That was the potent political cocktail served up Monday, Feb. 5, when the House Homeland Security and Property Rights Committee heard the "domestic terrorism" bill that would have made it a crime to form armed patrols to fight crime outside the purview of law enforcement.
Since Phoenix Democrat Kyrsten Sinema first sponsored House Bill 2286 two weeks ago, she says she's gotten more than 1,300 e-mails, including a collection of insults and death threats. One that stuck out in her mind: "You slimy slut, it would be poetic justice if you were gunned down by an illegal alien in your home."
Others called her a "fascist bitch" or a "stupid Mexican," Sinema says.
"Then there were others that were of a more violent nature toward me, focusing on the need to rape me or violate me as a woman," she adds.
Last week, the death threats led to the spectacle of the House being evacuated after Sinema was one of several lawmakers to get an odd-looking package in the mail. As it turned out, the package was merely a curious collection of quasi-legal mumbo-jumbo, rather than a special delivery from some wannabe Unabomber.
Sensing that she was stirring up more trouble than she wanted, Sinema tried to withdraw the bill, but conservative Rep. Warde Nichols, chairman of the House Homeland Security and Property Rights Committee, insisted on giving it a hearing. Sinema suggests it was less an act of fairness and more an effort to put her in the spotlight.
"I didn't want to have a hearing on the bill, because I knew the only reason that Warde Nichols wanted to have a hearing on the bill was to have a circus in which to attack me," Sinema says. "We all knew the bill was going to go down in flames. Why would I want to do a hearing on my bill when I know it's going to fail and could increase the level of threats to me?"
In the packed hearing room--the meeting drew an overflow crowd--Sinema defended the legislation, saying that neo-Nazis and white supremacists were packing heat and looking for trouble on the border. She reminded her fellow lawmakers and the audience that the Ku Klux Klan had been Arizona's first unofficial border militia.
Minuteman Civil Defense Corps founder Chris Simcox turned up to testify that the legislation was a violation of his group's First Amendment right to peaceably assemble, and the Second Amendment right to bear arms. He argued that it would be unsafe for members of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps to be unarmed when they encounter dangerous drug dealers and immigrant-smuggling coyotes.
Democrats like Sinema and Rep. Tom Prezelski of Tucson got in some digs at Simcox, bringing up a previous conviction for violating federal firearms statutes. But Simcox batted aside suggestions that he was running a crew of neo-Nazis, saying his group was made up of patriots dedicated to protecting the nation's borders.
After about four hours of testimony, seven of out the 10 members of the committee voted to kill the bill. Then they took a second vote to really, really kill the bill.
The afternoon served as an example of how the porous border remains a contentious issue at the Capitol--and how it remains on the minds of Arizona citizens. A recent Arizona State University poll showed that one out of three voters surveyed identified illegal as the one issue they'd like to see the Legislature do something about this session. (Education came in second, with 20 percent saying it was their top issue.)
Chairman Nichols, who did not respond to a request for an interview, praised the Minutemen, complaining that the National Guard troops on the border had no more power than "Wal-Mart greeters." He used the opportunity to plug a package of bills he had introduced to put the guardsmen into a primary role with regard to border security.
Nichols introduced his legislation after last week's House Homeland Security and Property Rights Committee hearing, where lawmakers questioned Maj. Gen. David Rataczak, who is in command of the guard troops along the border, about an January incident near Sasabe. Republicans suggested that the guardsmen had retreated from their position when they were confronted by armed Hispanic men who were making their way back into Mexico; Rataczak countered that the soldiers had properly followed the rules of engagement set by the Bush and Napolitano administrations.
Nichols, a Gilbert Republican, has since filed legislation aimed at giving the National Guard a primary enforcement role on the border. Nichols wants to spend $10 million so the state can set different rules of engagement and provide guardsmen with immunity from civil liability as long as they act within the scope of their duties.
Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed a similar National Guard spending plan last year, saying it was the federal government's responsibility to pay for border security and the legislation undercut her control of the guardsmen.
It appears the debate over "domestic terrorism" isn't finished. Earlier this week, 30 Republicans sponsored HB 2752, which would allow prosecutors to charge illegal immigrants with domestic terrorism if they break state law or "protest against a person who is a citizen of this state or of the United States by an act that threatens, intimidates or results in a physical injury to another person."
· Sen. Karen Johnson, a Mesa Republican, wants to amend the Arizona Constitution to strip state courts of the ability to hear cases related to whether a government official is acknowledging "God as the sovereign source of law, liberty or government." If passed by the Legislature, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1026 would have to be approved by voters in November 2008.
· Since negotiations with the city of Tucson are at a standstill, Cox Communications was expected to find a lawmaker this week to sponsor legislation to undermine the city's negotiating ability by automatically reducing the cable company's obligation to provide public, education and government channels, as well as the fees paid to the city once the current contract between Cox and the city expires later this year.
· Rep. Steve Farley's bill to protect voters from political phone calls, HB 2596, has not been scheduled for a hearing.
The Joint Legislative Budget Committee has released its analysis of this year's budget picture. JLBC staff estimate that the state will have about $10.47 billion available to spend, or $822 million in new revenues above and beyond this year's budget.
Once you figure in formula adjustments for spending--such as $293 million in new K-12 education spending, $163 million on health and welfare, $105 million on state employee pay, insurance and retirement costs, $136 million in school construction, $51 million on higher education, $20 million for the Department of Corrections and miscellaneous other costs--you've blown through about $777 million, leaving a $45 million balance for new spending.
Napolitano has offered a more creative approach to juggling the books to free up dollars for additional programs, according to the JLBC analysis. For example, she frees up $389 million by borrowing money for school construction and $89 million by covering costs associated with the Department of Public Safety with gas taxes rather than the general fund. She also borrows roughly $400 million for highway construction by financing bonds for 30 years rather than 20 years.
Those maneuvers would allow Napolitano to pay for some of her initiatives, including higher teacher pay ($69 million), raises for university employees ($30 million), 2,000 more prison beds ($43 million), support for a biomedicine program ($25 million) and more financial aid for college students ($6 million).
Finally: Disappointing numbers arrived in the latest state financial report. The JLBC notes that December collections of $910.7 million were $9.8 million below projections for the month. While still 4.9 percent higher than the same month one year earlier, the December 2006 numbers fell short in sales taxes and personal income taxes, although corporate taxes exceeded estimates.
For the first six months of the fiscal year, the state is $77.3 million ahead of projections.