THE DOCTOR IS IN
There's an apocryphal story in political circles about Richard Carmona, who announced last week that he was running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate seat being surrendered by Jon Kyl.
It goes something like this: Carmona, a former Green Beret and SWAT-team doc, was serving as surgeon general in the Bush administration when U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe announced he wouldn't seek re-election in 2006.
President George W. Bush asked Carmona to seek the seat on the Republican ticket. Carmona turned him down—and shortly after that, Carmona was no longer surgeon general.
We don't suppose we'll ever know with any certainty whether Carmona was asked to leave because he turned down the president's request to run for office here in Southern Arizona. But we do know that Carmona chafed at the political restrictions from the Bush administration on scientific topics such as stem-cell research, secondhand smoke, emergency contraception and climate change.
In 2007, Carmona testified before Congress that "the nation's doctor has been marginalized and relegated to a position with no independent budget and with supervisors who are political appointees with partisan agendas. Anything that doesn't fit into the political appointees' ideological, theological or political agenda is ignored, marginalized or simply buried."
It appears that Carmona, who is teaching at the UA and working as the president of Canyon Ranch Institute, was more open to seeking office when President Barack Obama called him earlier this year to ask him to run for the U.S. Senate.
Carmona's entry into the race puts Arizona on the map of 2012 competitive seats. Provided he can win the Democratic primary against Don Bivens, the former Arizona Democratic Party chairman who got into the race in September, Carmona will provide a very real contest for likely GOP nominee Jeff Flake.
Flake, who is giving up his congressional seat to run for the Senate, had more than $2.3 million on hand at the end of September, according to the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission.
You can expect millions more to be spent before this one is over.
With a new pile of votes counted on Thursday, Nov. 10, we learned that Ward 4 City Councilwoman Shirley Scott squeaked out a win over Republican challenger Tyler Vogt in the City Council election.
Scott, who had a 1,863-vote margin with a handful of votes remaining to be counted, got 51 percent of the vote compared with Vogt's 49 percent.
Scott's win completes a city sweep for Democrats: In the mayor's race, Democrat Jonathan Rothschild walloped Republican Rick Grinnell by 15 percentage points; Ward 2 Councilman Paul Cunningham beat Republican challenger Jennifer Rawson by 14 points; and Ward 1 Councilwoman Regina Romero had a 31-point edge over Green Party candidate Beryl Baker.
All in all, it was a good night for Democrats in Tucson.
Until we see the ward-by-ward turnout numbers, it's hard to say whether the city's new vote-by-mail system made much of a difference in turnout.
But here's one takeaway: The city mailed out 211,267 ballots, and roughly 85,400 people voted, which gives us a turnout of just about 40 percent. That's right in line with the usual turnout in a competitive mayoral race in Tucson.
In raw numbers, more people voted last week than in any year since 1999, when 86,180 people cast ballots. The closest we've come to that kind of number was in 2003, when 77,857 people voted. In both of those years, Republican Mayor Bob Walkup faced competitive Democratic opponents.
On a percentage basis, turnout in Tuesday's election was considerably higher than the 33.5 percent in 2009, and just a hair lower than the 41 percent that turned out in the mayoral-election years of 2003 and 1999. (In 2007, when Walkup faced only Green Party candidate Dave Croteau because the Democrats didn't field a candidate, turnout was a low 27 percent.)
So did the vote-by-mail system make a difference? We'll have a better idea when we can look at turnout on the westside and southside, which has traditionally been lower than on the eastside.
Congressman Raúl Grijalva told The Skinny on Election Night that the results in Tucson and elsewhere proved that Democrats "are not an endangered species."
Grijalva was happy to see an anti-union law get defeated in Ohio, but he appeared particularly pleased about Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce's loss in his recall election, calling it a "game changer."
"There have been a lot of politicians—locally and statewide and nationally—who have used hate and division as their principal political tool," said Grijalva, who has been one of the loudest critics of Pearce's signature SB 1070 immigration legislation. "Pearce's loss is going to make everybody pause."
There are a lot of folks on the left who say that Pearce is finished politically, but The Skinny isn't so sure. We don't yet know what his future legislative district is going to look like, but Pearce could just as easily shoot for another target: Congress, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors (against fellow Republican Don Stapley, who isn't exactly popular among Pearce voters) or even the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, should Joe Arpaio decide he's had enough. (Of course, we see no evidence that Sheriff Joe is ready to give up the spotlight, despite the scandal that engulfed his closest advisers.)
Meanwhile, the GOP caucus in the state Senate assembled last week to choose Sen. Steve Pierce as the new Senate president. Pierce is most definitely a conservative, but he's not Russell Pearce, so we'll see what kind of changes this brings to the Arizona Legislature when it gets back to work in January.
State Sen. Frank Antenori, who represents Tucson's eastside, Green Valley and Sierra Vista, was elected whip, which means he has the job of rounding up votes for Republican legislation.
"A lot of people think I'm well-suited for that," Antenori tells The Skinny.
Don't expect Antenori to play well with Jerry Lewis, the Republican who defeated Pearce in the recall election.
Last week, Antenori told the Arizona Capitol Times that he wanted Lewis "out on the freaking lawn. I don't even want him to have a desk in the building. He can caucus with the Democrats for all I care."
Antenori stood by those words earlier this week.
"I still have heartburn with the guy," Antenori said. "He is a legitimately elected senator. ... (But) I do not see him as a legitimately elected member of the (GOP) caucus. ... All of us got there through a primary challenge where we shared our issues in a primary, got elected in a primary, and then got elected in a general (election). We didn't get there through a dope deal with (Latino organizer) Randy Parraz and the far left, where we exchanged votes to take down a Senate president simply because he was doing what he believed the vast majority of voters in his district wanted him to do."
Antenori predicts that Pearce will reclaim his Senate seat in the 2012 election: "I think he's gonna run for re-election and vindicate himself."