He's Not Just a Member ...
Arizona millionaires aren't known for breaking ranks over social issues. In fact, if they have pet causes, they're usually self-serving. Golf-course and movie-theater preservation come to mind.

Into this staid company marches John Sperling, who has made the burning issue of marijuana legalization his cause celebre.

Sperling is president of the Phoenix-based Apollo Group, which runs the University of Phoenix, a private, accredited institution offering bachelor's and master's degrees in subjects ranging from business to nursing.

According to Forbes magazine, the company has revenues of $282 million with an annual net of $30 million.

In 1996, Sperling donated more than $460,000 to Arizona's so-called Medical Marijuana Initiative, which sought to give doctors the power to prescribe pot, along with other Schedule 1 drugs. The initiative passed by a 2-to-1 margin, but quickly was gutted by conservatives led by Governor J. Fife Symington III, who contended the state's voters didn't understand what they had approved.

Using paid petition gatherers, the initiative's backers recently filed more than 100,000 signatures with the state in an attempt to restore the measure by placing it on the ballot again in 1998.

Now, an almost identical initiative has surfaced in Washington state. So, too, has Sperling's money--$212,000 of it, to be exact.

Sperling has said that he wants to see drugs legalized because he is disappointed in U.S. drug policy. He has called the war against drugs "unwinnable," saying that until Americans attack and defeat the demand for drugs, the problem will never go away.

The Flash thinks that's an admirable, sensible policy whose time has come. Plus, think of all the primo bud we could score!

Reporter: Aliens Taught Me
Ever wonder where those bloodthirsty muckrakers who dredge up headlines for the National Enquirer, the Star and the Globe cut their journalistic teeth?

Try the Arizona Republic.
That's where ace tabloid reporter David LaFontaine--a self-described member of the "vermin media"--spent the summer of 1987 as one of the Pulliam Fellows, a prestigious internship that's one of the coveted cub-reporter coups in the biz.

But apparently, LaFontaine's R&G days paled in contrast to his later adventures in the Fourth Estate. In Poison Pen: The Confessions of Two Tabloid Reporters--a recently published expose of the supermarket-tabloid game, co-authored by his ex-wife--LaFontaine's Republic gig scarcely warrants an author-bio-jacket-blurb mention.

Instead, readers are treated to tales of hot-air-balloon surveillance of the Liz Taylor/Larry Fortensky nuptials and eavesdropping on Whoopi Goldberg/Ted Danson whoopie sessions from an adjoining hotel room.

Produce Ze Peppers
KFYI-AM radio host Bob Mohan, like the rest of the local Rush Limbaugh wanna-bes, drones on and on about personal freedom, attacking the intrusion of government in our lives. Unless, of course, you don't happen to be white.

Responding on August 1 to a caller unhappy about the assistance the Chandler Police Department gave to the Border Patrol in a late-July roundup of suspected illegal immigrants, Mohan said that he didn't see a problem with police stopping people in grocery stores and barbershops and--in his words--asking for their papers.

"If you look Mexican, they [the police] have every right to call these people out," said Mohan.

The shooting of Mary Rose Wilcox wasn't the only buzz in the Maricopa County Administration building last week. Two dressed-for-success, faceless young bureaucrats were overheard discussing New Times' cover story on the county's environmental hazards and possible securities fraud ("Risky Business," Chris Farnsworth, August 14) on their way for a midmorning snack.

Faceless bureaucrat No. 1: So, did you read that story in New Times yet?
Faceless bureaucrat No. 2: Hunh-uh.
FB1: It was, um, interesting. Could be a problem for us there.
FB2: Why, because we didn't catch it?
FB1: No, we're okay there, because that was all upper management . . .

It's too soon to tell if the county will be in trouble with the federal agencies whose regulations they seem to have ignored--but at least these two up-and-comers have already learned the first rule of government bureaucracy: Kick the blame upstairs. But remember, boys, the second rule is: All walls have ears.

Facilitate This
The spokesflack for Sumitomo Sitix, Suzanne Pfister, was in Prescott last week, spreading her wisdom on risk communication (whatever that is) to the Arizona Association of Industries.

Pfister usually communicates risk in stories about Sumitomo by calling environmentalists' concerns a bunch of hooey. But she's no stranger to the other side of the street when it comes to spin-doctoring environmental hazards. Pfister, with the PR firm of Nelson, Robb, DuVal and DeMenna, has also worked for Maricopa County as a paid contractor, facilitating a risk-management retreat and sitting in on meetings with the county's environmental services division.

That connection might serve Sumitomo well in the future, since the chip maker has released hazardous emissions, and County Attorney Rick Romley is investigating ("Sabotage at Sitix?", Tony Ortega, August 7).

Of course, some people might say that Pfister's double-dealing could constitute a conflict of interest. Not The Flash, you understand, some people. But hey, if you're going to work on covering up . . . er, cleaning up hazardous material, where better to train than with county government?

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.