The name Steve Bannon may not mean much to most people in Southern Arizona, but to those involved in Biosphere 2, it brings back memories of a troubled time.
Bannon, as you may know, is the new head of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Bannon, previously an investment banker and movie maker, arrived there from Breitbart News, an online outlet founded by the late Andrew Breitbart that has become the Voice of Trump over the last year.
Long before, though, Bannon was deeply involved in Biosphere 2. And, as in his more recent activities, Bannon apparently acted the bully around the enclosed mini-world near Oracle.
On April 1, 1994, financier Ed Bass, after spilling tens of millions more dollars than expected on the project, moved to take it over from the original management team and partner John Allen.
Bannon acted, essentially, as the heavy for Bass, Tucson attorney Larry Hecker recalled when I asked him Thursday. Hecker represented the original management and was away watching the UA basketball team in the Final Four when sheriff’s deputies and federal officers arrived at the Pinal County site to serve legal notice of the ouster that day.
Bannon, Hecker said, “was the new sheriff, or dictator.”
Bannon’s actions soon ended up as part of a civil suit filed by some of the original Biospherians against the new guard. In court, he admitted speaking angry words that echo some more recent accusations against him.
Back then, the Tucson Citizen reported, citing court testimony, he vowed to kick the ass of Abigail Alling, one of the original Biospherians, who returned from Japan to warn those still inside about the takeover. When Alling wrote a statement spelling out her concerns about safety in the Biosphere, he threatened to “ram it down her (expletive) throat.”
Bannon also called Alling a “self-centered, deluded young woman” and a “bimbo.” Those were just a few of the alarming anecdotes from his reign.
This year, when a female Breitbart reporter accused Trump’s previous campaign manager, Corey Lewandoski, of assault, Bannon essentially banished her. That prompted another Breitbart writer, Ben Shapiro, to resign and pen a statement lamenting that, “In my opinion, Steve Bannon is a bully, and has sold out Andrew (Breitbart’s) mission in order to back another bully, Donald Trump.”
Steve Bannon’s departure from the Biosphere 2 in the 1990s was not the last Bannon involvement there. His brother Chris has remained an administrator up until recent years and still works for the UA’s College of Science, which now runs Biosphere 2.
Trio hand in microphones
Tucson conservatives are losing two treasured talk-radio voices this month as Jon Justice and Joe Higgins leave the air.
Justice took off earlier this week for Minneapolis-St. Paul, where he’ll be on the air this weekend at the Minnesota State Fair booth of his new station, KTLK 1130 AM.
Justice, whose real surname is Logiudice, became Tucson’s first FM political talker in 2007. In the Twin Cities, he’ll rejoin Andrew Lee, who produced the show here. There, they’ll be on-air partners.
“I’ve been doing it long enough solo,” Justice told me from the road Thursday.
Another Tucson talk-radio partnership is breaking up. Joe Higgins is leaving “Wake Up Tucson,” the morning show he hosted with Chris DeSimone for more than seven years on KVOI, 1030 AM. Higgins will be pursuing other ventures, leaving the 6-9 a.m. slot to DeSimone, who will bring in guests for up to an hour in the third-hour slot.
Justice and Higgins have been important enough for some local Republicans that party chairman Bill Beard put out a farewell statement, thanking them for their contributions.
Another well-known voice, Dan Kruse, is also leaving the air this week. Since 2010, Kruse has been the local host of national news show “All Things Considered” every afternoon on KUAZ, 89.1 FM.
Kruse, an ethnomusicologist and jack of all trades in the realm of performance and production, is retiring and will return to those pursuits. He’ll be replaced in the afternoons by current morning host John Weaver.
Another John Winchester mailer is pushing the envelope in the race for Pima County supervisor in District 1. Three weeks ago, I noted that his opponent, incumbent Ally Miller, is extremely unlikely to face a criminal charge and jail time for how she handled public records, despite his claim in a mailer.
Now, Rep. Mark Finchem is crying foul on another Winchester mailer. This one includes a picture with Legislative District 11 seatmates Finchem and Vince Leach alongside House Speaker David Gowan. In the caption, Winchester notes he worked with Gowan on a pro-Israel piece of legislation.
What’s implied, though, is an endorsement, which Finchem said in a news release he is not offering: “To be clear, the use of my image for a political marketing piece was not authorized by me or my staff, and while it may appear to imply that John Winchester is endorsed by me, he is not.”
Finchem, who raised eyebrows with his conspiratorial comments at the forum where the photo was taken, has endorsed Miller.
Months ago I maligned the National Border Patrol Council’s early endorsement of Donald Trump, among other reasons because nobody really knows what Trump thinks about the issues.
This week offered a case in point. Council President Brandon Judd, a former Tucson Sector agent, appeared with Trump on a televised town hall with Fox News host Sean Hannity. He noted appreciatively that Trump asked union leaders for their advice on what needs to be done about immigration and the border, then turned it into policy.
But in a different part of the same Hannity town hall, Trump appeared to reverse himself on one of his key immigration policies, the idea that people illegally in the country should be deported. He told Hannity: “There’s no amnesty, but we work with them.”
Work with them?! That is exactly what many of Trump’s supporters describe as amnesty. Then Thursday, Trump backtracked again, telling CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “There is no path to legalization unless people leave the country.”
Melvin, Gray ... Tobin?
You can see their names on signs around town: Al Melvin, Rick Gray and Andy Tobin, the self-described “conservative team” running for Corporation Commission. But on other signs, there are only two names: Melvin and Gray.
What happened to the team? Well, two of them, Melvin and Gray are clean-elections candidates, and the third, Tobin, doesn’t have much money.
“The ones (signs) that have the three names, he paid for his third, but he didn’t have enough money to join us on the new signs,” Melvin said. “Wherever we can do it, it’s still a team of three. If he can afford it, his name shows up; if he can’t, it doesn’t.”