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What the Devil won't tell you

Past is prologue: What we already can tell about the year ahead

Natty Light, alligators, Mark Finchem & you just know what's going to happen next in 2019

My favorite meme of the year during a year that saw my meme-hating reach a Pavlovian level of triggered psychosis was provided by one of my favorite right-wingers.

It was simple. Red background. White letters. Three words. Punctuation.

“A Florida man …”

Because that’s all you have to know to realize whatever follows is going to likely involve partial nudity, at least 19 Natty Lights, a mugshot the suspect will never live down and perhaps, maybe, there could be an itinerant alligator involved.

I bring this up because sometimes when a journalist writes something, the educated reader will cover their eyes, understanding what comes next without having to read further.

This is always the time of year that I can get snookered by state Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley.

He introduces a bill that makes me crazy, I try to cram five columns into one. Dylan gives it an editor's glance and tells me to redo it completely. The only times he's required that of me involve Finchem because he gets me sooooo maaaad. Right? This year the legislator from 1896 introduced a flurry of bills aimed at micromanaging the state in way he sees fit.

For example, he has crafted legislation to muzzle teachers on topics of controversy so Arizona's children aren't indoctrinated with ideas like "white people have been racist in U.S. history." That would sow racial resentment because students of color are too stupid to realize the 15-year-old white skater vaping next to him didn't lynch a black kid in 1952.

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But his bills tend not to become law. That's not a problem, because they are intended to "trigger the libs," rather than actually solve problems with legislation. Not this time, Mark. It's like Florida men and Natty Light. We see where this is going. 

Because past is so often prologue, we can look ahead to 2019 through a been-there-done-that lens that brings more resolution to the New Year.

The non-existent border crisis has been …

Magically settled for eight minutes before the Right starts it up again.

A year ago I wrote a campy column suggesting that President Trump could end a government shutdown by simply declaring he is such a good president, he had a border wall pre-positioned prior to him even taking office.

Why, not even Abe Lincoln managed such a thing.

Don’t look now but that may be the deal shaping up today: Just change the nomenclature and declare victory.

Today, a government shutdown persists as Trump and Democrats clash over wall funding and the two sides seem clueless about what the border actually looks like. Democrats voted to fortify it years ago. Money got spent and walls got built.

Trump doesn’t care. “Build the wall” is an applause line at a rally and there’s nothing the neediest president in U.S. history craves more than more applause.

The thing is, he and his base have proven they don’t need actual success. They just need a tweet celebrating a declaration of victory.

He’s already replaced "big beautiful wall" with "steel slats" and some sort of border barrier as his firm and final offer, leaving him a nuance away from declaring complete capitulation by Democrats if he can secure bollards, steel mats and vehicle barriers.

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That’s what’s there now.

He can then go to his rallies, touch his forefinger to his thumb with an insipid pumping motion, and tell the MAGAverse “I promised you one wall and I got you three.” And the crowd would go wild.

Hey, he’s convinced otherwise knowledgeable conservatives he got a real-live nuclear deal out of North Korea. Trump’s pre-positioned wall is something they can touch, marvel at and take selfies next to.

Illegal immigration is at historic lows. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 216,000 Europeans and Canadians arriving in 2015 on temporary visas remain in the U.S. In 2017, 130,000 Mexicans were apprehended at the southern border.

So Trump can declare victory and the next day declare an emergency. A caravan is coming. This is a problem that exists almost exclusively in our national psychosis.

Political turmoil returns to …

The Tucson City Council.

Remember that stability that has fallen upon Tucson City Hall over the past few years? It’s been nice, hasn’t it?

Forget about it.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild announced he won’t seek reelection and well, talk about dams breaking.

The number of people rumored to be interested in replacing him keeps growing. Erstwhile legislator and Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Steve Farley is almost certainly running. More vitally is that Ward 1 Councilwoman Regina Romero and Ward 3's Paul Durham are considering a go. Paul Cunningham, over in Ward 2, hasn't ruled one out and former member of the Council Karin Uhlich is grist for the rumor mill. That many Council connections being yanked this way and that are sure to cause drama. 

The only ones not interested are the one who might be best at the job. Council members Steve Kozachik and Richard Fimbres have said they intend to fill out their terms (though, I've heard Fimbres may not be a hard no, yet.) 

Durham would have to resign to run because he's not in the last year of his term, meaning the barfight to replace him would be fodder for pay-per-view. 

My two favorite candidates are non-starters. Retired banker, business leader and brainiac Frances McLane-Merryman is focused on skiing and County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez knows better.

Democrats haven't really had clear shot at the mayor's seat since Bob Walkup was in office and even then they didn't really seem too eager to get after him. The Republican was unopposed in his last reelection in 2007, when Democrats could not lose. Rothschild worked the party circuit for two years to secure his nomination before the fight started.

This year is different.

Even if the race doesn’t turn into a free-for-all among Council members, count on a number of big names like Farley to jump into the race. A primary contest will create enormous intraparty cross currents ripping at the all-Democratic Council’s structural integrity. General elections are battles. Primaries are civil wars.

It’s going to get nuts fast, at least on the Democratic side.

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And we haven't even mentioned the open seat in Ward 4, as longtime Southeast Side Councilwoman Shirley Scott isn't running again. If Romero runs for mayor, that'll create another open seat. Likewise if Durham runs. Potentially, a majority of the city's leadership could be fresh faces next year.

Pima County Republicans face …


That’s not a good thing, Lefties. It was said “Carthage is the whetstone upon which Roman greatness was sharpened.” Competition for votes is a good and necessary thing in democracy.

The Republicans could stand an outside chance at scoring a seat or two. They could even win the mayor’s seat.

But... will they even field a credible, electable candidate for an open seat in the city's top office?

The local party must come off its dumb-ass approach to partisan purity, which may have cost it a Council seat in 2017. Gary Watson was a 2017 Republican candidate for Council — and a good one — but the county party informed him that he was not a Republican. The firefighter supported a half-cent sales tax for new public safety spending and road repairs. Republicans would not support his candidacy. So he ran as an independent and lost the Ward 3 race.

That’s wildly extreme for even statewide races. It’s one thing for the voters to make that determination. It’s another for the party elites to chase a candidate out of the party over funding for projects the community has long said are necessary.

The local GOP would rather complain than compete in local politics. They’ve been happier to be angry and impotent than truly put in the effort to seek responsibility.

Republicans elect candidates in Pima County. Sheriff Mark Napier and Treasurer Beth Ford are testaments to viability of candidates who haven’t taken loyalty tests to Donald Trump or the Tea Party.

I could argue that right now Trump has set the threshold for Republicans, a candidate could seem enlightened if they simply agree day is light and night is dark (“Fake news!”). Just say rain comes from clouds, rather than sent by a God angry about gays, and a Republican would seem Aristotelian in their wisdom.

Will the Pima County GOP sanction such sacrilege? That remains a very open question. In the meantime, they face an existential crisis here in local leadership. Let’s hope they react better to it than they do climate change.

Pima County supervisors voted to …

Sue the state of Arizona.

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This one's not a long-prediction. It just happened before New Year's Eve. It'll surely happen again in 2019.

I have no idea what the action will be but it seems like this happens regularly enough that the County Attorney’s Office ought to have a fulltime position set aside just for that.

Lately our state Legislature has been on a jag about how to end the constitutionally required subsidy of property taxes equaling more than 1 percent the assessed value of a home. The Legislature can’t change it without a two-thirds vote.

The Legislature likes to do many things. Poking Tucson and the county in the eye repeatedly are most prominent among them. One possibility is a Finchem bill to require the Board of Supervisors to accept law enforcement grants. Pima County supervisors rejected a federal grant to assist border agents in apprehending illegal immigrants.

Paul Ingram covered this story soup to nuts

It's not the first time the county has refused grants for law enforcement. They've been doing it for years, dating back to refusing to take Clinton administration grants to train new cops because the bill would fall eventually on Pima County. The supes have budget authority and the sheriff controls how he spends it. 

The Arizona Legislature will over-reach and provoke a lawsuit from someone because they don’t buy into the notion that democracy requires competition. They prefer one-party rule. And remember that Thomas Jefferson quote: "The government that governs closest to Mark Finchem governs best."

The TUSD Governing Board voted 3-2 to …

Fire Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo.

Hey. It’s only a matter of time, right?

The 2018 election brought what is likely to be a shift in leadership away from the Stegeman-Hicks wing because Tucson Unified School District Governing Board member Michael Hicks lost. So Mark Stegeman and Rachael Sedgwick are outgunned by Kristel Ann Foster, Adelita Grijalva and new Boardmember Leila Counts.

Two years ago, Sedgwick’s election spelled doom for then-Superintendent H.T. Sanchez.

It’s not like Sanchez has anything to be ashamed of, lasting three years in the grinding molars of TUSD. That ain't bad.

Between 1920 and 1978, TUSD employed just three superintendents. Clinton Rose (1920-41), Robert Morrow (1941-68) and Thomas Lee (1968-78). During the last 15 years, the district has employed seven. 

And let’s get this straight, because there are four-year tenures and there are four-year tenures that seem dog years.

Really, since Stan Paz left in 2004, it’s seemed like the tumult surrounding each superintendent just goes on and on and on, like golden retrievers orbiting the sun. 

The problem isn’t the superintendents. It’s a school board leadership that is too often driven by personal grievance. What’s weird is the school board membership can entirely change out and the problem persists.

The danger in making predictions is that the act of predicting can change how a butterfly flaps its wings and suddenly you've got a tsunami in Belfast.

That’s fine. If I'm wrong, we will have broken some cycles worth breaking and we can toast in 2020 with a twelve-pack of cheap beer and content alligators.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.
An earlier version of this column misspelled Mark Stegeman’s name.

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