By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Governor-elect Janet Napolitano has been playing Santa these past few weeks, checking her list and giving jobs to the nicest of her friends. Even a few naughty ones made the cut. The Spike likes to savor each appointment like a Christmas bonbon, unwrapping it eagerly and examining the tasty morsel from every angle before chomping down.
At first, The Spike was pleased. Alan Stephens and Dennis Burke make an intellectually dynamic if somewhat mild-mannered duo as co-chiefs of staff. Betsey Bayless is a wise choice to head the Department of Administration. And word that Susan Gerard will head to the Ninth Floor as a policy adviser fills The Spike's wicked little heart with joy.
Then came last week's environmental appointments. Uh-oh. Throughout the campaign, Napolitano talked the environmental talk. But now that it's time to walk, it appears that she is tiptoeing, at best.
The Spike likes Lori Faeth, director of governmental relations for the Nature Conservancy, who joins Napolitano as policy adviser for natural resources and the environment. Faeth should be much better than her predecessor, Maria Baier, who simply didn't talk to those who didn't see things her way. That included Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr, one of the only consistent, persistent pro-environment voices at the Arizona Legislature.
Bahr, too, is pleased with Faeth's appointment, although the two don't always agree on everything.
"Lori will be a vast improvement over the current folks, because she is very open and willing to talk to and listen to a variety of interests and I think will . . . be a quick study," Bahr tells The Spike.
But it's downhill from there. Pols on both sides of the aisle are less than pleased to see Steve Owens take the helm at the Department of Environmental Quality. Word was that Napolitano wanted a high-powered attorney. And that's certainly what she got. But she also got someone whose claim to fame is many years in the service of Al Gore hardly the best résumé for working with the Arizona Legislature. The Republicans have already blasted Napolitano for naming an ultra-liberal to her administration. And many on the left would rather have seen Chris Cummiskey get the post. He's known for standing up to big business interests did it for years in the Legislature and after losing the Secretary of State race last month is looking for political work.
Michael Winkelman, the new head of the state Land Department, is another unknown. Commercial real estate guy, and Friend of Janet that's about it. And this is another department that has been beleaguered.
But The Spike really wants to know what was she thinking when she picked Herb Guenther to head the state Department of Water Resources.
Robin Silver, chairman of the Center for Biological Diversity, calls Guenther's appointment "a kick in the teeth to the environmental community."
And the same sentiment from Bahr, who says: "If you see a bad piece of environmental legislation, his name is probably on it. He really carried the water for agriculture almost literally."
That made sense a century ago, before large cities. But today agricultural interests still get more than 80 percent of Arizona's water, which infuriates environmentalists.
Guenther is also the longtime administrative assistant for the Welton-Mohawk Drainage and Irrigation District. Despite the district's clunky title, the post wields tremendous financial and political power.
The irrigation district that straddles the Gila River east of Yuma is masterful in its ability to suck down federal subsidies for irrigation projects. The district has received more than $500 million in federal grants.
Under Guenther's direction, the district also destroyed several thousand acres of rare cottonwood riparian habitat that emerged in the wake of the 1993 floods in order to build a new flood-control levee.
"Herb has been hostile to any conservation concern his entire career," Silver says.
The Spike tried to get Guenther to talk about his new appointment, but, alas, Guenther did not return calls placed to his irrigation district office.
Silver says environmentalists are deeply concerned that Guenther will gut a long-term project to return water to Fossil Creek, a tributary to the Verde River. The center negotiated an agreement that will require Arizona Public Service Company to return water it now diverts from the creek to operate a small hydroelectric power plant near Childs that APS has agreed to close.
The water is supposed to be returned to the Forest Service, under the oversight of the Department of Water Resources. In recent months, the Mogollon Rim towns of Strawberry and Pine have been clamoring for the Fossil Creek water to be diverted to their communities, which are facing a serious water shortage after years of residential development depleted groundwater wells.
"Now you have got someone who purely represents consumptive interests heading the agency that's supposed to oversee the transfer of water rights from APS to the Forest Service," Silver says.
Guenther's appointment, Silver says, is a clear signal Napolitano is going to be hostile to environmental concerns.
"This is not how she portrayed herself during the campaign," he says.