The Big Fix 

The Arizona Legislature aims to correct your mistakes

You voters keep making a mess, but the Arizona Legislature is here to clean up after you.

For example, you keep picking a heretic like Republican John McCain to represent you in the U.S. Senate. To prevent that from happening in the future, Rep. Russell Pearce, an East Valley Republican, has proposed doing away with the newfangled notion of allowing voters to pick their own U.S. senator.

House Concurrent Resolution 2061 would ask voters to amend the Arizona Constitution to have senators chosen in a caucus by a political party rather than through the primary system that allows the average voter a say in the outcome. How very 19th century!

Next on the agenda: stripping women of the right to vote and wear pants.

HCR 2061 had not been scheduled for a hearing as of press time. It's as likely to survive the legislative process as the idea of putting all our jailed illegal aliens in a private Mexican jail--which, as it turns out, is another one of Pearce's bright ideas.

But other "reforms" of the electoral process have stronger legs. F'instance, Sen. John Huppenthal has basically dusted off last year's failed initiative effort to torpedo the Clean Elections program and introduced it as Senate Concurrent Resolution 1036, which would ban the use of public funds for state campaigns. Huppenthal is a perfect example of the failures of Clean Elections to produce better lawmakers; for his last three legislative races, he received more than $120,000 in public money.

SCR 1036 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week on a 5-3 vote. If that legislation runs into trouble later in the session, Huppenthal has Plan B: SCR 1026, which asks voters to completely repeal Clean Elections.

Rep. Chuck Gray has sponsored an identical version of SCR 1026 in the House, HCR 2024, which has been only assigned to the Rules Committee, which means there won't be any hearings on the merits of the bill.

Huppenthal and Co. want to ask voters to derail Clean Elections, because they can't themselves change the law without a two-thirds majority, because it was passed by voters. But a simple majority vote puts the question on the ballot--and bypasses Gov. Janet Napolitano's desk, so a veto isn't an option.

Here's another constitutional amendment lawmakers want to put on the ballot: HCR 2045, which allows lawmakers to cut funding for voter-approved programs, retroactive to 1998. The target here is Healthy Arizona, the proposition passed by voters that extended health insurance to people who earn below the federal poverty line. For reasons that lawmakers can't quite suss out--just guessing here, but could it be because we live in such a low-wage state?--the health-care rolls continue to grow, costing the state increasing amounts of money. So instead of finding more money to help poor people find decent medical care, lawmakers figure the solution is to cut back on eligibility.

You voters are also exercising your democratic rights a little too much in your local jurisdictions, what with the way you're running referenda all over the place. But lawmakers are once again here to help with House Bill 2053, which allows towns with a population of fewer than 50,000 to increase the number of signatures necessary to force a referendum.

Other bills of interest that are speeding through the Legislature:

· A postcard to Washington urging D.C. lawmakers to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning gay marriage made it out of the House earlier this week. All Southern Arizona lawmakers voted along party lines, except for Rep. Pete Hershberger, a Republican representing moderate GOP District 26, who crossed over to join the Democrats in voting no. (Hershberger's seatmate, Rep. Steve Huffman, voted for the postcard, even though he said he saw no reason for an amendment to the Arizona Constitution late last year.)

· Two bills traveling under the title of "beautification" that would loosen state billboard regulations, HB 2461 and 2462, have cleared both the transportation and rules committees and are headed for a full vote in the House. Besides the false advertising, the bills do nothing but benefit the outdoor advertising industry, even allowing them to put up obnoxious, blinking signs that change messages every six seconds.

· A bill to criminalize "animal and ecological terrorism," which would basically allow law enforcement to tag minor vandals as terrorists, was vetoed by Napolitano last year, but a resurrected effort is underway in both the House and the Senate. The House version, HB 2295, got yanked from the environment committee when backers feared it didn't have the votes to pass and got shuttled over to the House Judiciary Committee, where it passed 6-3.

The Senate version, SB 1333, has passed the judiciary and rules committees.

Want to call your lawmakers and give them hell? The toll-free number is 1-800-352-8404. To follow bills or figure out who represents you, visit www.azleg.state.az.us/.

More by Jim Nintzel


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