Lawall Gets a Primary Challenge?

Assistant Attorney General Paul Eckerstrom is being talked up as a candidate to run against Barbara Lawall for County Attorney. Eckerstrom had been talked about before, but the talk seems to be a bit more serious now.

Eckerstrom has worked both sides of the courtroom, as a public defender and as a prosecutor. He currently works in the Attorney General’s Southern Arizona office here in Tucson. His brother, Peter Eckerstrom, was appointed a judge on the court of appeals in 2003. He’s got some strong roots in the coummunity. His father, if I remember right, was a minister (thus the names Peter and Paul) who ran an off-campus hang out spot for students in the late 60’s. The cafe featured a number of performers, including a young Linda Ronstadt.

Eckerstrom has been involved in politics for years. He was a staffer for Bruce Babbitt’s presidential campaign back in 1988, working several Iowa counties for him. He supported Bill Bradley in 2000, but felt he had to be neutral in 2004 because of his chairmanship of the Pima County Democratic Party. It probably ticked him off to have to sit on the sidelines of that one.

He ticked off some activists when he recruited Nina Trasoff to run for city council when Steve Farley had already declared in that race. He was very active in Patty Weiss’s campaign for congress, and claimed some credit for encouraging her to run. I’m waiting to see if he gets Colleen Bagnall or Erica Hartquist to run for something.

There are a number of folks who have grievances against Lawall: there were some serious questions about the handling of the El Grande Market case, where false testimony may have been encouraged by prosecutors, and with the handling of the more recent murder of Dr. David Brian Stidham, where all maner of problems with personel in her office were revealed. There has also been criticism of the long standing (pre-dating Lawall) policy of “over charging” and not accepting plea agreements, which some say has led to expensive trials in cases that could have been settled without them. Finally, SEIU had some problems with Lawall’s interference with their efforts to organize county employees.

Talk has been that Lawall has already been talking to some of Eckerstrom’s supervisors, maybe trying to get him fired, maybe just trying to make his life difficult. Lawall’s supporters are already spreading the story that Eckerstrom has been too busy mucking around with local politics to do his job. Eckerstrom, however, has one of the largest case loads in the Southern Arizona office and is regarded by his colleagues (and most importantly, Terry Goddard) as a hard working prosecutor.

It remains to be seen whether all of these troubles add up to the number of votes necessary to displace Lawall. With Eckerstrom running, we are at least guaranteed that it won’t be a quiet campaign.

What, Chip & Robbie, Nothing Happened This Week?

I was disappointed by this morning’s Political Insider column in the Arizona Republic. Yeah, most of the time, it is written too smugly (it is, after all, a “tounge-in-cheek look at Arizona politics”). This morning, the column consisted of one item, a short one too, about Rep. David Burnell Smith’s campaign finance woes. This is old news, really. The only question right now is how far along does this get before a judge orders the capitol police to clear Smith’s office. Still left unexplored by our state’s flagship paper is the connection that Smith has with political consultant Constantine Querard. Querard also did work for serveral other legislators, many of whom have also had their campaign finances scrutinized.

That would be too much to ask.

Well, I know that I shouldn’t expect incisive investigative journalism from what is, in essence, a gossip column. But, we live in a state of four million people and this week this is the only item that was worth mentioning? Egads.

Here’s an item that they could have mentioned: Rep. Jack Jackson Jr. is making noises about running against US Rep. Rick Renzi. Jackson represented a large swath of northern Arizona but didn’t choose to run for re-election last year. His candidacy would gain national attention since Renzi is in one of the few “swing” districts in the country, and also because Jackson is openly gay and Navajo.

Jackson would be the first Native American to represent Arizona should he win, but the second openly gay congressman, although Rep. Jim Kolbe didn’t come out until he had served several terms. I think that Jackson would be the only Native American in congress since Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell left office.

It is hard to know if the “gay thing” would be a problem for him. Also, in some of the areas of the district there is tension going on between anglos and native americans over water issues. If Jackson thought that either one of these things was going to sink his candidacy, he’d choose not to run at all. I don’t know him that well, although my brother seemed to enjoy working with him in the legislature. He doesn’t strike me as a guy that would just do this on a lark. If he’s going to do it, it’s only after he’s figured out a way to win.

(NB – Thanks to Jane at Arizona Congress Watch for the heads up on this. I also found an article in the Navajo Times about a possible run by Jackson.)

The candidates are now lined up for this year’s city council election. The candidates turned in their nominating petitions this week. Some of us who follow this way too closely like to look at the number of signatures and try to read something into them. The number of signatures turned in can tell you whether or not a candidate has a decent organization. It can get a bit more complex than that, for example, a candidate can pay signature gatherers and not have any grass roots support. So, take what you will from these numbers.

In Ward 3, a Democrat needs 271 signatures, and Karin Uhlich turned in the maximum, 541. Republican incumbent Kathleen Dunbar needed a minimum of 145, and turned in 245, 1 and 2/3 times what she needed.

In Ward 5, long time Democratic Councilmember Steve Leal turned in his maximum 422, he only needed to turn in 211. His opponent Vernon Walker only needed turn in 58 (!), he turned in 102, just shy of twice what he needed. Expect there to be a challenge, given the low number of signatures involved.

Both Democratic challengers in Ward 6, Nina Trasoff and Steve Farley, turned in the maximum of 872 signatures, twice the minimum. Councilmember and Oprah Guest Fred Ronstadt had to turn in at least 234, but turned in 350.

In each case, the Democratic candidates collected far more than the maximum, they just didn’t turn them in (signatures over the maximum can’t be considered for filing). This gives them a chance to go through their petitions and make absolutely sure they are only turning in good signatures. Not so with the Republican candidates. Expect their petitions to be looked over and at least one attempt to get a candidate bounced from the ballot.

Wouldn’t it be awful if Dunbar or Ronstadt couldn’t run for re-election? One can always hope.

Edifice Complex

Well, my brother found out about my blog and told me “You’d better not make any personal attacks on my colleagues!” Geez, here I was hoping to do that. Of course, he hasn’t said I can’t make personal attacks against him. Feel free to post suggestions in the comments section.
Eric wanted me to write about Bob McMahon’s plans to put a high-rise apartment building on the current site of the main library. I haven’t paid much attention, since I think the plan is a non-starter. Many downtown property owners are already tweaked that the city has opened up so much new space and many of their tenants are moving to those new spaces. I can’t imagine that any of them would be happy with that many new residential spaces competing with their own complexes.
I saw an interview with City Manager Michael Hein on Arizona illustrated and he was asked about this plan. He offered nothing resembling an opinion on it. This is understandable, since he can’t express an opinion until four members of the Mayor and Council tell him what it is. McMahon may feel that he “appointed” Mike Hein, and now it is time to get what he wants. This is probably overreach on this part.
McMahon may come up against the institutions that frustrate many developers in this community. In any city, you have ad hoc groups of activists who oppose a road project or who fight to preserve an old building. Because of the official structure of the neighborhood associations and the network of citizen boards, the people that folks love to blow off as cranks or NIMBYs in most communities have actual institutional power (Full disclosure: I’m one of those cranks that serve on a board). I don’t think that McMahon has any interest in bringing these people into his plans, and that may be the downfall here.
I’m hoping that that is what, in the end, turns Fred Ronstadt out of office. As you see by the blogroll, I am supporting Nina Trasoff. Don’t get me wrong though, Steve Farley would make an excellent councilmember as well. I don’t want to say that either would be better than Ronstadt, since that would be extremely faint praise. You may have read a few weeks back that Fred’s more famous cousin Linda Ronstadt came out for Trasoff. Linda has been a Democrat for a long time (she dated Jerry Brown at one point), but what prompted this was the plans for a big box store in Linda’s neighborhood. Linda and her neighbors couldn’t get a hearing from the guy. If his most famous relative can’t get into the office, what chance do the rest us have?
There are numerous instances of Ronstadt not only being dismissive of complaints, but even becoming angry when talking to citizens who disagree with him (even screaming at one neighborhood association meeting). Did anyone explain to Fred that sometimes the people that pay his salary have the right to tell him when he is full of it?
In this week’s Range column in the Weekly, Jim Nintzel claims that there are “moderate legislators” mad at Janet Napolitano for breaking her agreement with the leadership. I can’t think of any moderate legislators who have any love for their party’s leadership, so I find this hard to believe.