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While Republican legislators should have been dealing with the budget crisis, they were screwing teachers instead

With a few notable exceptions (Abraham Lincoln's administration comes to mind), America tends to succeed despite its government rather than because of it.

So it is in Arizona. President Harry Truman had the "Do-Nothing" 80th Congress. We Arizonans have the Do-Almost-Nothing (and when you do, it's almost-always wrong) 49th Legislature. Facing a budget deficit in the billions that, by law, must be erased, these people have fiddled while the Grand Canyon overflowed with red ink. The solid Republican majorities in both the House and Senate have spent countless hours feuding with the also-Republican governor. They've made little or no effort at bipartisanship. They will readily admit that the people stonewalling the process are in their own party. And as the months have dragged past, the Republicans who are ostensibly in charge have shown a stunning inability to maintain focus.

Near the end of a marathon special session in which they were supposed to hammer out a budget, they veered wildly off course and passed—without committee hearings or public comment—House Bill 2011, the most blatantly anti-teacher piece of legislation perhaps in the history of the United States.

Among other things, in the case of hiring and/or retention, the bill prohibits school districts from honoring a teacher's many years of service to the district, its students and the community. It doesn't say that the districts don't have to honor those things; it says they can't even if they wanted to.

It also says that district administrators can cut teachers' salaries from one school year to the next or even from one week to the next. It is a vicious assault on Arizona's teachers, a petty, vindictive and incredibly dangerous piece of legislation that never should have been considered, let alone passed, and certainly shouldn't have been signed into law by short-term Gov. Jan Brewer, whose most cogent thought on the subject is, "Uh ... ."

It's also almost certainly unconstitutional, although counting on the courts to do the right thing is as iffy of a proposition as expecting legislators who have gathered to complete a state budget to actually do their jobs without wandering off into VendettaLand.

At first, I was willing to give the knuckleheads the benefit of the doubt. I figured it's like a bunch of frat guys who have been drinking and gambling all night, and when it comes time to go to class, they instead head over to the Administration Building and moon the president of the college. This comes at the end of a grueling session where the legislators can't even agree among themselves on major points. They're handcuffed by the crushing weight of ballot propositions that have been voted into law over the years, and are forbidden from touching a penny of the huge expenditures that fund those voter-passed laws.

(My radio co-host Emil Franzi has suggested that the Legislature put those measures up for a re-vote every 10 years or so, since as many as half of the current Arizona voters weren't here and/or old enough to vote when the propositions first came up. If it was a good idea then—Clean Elections, anybody?—it should still be a good idea now. But this Legislature doesn't have the stones or the brains to give this plan a try.)

Anyway, they're all exhausted, and instead of sucking it up and making the final push, some Bluto in the back yells, "Hey, let's screw over teachers!"

One (or many) of the members should have prompted the body to stay on task, but the witch hunt was on, and like most witch hunts, it was done in the dead of night with neither reason nor understanding. First-term Rep. Frank Antenori, a District 30 Republican, calls the tradition of granting recognition to longtime teachers for their years of selfless service "archaic." The former military guy, who claims that he just wants to get rid of ineffective teachers, has instead voted (along with his cronies) to adopt a policy of, "Kill 'em all, and let God sort 'em out."

Teachers have long been in Republicans' crosshairs, mostly because of the false assumption that teachers vote as a bloc for Democrats, plus they believe in evolution and stuff. The GOP's thinly disguised disdain for (if not outright hatred of) teachers prompted the foolish headlong rush to establish unregulated and unpoliced charter schools back in 1994. While there have been some success stories (SAT factories like BASIS keep getting head-scratching national play), the plain truth is that hundreds of Arizona charter schools have failed, costing the state's taxpayers untold millions of dollars.

Republican gubernatorial candidate John Munger wants to reward outstanding teachers with salaries in the six figures. His fellow Republicans in the Legislature have countered with an offer of salaries in the four figures. And then they blanch at the suggestion that they're anti-education.

However, I'll give them one last benefit of the doubt: Maybe they don't know that what they've done is unconstitutional. After all, it's pretty hard to read the Constitution after you've just finished pissing on it.

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