Thursday, July 8, 2010
State Rep. Steve Farley delivers a bulletin from the state Capitol:
While there is usually not much free time around the Farley house, I have been spending what little there is lately reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's amazing book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln", which relates the turbulent times before the Civil War and the courage of Whig and later Republican leaders as they took on the evils of slavery at great personal and political risk.
The political climate in Arizona these days calls out once again for that type of courage. Demagogues in the legislative majority are aiming to use that climate to attack those who are different from them for political gain.
Corporation Commission candidate Barry Wong (R) wants to cut off all utilities to anyone suspected of being here illegally. In the summer that is tantamount to a death sentence without a trial. Sen. Russell Pearce (R-Mesa) now wants to revoke citizenship from people who were born here to parents who were not citizens, a move which would flout the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and take us back to an age when we denied citizenship to former slaves. A poll released this week purportedly shows that two-thirds of Arizona voters would support such a move. But positive polling does not make it right.
Yes, we need to pressure the U.S. government to do its Constitutional duty by enacting comprehensive immigration reform — securing our border by cracking down on human, drug and gun smuggling while at the same time enacting a legal path to citizenship that includes getting right with the law by paying back taxes, fines, learning English, and getting in the back of the line to apply for citizenship.
No, we need not enact useless and unfunded distractions for our law enforcement officials like SB1070, a law which does nothing
but make our communities less safe while scapegoating citizens, legal residents and visitors of Hispanic backgrounds.
On June 17, I had the opportunity to make that case to Jan Brewer as we both addressed the Southern Arizona Chambers of Commerce in Oro Valley. You can read the Northwest Explorer's account here:
After Sen. Al Melvin called Republicans "freedom-loving patriots" and Democrats "secular socialists", I talked of my 19 years of experience running my own business, something that freedom-loving patriot Russell Pearce has never once experienced. I asked the assembled business owners and leaders in the room which party really has the best interests of the economy in mind: Republicans who have been choosing ideological grandstanding regardless of how many jobs are lost and schools are closed, or Democrats who have been pushing for more investment in the high-tech and clean energy economy, our schools, and our universities?
38% of our retail sales in the Tucson metro area come from legal Mexican visitors who drive over the border each day to leave their dollars at our stores and malls, returning home to Mexico each night with their purchases while we deposit their money in our bank accounts. What message does it send to declare them all "reasonably suspicious" and have Jan Brewer declare that all immigrants are drug smugglers? Can our Tucson economy afford to tell Mexican shoppers to stay home and keep their money in Mexico?
What message does it send to potential tourists from other states when our Governor talks of Arizonans trembling in terror from crime gone wild and beheadings in the desert, even though the facts don't back her up? Can our tourism industry afford to lose tens of thousands of American and international visitors chased away by the fearmongering of our Republican leaders?
Fear has traditionally been a popular political motivator. But it is also one of the most corrosive. We must not allow this dangerous acid to eat at our souls and tear us apart from one another. We are one Arizona. We are here because of our community's inclusiveness, the cultural richness, and the embrace of the landscape and the people.
And now we must stand together to resist those who would seek political gain through an appeal to the small shadowy parts deep within each of us. This political struggle is not easy, nor is the outcome certain, but the engagement is absolutely necessary for the sake of our state and the people we love. In this struggle, we can regain our sense of unity, hope, and progress. Please join me.
There was some legislative action happening in the Capitol this past month. I am a member of Legislative Council, a joint committee of House and Senate leadership, one of whose tasks is to approve ballot language for voter propositions. Statute says that the language should be clear and impartial, so that voters know what it is we are being asked to approve.
Two of the propositions were referred by the Legislature to repeal voter-approved programs — First Things First and Growing Smarter — while keeping their funding sources in place so that the money can be used as the Legislature sees fit instead of the way the voters wanted.
First Things First was approved by voters in November 2008 to institute a tobacco tax to fund early-childhood education and health programs, which are in especially desperate need in these recessionary times. The program has been known as First Things First from the beginning by media, supporters and opponents. During debate in the Legislature over the repeal, both sides referred to the program exclusively as First Things First.
So it was of some surprise to me that the language draft didn't include the words "First Things First" anywhere. Instead, the program was referred to as the "Early Childhood Development and Health Fund". Nor was there a statement that the program had been voter approved.
Furthermore, the draft said that the money was being currently spent on two things: administration and programs, with the clear implication that half was spent on administration. In fact, the law clearly states that no more than 10% can ever be spent on administration, and First Things First currently doesn't even spend that much.
Combined with the lack of the commonly known name, the clear intent of the ballot language is to bamboozle people into thinking they are being asked to vote to kill a generic bureaucracy-heavy government program.
I offered amendments to fix this wording, but my amendments were voted down on party lines. The same thing happened with the repeal of the voter-approved Growing Smarter program — the words "Growing Smarter" were left out, and the description of the program was negatively slanted. In that case, I offered to amend the bill to include the original Republican-controlled Legislative Council-approved ballot language from 1998. That, too was voted down on party lines.
But when it came time to vote on ballot language for the proposed ban on racial preferences in hiring, the ballot explanation included the terms "affirmative action", even though those words were not included in the legal language of the initiative. I pointed out the contradiction here (which was confirmed by staff), and called it a sad inconsistency that we would propose putting commonly known language in a conservative-supported proposition, but not in the First Things First or Growing Smarter repeals.
Speaker Kirk Adams (R-Mesa) was the Chair, so he voted last. In his explanation of vote, he was breathtakingly candid. He addressed me and said he would answer my question about why the Republicans supported adding commonly known language in this case, but not in the other cases. "Mr Farley, " he said, "it's because you don't have the votes."
This was another moment in the life of the legislature when the blatantly partisan nature of the place was laid bare. Our job was to approve clear, impartial language to clarify the issues before the voters. In this case, politics trumped transparency.
I do like to end these reports on some good news. One of the best things to happen in the past week was the failure of the Proposition 13 Arizona initiative to make the ballot. This would have slashed our state's property taxes, upon which our education system, our city governments, and especially our county governments depend. Estimates showed that its enactment would have eliminated another $800 million yearly from the State coffers, and likely would have driven most counties into bankruptcy, taking many school districts with them. Thank goodness Arizona voters had the sense not to sign on to such a disastrous step.
Another bit of good news is on the healthcare front. on July 1, the national healthcare law took a major step forward in providing quality affordable healthcare for those of us with pre-existing conditions. By January 2014, no insurer will be able to discriminate in price or otherwise against pre-existing conditions, but as of now there is an affordable federal healthcare plan that you can join called PCIP.
I have worked tirelessly to preserve and expand HealthCare Group, the Arizona plan that covers small business owners and employees. Unfortunately, two years ago, Legislative leaders removed sole proprietors from eligibility, tossing many off healthcare for good, especially those with pre-existing conditions. If you are one of those hardworking entrepreneurs, the new federal law now offers you hope.
If you want to apply for that new plan, and if you want to find out more about the healthcare law and new opportunities for everyone to get good healthcare, please visit the newly created website http://www.healthcare.gov
I have given it a spin and found it really useful and really easy to use. If information is power, then clearly presented information is even more powerful. Here is a video tour of the site on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCkX_1utL9M
The site will be even more useful in October, when it becomes more like a Priceline or Expedia for health care shopping — you will be able to compare all the plans available to you and compare their prices and features. Right now, there is also an excellent interactive timeline feature that demonstrates when the different features of the new healthcare law will go into effect at http://www.healthcare.gov/law/timeline/index.html
Finally tonight, I want to thank the many amazing organizations that have offered me their endorsements in the primary election so far. Among them are: Arizona Education Association, Planned Parenthood, Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, Arizona AFL-CIO, Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association, Sierra Club, Arizona Medical Association, AFSCME Arizona, Arizona Association of Realtors, Las Adelitas, Arizona State Building & Construction Trades, Equality Arizona, and the UA Arizona Pipe Trades Local 469.
Most of all, thank you for all your support. Please tell your friends and family to support me in the upcoming election so I can continue to serve you — the ballots for the primary will be in the mail in the last week of this month.