Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Thank you to the 1,700 fellow Southern Arizonans who received CPR and first aid training from the Red Cross last Saturday as part of Gabrielle Giffords' Save A Life Saturday. What a wonderful response to a terrible tragedy — because of your commitment, our community is now safer.
We have just passed through a week of highs and lows at the Legislature. Since things have generally been so tough here lately, I will start with the good news.
As you probably heard by now, last Thursday — with seven to ten Republicans alongside all nine Democrats in opposition — all five ineffective, unconstitutional, mean-spirited Russell Pearce driven immigration bills were killed on the floor of the Senate.
The five bills would have required teachers and doctors and nurses to act as immigration enforcement officers, allowed police to impound people's cars if the drivers didn't have the right residency papers, created a second-class citizenship for newborn babies if their mothers didn't have all their residency papers at the hospital at the time of birth, and enacted so many more misguided directives.
What all the bills had in common was that none of them would do a thing to solve the real problems. None would stop the criminal gangs involved in drug, human, and gun smuggling at the border. None would remove the incentive for illegal immigration by improving the local economies of Latin American countries. None would urge enactment of comprehensive reform.
Every one of the bills' provisions would stigmatize legal residents and visitors while continuing to broadcast to the world that Arizona doesn't want tourists, shoppers or businesses to help grow our economy.
That's part of what doomed them, even in a Senate led by Russell Pearce. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and most of the state's top CEOs worked hard to kill all five bills because they agreed it was time to focus on the economy and jobs instead of chasing business away with empty ideological statements.
Several hours before the Senate vote, Minority Leader Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix) and I addressed the board of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce on this and other issues. I told the story of their executive director Glenn Hamer who was publicly taunted by Senator Ron Gould (R-Lake Havasu City) when Hamer testified the previous week against the immigration bills in committee. I suggested to the Chamber that, now that they have been treated the same way we Democrats are treated routinely in this body, they must have a deeper understanding of why we must change the leadership in the Legislature.
Shortly thereafter, many Chamber members sent a powerful letter to all Senators, saying that we need to stop passing ineffective, distracting, divisive bills and instead work together to get the federal government to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
This letter, together with Senator Pearce's broken promises to focus on jobs, convinced the ten Senate Republicans to join Democrats and do the right thing for all Arizonans. Their votes took real courage, considering the fate of previous Republicans who were thought to be too moderate by voters in their primaries, and I encourage you to thank them for their guts.
The emails of the seven Republicans who voted against all five bills are:
Rich Crandall (R-Mesa) email@example.com
Adam Driggs (R-Phoenix) firstname.lastname@example.org
Linda Gray (R-Glendale) email@example.com
John McComish (R-Phoenix) firstname.lastname@example.org
John Nelson (R-Litchfield Park) email@example.com
Steve Pierce (R-Prescott) firstname.lastname@example.org
Michele Reagan (R-Scottsdale) email@example.com
Unfortunately, the battle over the budget is not faring as well. You may remember that I wrote my last report as the Senate budget was just being released. In typical form for the majority leadership this year, that budget was introduced and passed in the Senate the next day — yes, in one day — with minimal public input and minimal debate on party lines.
You may also remember that the cuts are disastrous for most Arizonans. K-12 education is cut by more than $300 million, health & human services by $100 million, and universities and community colleges by $310 million. 280,000 single childless adults in poverty are kicked off their healthcare and the rest get co-pays. 5,200 seriously mentally ill lose their health care, their prescriptions, and their housing.
No money is included for the transplant patients or KidsCare. Class sizes will soar, as will college tuition. 48,000 private sector jobs will be lost in the health care sector. Counties get a $150 million hit. It also eliminates general fund support for the Arts Commission and childcare for parents in poverty.
Early last week, the betting was that the House would work with the Governor and the Senate to come up with a marginally better budget somewhere in between the two — although you must remember that the Governor's budget already contains many of the worst cuts in the Senate budget, so her option is hardly moderate.
The Governor is now working with the House and Senate Republican leadership to see if they can get an agreement together soon. Democrats have not been consulted, despite our efforts to insert ourselves.
Unfortunately, the latest word around here is that House members are interested in making even more cuts to education and state shared revenues to cities, so we could end up driving this state further into the dirt. The timing could be that the House budget changes are introduced as early as this Thursday, with a weekend of arm-twisting and a final House vote early next week.
If the Governor is on board with anything like the Senate budget or worse, she's going to have a hard time explaining those massive cuts to education and our most vulnerable citizens. Arizona voters remember that she promised us that our yes vote on her sales tax last May would save education and our most vulnerable citizens from any future cuts. We'll see how she finesses that very public betrayal of our trust.
Finally tonight I wanted to invite all you public policy and American history wonks out there to watch a great public presentation streamed live on the Web in House Hearing Room Two tomorrow at 11am ( browse to http://azleg.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?publish_id=6 ). It will also be archived for later viewing if you wish.
I have brought to the Capitol one of the nation's leading Constitutional scholars, Professor Garrett Epps of the University of Baltimore Law School. He has written extensively on the history and context of the U.S. Constitution, particularly the Birthright Citizenship and Sovereignty amendments that we hear so much about from some of our colleagues around here. He is so excited to speak to the Arizona Legislature that he paid for his own flight to Phoenix.
His stories are not only informative, they are also very entertaining. If you have a chance, please tune in. I am expecting members of both parties to attend in person, so perhaps the gathering can encourage us to start to use our Constitution as a tool to bring us together rather than a weapon to divide us from one another. Hope you can tune in!