Ward 1 highlighting Flores' links to the payday-loan industry, as well as a website, www.paydayjoe.com.
Higuera says the committee will be funded primarily by the Pima County Democratic Party, which has already contributed at least $8,700 to the effort, according to reports filed with the city.
The Pima County Democratic Party's executive committee voted earlier this year to endorse Romero and the other incumbents on the City Council up for election in 2011, with near-unanimous support.
In an interview in late May, Flores told the Tucson Weekly that the payday-loan operation was just one element of his check-cashing business, and he was just serving as an agent for a payday lender out of Phoenix. He no longer does payday loans, because state law no longer allows them.
"As far as the payday-loan business, we operated it as an agent," Flores told us. "We only did for about a year and a half, and the only reason we did was because people were requesting it."
Flores added he had "no opinion one way or the other" about the payday-loan industry.
Romero has opposed the payday-loan industry in the past.
"I have an opinion on payday loans," says Romero. "I think it's wrong to target the most vulnerable population and charge them 400 percent interest for a loan."
While we couldn't reach Flores himself this week, we did catch up with Luis Gonzales, who is running the Flores campaign. He tells us that Flores will be holding a press conference to denounce the use of Democratic Party funds against a Democratic candidate.
"Of course we're concerned about what the party is doing," Gonzales tells The Skinny. "We've been concerned about what the party's been doing since way back when they decided to endorse the incumbent. We know that it's wrong. It's not an ethical thing to do, and it's the first time the party has done such a thing."
Gonzales says he suspects that there might be a link between the independent campaign committee and the Romero campaign.
"We believe that there's a real question there," Gonzales says.
Jeff Rogers, chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party, concedes that it's the first time that the party has funded an effort against a Democrat—if you consider Flores to be a Democrat.
"I don't recall us ever doing this before, but ... I'm not sure we see eye to eye on whether Mr. Flores is a bona fide Democrat, or whether he is really a wolf in sheep's clothing," says Rogers, citing Flores' appearances on various conservative radio programs.
As we note above, Democrat Joe Flores has an array of forces allied against him and his campaign to unseat City Councilwoman Regina Romero.
Supporters are a little harder to find.
If you look on his website, he does have a page dedicated to supporters—but it just tells you that more details are "Coming Soon!"
On the website, there is a picture of a bunch of supporters holding up "Joe Flores for Council" signs. But it appears those people don't actually support Flores.
Hai Laventure, who is handling graphics for the Flores campaign, tells The Skinny that the photo is actually "something I just grabbed from a rally somewhere on the East Coast," and the Flores signs have been Photoshopped onto the signs that members of the crowd were waving.
"It was just so that we had something up there that showed support," says Laventure. "But it's nothing malicious or anything. It was just a placeholder on there."
So why not just take a picture of people who actually support Joe Flores?
"We didn't have funds," Laventure says. "It was at the very beginning of the campaign, and we didn't have funds for signs and stuff like that."
Pima County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Rogers—who, as we pointed out earlier, has been speaking out against Flores' campaign since the party's executive committee voted to endorse Romero—says the Photoshop job "shows the lack of any real organization and the lack of any substantial support" for Flores.
"You have to search around and find a photo of an Obama rally to find your pretend supporters, and you can't afford to go out and shoot a photograph?" Rogers asks. "Come on. That's pretty basic stuff. You can practically do it on a cell phone."
MEANWHILE: LOOKING AHEAD TO 2012
Add Democrat Nancy Young Wright to the list of potential candidates for the District 1 seat on the Pima County Board of Supervisors. Republican Ann Day recently announced she wouldn't seek a fourth term.
Wright, who served in the Arizona House of Representatives in Legislative District 26 before being knocked out of office by Republican Terri Proud last year, tells the Tucson Weekly that she's considering a run for the seat.
The only Republican who has declared that he's running for the seat is political newcomer Matt Caldwell, but Rep. Vic Williams, who served as Wright's GOP LD 26 seatmate in the House of Representatives, and who now serves with Proud, is also mulling a run, as is local businessman and radio talk-show host Joe Higgins, who gave Day a close primary race in 2008.
Before serving in the Legislature, Wright led a reform effort as a member of the Amphi School District governing board that eventually resulted in a recall election that drove three members from office.
The Skinny would like to congratulate the gang at the UA Lunar and Planetary Lab for two big moments last week.
The first came with the publication of a paper in the journal Science that suggests that salt water might be seasonally flowing on Mars.
The paper, written in part by the LPL's Alfred McEwen, is based on observations of photos taken by the LPL's HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The snapshots showed unusual streaks that grew seasonally on slopes on the planet's southern hemisphere.
"The best explanation we have for these observations so far is (the) flow of briny water, although this study does not prove that," McEwen told UA News last week.
Kudos also go to UA student Lujendra Ojha, who, as a junior majoring in geophysics, first noticed the changes in the landscape.
Elsewhere on the spaceship beat: The LPL has a hand in the Juno mission to Jupiter that blasted off from Cape Canaveral last Friday, Aug. 5.
Juno will reach Jupiter sometime in 2016 and spend a year orbiting the planet before dropping into its atmosphere on a suicide mission to send back as much data as possible before it stops functioning.
The LPL's William B. Hubbard is a co-investigator on the Juno mission.