Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Surrendering Political Power in Phoenix

Posted By on Wed, May 4, 2016 at 1:17 PM

Here's an Arizona civics question: Who are the six most powerful political people in Phoenix? A clue. The answer isn't Ducey, Biggs, Gowan, Cathi Herrod and the two Koch Brothers.

The most powerful people in Phoenix are any six House Republicans who band together and refuse to vote for a bill being pushed by Ducey, Biggs, Gowan, Cathi Herrod and the Koch Brothers. The Arizona House has 60 members, so it takes 31 votes to pass a bill. Republicans have 36 seats. That means if six Republicans decide to join with 24 Democrats to oppose a bill, the result is a 30-30 tie, and the bill goes down.

That's what happened to the Ducey-Biggs-Gowan budget proposal to cut $21 million from K-12 education. A group of Republicans joined together and said they wouldn't vote for it. Just like that, the money was restored. That should have been the beginning. Instead, it was the end. The Mighty 6 decided it was enough to bring the education budget back to zero, no increases, no decreases. They folded their tent, voted for the budget and went home.

Apparently, funding health insurance for Arizona children wasn't important enough for six Republicans—any six Republicans, it didn't have to be the same group—to join hands and say, "No KidsCare, no budget." All the arguments were on their side. Every other state accepted the federal children's insurance plan, every one of them, majority Republican and majority Democrat, hardcore conservative and hardcore liberal. The insurance program wouldn't add a penny to the state budget since the Feds pick up the tab. It would boost the state economy to the tune of almost $80 million in federal money. And it would mean 30,000 kids could see a doctor and have their medical needs attended to. And yet, there weren't six House Republicans who would stand up and say, "Our children's health is too important to end the legislative session without guaranteeing them access to health insurance. No KidsCare, no budget."

And where were the six Republicans needed to demand an increase in the K-12 budget as a necessary condition for their votes—even a token increase, say $30 million, which comes to $30 per student, about 17 cents per student per school day, to show they understand our schools are woefully underfunded and will stay that way even if Prop 123 passes. No six Republicans thought the issue was important enough to tell their leadership, "No K-12 increase, no budget."

I understand the problem renegade Republicans face. If they refuse to go along with their leadership in any significant way, they risk having the full force of the Republican establishment and its dark money puppet masters come down on their heads, making their lives miserable. They might even be pushed out of office.

So what? What about "public servant" don't they understand? Elected officials are there to serve the public, not stay in office as long as they can so they can keep having reporters shove microphones in their faces and pull down their $24,000 salaries. They might argue, "But if I was kicked out of office, I'd probably be replaced by someone more conservative." Again, so what? If you're voting conservative most of the time anyway to protect your job, how much good are you doing? Better to vote your conscience, get something done and take your chances. If it costs you the next election, you walk out of the capitol with your head held high.

And by the way, the same goes for Democrats who are afraid to take strong, potentially unpopular stands out of fear they'll be replaced by a Republican. You're in the minority. Your votes rarely matter. The only real power you have is your willingness to act as a strong, vocal opposition speaking truth to conservative power. If you keep quiet because you're worried about the next election, you're little more than a hoarse voice rasping in the wilderness.

A Taking-First-Steps-in-a-Circle BONUS: My absolute favorite thing I read in this morning's news was an absurdist, circular argument from Republican legislators in the Capitol Times about how wonderful their K-12 budget is. It goes like this. By bringing the K-12 budget back to where it was last year, by not cutting it, the Republicans took a "first step" toward improving education funding. The second step is passing Prop 123. Whenever I heard the "first step" argument used before this, it was that Prop 123 was the first step, and the second step would follow in the legislature. Now I learn that Prop 123 and the budget are each other's first and second steps. Genius! "The circle is complete. Our work here is done."

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