Sun, Feb. 16

Embattled Renzi won't seek fourth term as U.S. House rep

As U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi announced Thursday he would not seek a fourth term in 2008, several people with strong ties to Prescott already were considering a run for the seat.

Those potential Congressional District 1 candidates are former Arizona Senate president Ken Bennett, a second-generation Prescottonian whose family owns a small oil company here; Arizona Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes, who grew up in Prescott and whose family still lives here; and Steve Pierce, a second-generation Prescott-area rancher who chaired the county Republican Party and served on the Republican state executive committee. His son previously worked for Renzi.

At least one other person considering a run for the CD1 seat also hails from Yavapai County: Arizona Sen. Tom O'Halleran of Sedona.

Bennett said he will decide by early next week, while Mayes said it could be a few weeks. O'Halleran and Pierce said it could be more like a month.

All are Republicans, which is no surprise since Yavapai is the only one of eight counties in the sprawling CD1 where Republicans dominate. Yavapai County has provided an influential voting bloc for Renzi's successful three election cycles, and Prescott is its population center.

Three Democrats already have announced their CD1 candidacies: Ann Kirkpatrick of Flagstaff, a CD1 native who resigned from her Arizona House seat to run; Howard Shanker, an attorney with offices in Tempe and Flagstaff who represents several American Indian tribes in their lawsuit against the use of effluent for snowmaking at the Snowbowl ski area; and Mary Kim Titla, Arizona's first Native American TV reporter who now publishes the Native Youth Magazine online.

Several more names have surfaced in the CD1 race speculation that's been brewing for months now. They range from former Democratic Senate candidate Jim Pederson to Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Steve Owens, also a Democrat.

The most recent time the CD1 seat was open in 2002, 14 people threw in their hats: seven Democrats, six Republicans and two Libertarians. Two hailed from Yavapai County but none were from the Prescott region, although one had cousins here.

Despite visiting Prescott as recently as Tuesday, Renzi hasn't appeared in public here since the FBI raided his family's insurance office in Sonoita this past April, confirming anonymous reports that the feds were investigating him. Renzi soon stepped down from all his House committee assignments.

Anonymous law enforcement officials told The Associated Press in October they were scrutinizing a Congressional land deal Renzi was considering because it financially benefited James Sandlin, who had been Renzi's partner in a real estate investment company and also was a Renzi campaign donor.

Other news organizations have quoted anonymous sources saying that federal authorities are investigating whether Renzi sponsored legislation to help his father.

Arizona's Democratic leaders are calling on Renzi to quit now.

His campaign fund-raising has been worse than dismal, with a war chest nearly a half-million dollars in the red by the end of his latest report. His attorney costs are sure to increase with the ongoing investigation.

"We knew it (this announcement) was coming," O'Halleran said. "Anybody that took a look at his financial situation had to figure sooner or later it would become a reality."

While O'Halleran has been at odds with Renzi over the Yavapai Ranch land exchange and other issues, O'Halleran said Renzi did some good things for his district.

"Congress in general has hurt the whole process, whether they're Republicans or Democrats," O'Halleran added. "They have to start dealing with the issues of the nation, not just getting re-elected."

If O'Halleran decides to announce his candidacy before Jan. 1, he'd have to quit the Arizona Senate. But he said any serious candidate would have to announce before Jan. 1 anyway.

Mayes would have to quit her Corporation Commission job no matter when she announces. Her term is up in 2010.

Bennett said that's one of the positive aspects for him about running. He reached his Arizona Senate term limit this past year. He joined the board of directors for a Valley-based energy conservation company named EMTA Holdings early this year, and now is president of its new distribution division.

All four potential candidates don't think it hurts to be Republican after voters chose to put Democrats back on top in Congress. CD1 also has more Democrats (38 percent) than Republicans (29 percent). Another 31 percent don't affiliate themselves with any party.

"I think this is a district that focuses on the issues and likes to elect people based on competency and credibility," Mayes said.

Pierce cited widespread pockets of conservative Democrats in eastern Arizona, too.

"It's a huge district, and it's very unique," Pierce said.

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