AIR WAR UNDERWAY
Just as ballots in this year's Tucson city election were landing in mailboxes last week, the GOP candidates launched a heavy run of campaign-ad sorties on local airwaves.
Republican Rick Grinnell, who hopes to beat Democrat Jonathan Rothschild in the mayor's race, debuted an ad promising to get Tucson on the right track and return baseball to Tucson. Republican Tyler Vogt went after Ward 4 Democratic incumbent Shirley Scott over Rio Nuevo spending. And Ward 2 GOP candidate Jennifer Rawson took Democratic Councilman Paul Cunningham to task over recent reports of problems with the city's 911-call system.
In her ad, Rawson claims that Cunningham cut the 911 emergency service while handing out raises to his "political cronies."
Rawson told The Skinny that she doesn't believe that "Mr. Cunningham set out to cut (the service) and have the consequences that we had ... but by the same token, he doesn't know how to read the budget."
Cunningham called the charge that he cut 911 to give raises to cronies "one of the greatest misrepresentations that I've seen in my political career. ... I led the fight to stabilize public safety. I've been endorsed by police and fire for that reason."
Rawson bases her claim on two points: Sun Tran bus drivers saw a salary increase, and three members of former City Manager Mike Letcher's staff were promoted and given raises shortly before Letcher was canned.
On the raises for Letcher's staff, Rawson says that Cunningham "wasn't controlling the budget. ... I understand when people get promoted, but it seems very strange that the only people promoted were in the City Manager's Office."
But Cunningham tells The Skinny that the raises in the City Manager's Office were one of the reasons he voted to fire Letcher in September.
"He raised the salaries of three people in his office and then was removed from his job," Cunningham says. "The idea that I have any political cronies in the City Manager's Office is ludicrous to me."
On the raises for bus drivers: Rawson says that Cunningham should have voted to cut the amount of the general-fund subsidy that goes to Sun Tran, the private company that runs the city's bus service.
Cunningham says that because Sun Tran is a private company that contracts with the city, he doesn't have control over its decisions. He adds that the raises were called for in previous contract negotiations between Sun Tran and its employees.
The slick Rawson ad offers a dramatic makeover for the candidate, whose previous ad—which sought to brand her as "Awesome Rawson"—was a low-budget production complete with waving flags and a "Yankee Doodle" soundtrack.
When you add the Rawson spot to the ads that Grinnell and Vogt are running, you get a feel for the overall narrative being created by the GOP campaign, which has been largely orchestrated by Phoenix political consultant Nathan Sproul, a former executive director of the Arizona Republican Party who is tight with Jim Click, the auto dealer who serves as an ATM for the Republican Party.
The central theme: The current city government has failed its citizens, and the GOP candidates represent change.
The Democrats have been running a more-traditional city campaign, counting on direct mail, phone-banking and walking neighborhoods. Cunningham did a positive TV spot highlighting his background as a probation officer, sports coach and neighborhood advocate; you can expect to see Rothschild on the airwaves this week as well.
It remains to be seen whether Republicans will have enough money to sustain the attack. Vogt, who made the heaviest ad buy, qualified for matching campaign funds from taxpayers, so he had plenty in the bank.
But at the start of this week, Grinnell and Rawson were still awaiting the results of an audit by the City Clerk's Office, which is going over their reports to make sure the numbers add up. If and when they qualify, they'll have a major influx of cash.
MAPS AND LEGENDS
The Independent Redistricting Commission met in Tucson on Monday, Oct. 24, as part of a statewide series of public hearings on the proposed congressional and legislative maps for the next decade.
The speakers fell into two basic camps: Democrats who asked for morecompetitive legislative districts so that the GOP wouldn't have a lock on the Arizona Legislature; and conservatives from SaddleBrooke, Oro Valley and other areas of northern Pima County who are honked off because they've been put into a proposed rural district that stretches clear up to Flagstaff, rather than being connected to Tucson or Cochise County.
While Monday's meeting was mostly sedate, the politics surrounding the IRC continue to be explosive. Republican lawmakers started having hearings on the maps via a Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting. This is a partisan effort; GOP leaders who set up the committee did not consult with Democratic leaders about which members of the minority party should be appointed, so the Democrats who did get appointed decided to sit out the process. On the one hand, that means that Democrats don't get to counter GOP arguments; on the other, they're not giving bipartisan cover to the effort.
Blogger Steve Muratore, who has covered the IRC more extensively than any other media in the state, got tossed out of a committee hearing on Friday, Oct. 21, for mouthing the word "bullshit" to state Sen. Andy Biggs.
GOP lawmakers say the hearings are just an effort to allow lawmakers to weigh in on redistricting and are not a step toward removing any member of the IRC, although Biggs has told The Associated Press that he expects a full special session on redistricting—perhaps as soon as next week.
Whether that would involve any effort to boot members of the IRC, who are fighting with Attorney General Tom Horne over the open-meeting law, remains to be seen.
Removing members of the IRC requires a two-thirds majority of the Arizona Senate, which Republicans currently hold. Gov. Jan Brewer recently used the "magic words" that could lead to an impeachment effort, saying the commissioners had engaged in "nothing less than neglect of duty and gross misconduct."
State Sen. Frank Antenori, who is exploring a congressional run for the seat now held by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, says he's not sure the Legislature will try to remove members of the IRC.
"I think it's too late," Antenori says. "I don't think it's worth doing right now."
Antenori would have supported the idea of removing commission chairwoman Colleen Mathis "back in May or June, when it would have made a difference. What would it do now, besides making Mathis a martyr?"
Antenori would like to see lawmakers ask voters to get rid of the IRC altogether and put the power of redistricting back in the hands of the Arizona Legislature.
"Nobody's really happy with the current system," Antenori says.
Antenori's preferred approach: "You have the Democrats draw a map, and you have the Republicans draw a map. ... You put them both on the ballot. You let the voters pick: Option 1 or Option 2."
He's confident that the maps as currently drawn "are not anywhere near" the final boundaries.
"The commission is going to change it," he says. "Those maps will not stand."