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MOLLY IVINS Especially Interesting in Arizona rizona politics has such je ne sais quoi. They keep having to get rid of these unusual governors whom they have a tendency to elect there. And now, they have a chance to vote for a real pip: The Libertarian candidate for governor this year is a hair stylist \(with very owns a men’s hair salon where the all-female stylists wear lingerie. Last year, Gallant went on a “freedom ride” to protest a ban on smoking in her hometown of Mesa. She rode three horses on a rotating basis across the country to protest “overregulation and unnecessary laws.” Unfortunately, she was charged with animal cruelty when she got to West Virginia, and her three horses were seized. Authorities there said the horses were malnourished and in need of medical attention and had been abused. Gallant failed to appear for trial and is now wanted as a fugitive in West Virginia. She sounds like a perfectly normal governor by Arizona standards. Now, it happens that what is probably the single most important item on any ballot this year is an Arizona initiative for public campaign financing. But so far, Proposition 200 has gotten less attention than another initiative to outlaw cockfighting. I’m telling you, Arizona is “special.” Arizonans for Clean Elections, the beleaguered do-gooders behind Prop. 200 \(including your basic League of Women Voters, United We Stand America, Comcrafted a strikingly intelligent public-financing proposal. It would work like this. A pool of money would be collected from: A $5 voluntary income tax checkoff that triggers a $5 tax credit, just like the one on the federal tax form. Increased registration fees on lobbyists \(a A 10 percent surcharge on criminal and civil fines and penalties. Donation to the Clean Elections fund. The system is strictly voluntary, but it gives candidates strong incentives to participate. Matching funds, up to three times the original qualifying amount, are provided to participating candidates. To receive money from the Clean Elections 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER fund, candidates have to agree to limit their campaign spending and the limits in the Arizona initiative are realistic: $950,000 for a gubernatorial candidate. In order to qualify for public money, candidates would have to meet a qualifying bar. \(One rather doubts that the divine Ms. state senator or representative would have to find 200 donors of at least $5 in his or her district, meaning that a fair number of your fellow citizens have to think highly enough of you to fork over some money before you can qualify. That bar is set higher for statewide offices in ascending order of importance. This is the trickiest part of public campaign financing. You don’t want to set the qualifying bar so low that every Tom, Dick and Jane with an ax to grind qualifies for public money. On the other hand, you don’t want to set the bar so high that only the designated Republican and Democrat can qualify, forever shutting out independents and third-party candidates. Maine and Vermont have already passed public campaign financing, but the Arizona initiative is the most thoroughly wellthought-out effort we have seen so far. The usual attack on public campaign financing is that it’s “welfare for politicians” a cute but meaningless phrase that marries two of the things the public most dislikes about what is really at stake. Because the money in the Clean Elections fund does not come from general tax revenue but from dedicated sources \(you must admit, making the lobbyists pay for part of it is a touch of The advantages of this system are extraordinary; when you get special-interest contributions out of politics, you quite simply restore democracy. The insane system of legalized bribery that now rules politics is ruining our entire nation, and it gets worse every year. Public campaign financing also levels the playing field so that candidates who aren’t big-rich themselves can afford to run, and it means that politicians won’t have to spend most of their time kissing up to big campaign givers. Watching the opposition to Prop. 200 is a remarkable reminder of just how closely people cling to their special privileges. What’s really funny is their indignation that someone would actually want to take their special status away. Lobby money, of course, is being gathered against Prop. 200. It is likely that national special-interest money, tobacco in particular, will kick in against it. One state senator made the ludicrous claim that anyone can walk in to see his senator or state rep and be treated just like a major campaign contributor. “But people just aren’t interested.” Sure. Right. We see that all the time. Joe Doaks and the lobbyist from the oil industry get their phone calls returned at exactly the same speed. Well, Arizona does have this funny hitch in its get-along, and I bet it’s just maverick enough to become the first important state \(with due apologies to tiny slam the brakes on the entire corrupt, money-obsessed system that now passes for American politics. D Molly Ivins is a former Observer editor and a columnist for the Fort Worth Star -Telegram. Her new book is You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You. You may write to her via e-mail at [email protected] startele gram. com . NOVEMBER 6, 1998