Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Daily Agenda: He Couldn't Duck the Filibuster Forever

Posted By on Thu, Jan 20, 2022 at 8:44 AM

click to enlarge Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly - CHRISTINA DURAN/TUCSON WEEKLY FILE PHOTO
Christina Duran/Tucson Weekly file photo
Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly

A stunning lesson in political courage (this is sarcasm) ... Mesa college kids get a boost ... And another chance to talk about diapers and tampons.

After spending his entire (albeit short) political career ducking, dodging and dancing around questions about the filibuster, Arizona U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly announced yesterday that he would support a one-time rollback of the rule to pass a voting rights package championed by Democrats. 

Not that it mattered.

By the end of the day, Arizona’s other Democratic Senator, Kyrsten Sinema, stuck with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin to ensure that their party’s attempt to revert to a “talking filibuster” for the package failed. And with it, so did their attempts to pass what Democrats describe as a once-in-a-generation change to protect voting rights and democracy. (Business Insider has a good explainer of the provisions contained in the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. And if you keep hearing the word “filibuster” but aren’t quite sure what it means, NPR has a nice explanation, including a video.)

It wasn’t political courage that led Kelly to stake out a position after two years of non-answers about “doing what’s best for Arizonans” to the simple question of whether he wants to keep or eliminate the filibuster: The clock simply ran out on his ability to dodge.

After months of inaction
on an issue that animates the Dem base (and can prove a strategic preemptive attack against Republicans’ attempt to restrict state voting laws in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s loss), Democratic leaders mushed forward Wednesday with an ill-fated attempt to make Sinema and Manchin blink first.

Instead, the move only highlighted Democrats’ division and inability to pass major priorities, despite their lock on both chambers of Congress and the presidency. 

And while Kelly’s belated and limited support for removing the filibuster hurdle from voting rights legislation is already fueling Republicans’ attacks on him as he heads for re-election this year, the failed vote also put the spotlight again on Sinema. Wednesday’s developments included Bernie Sanders entertaining supporting a primary challenger, and a group of donors announcing they would ask for their money back and back a more progressive candidate if she didn’t vote to scrap the filibuster. 

With his approval levels falling fast ahead of what is expected to be a bruising midterm, President Joe Biden yesterday held his first solo press conference in nearly a year and faced tough questions about his ability to pass an agenda. 

And on that front, Biden hinted about executive orders he could implement if Congress can’t pass the package (and signaled an openness to breaking up his Build Back Better plan), and offered a dark premonition about what could happen without the new voting laws. 

“(The 2022 election) could easily be illegitimate,” he said. “Imagine those attempts to say the counts are not legit.  … The increase in the prospect of it being illegitimate is in direct proportion of us not being able to get these reforms passed.”

The New York Times last week outlined what a watered-down compromise election reform package might entail, noting that there’s some bipartisan support for legislative changes to protect democracy from another attempted coup by former President Trump’s backers in state legislatures. 

Both passing and not passing changes to the filibuster are electorially risky for Arizona’s Democratic senators. But if they can’t at least find a way to ensure that voters, not Arizona lawmakers, pick the winners and losers of elections, that may not matter.

Dozens of students at Mesa Community College got money through a Mesa program launched in 2021 to ensure Mesa high school graduates could attend community college fully funded, if they meet certain requirements.

Like other promise programs across the country, the Mesa College Promise fills in after grants and scholarships, funding a student for any tuition not covered by FAFSA or other aid.

So far, 85 students received funds from the Mesa College Promise Program and enrolled at Mesa Community College last fall. In total, 153 students applied, 96 of whom were eligible for the funding. Of those, 85 enrolled, City of Mesa spokeswoman Ana Pereira said. Another round of applications for next fall opens in March. 

Funding for the program came from $182,500 in donations from people, foundations and corporations for the 2021 fiscal year. This fiscal year, the City of Mesa paid $100,000 for the program, and donors kicked in another $22,500, according to Dawn Zimmer, media relations manager at MCC. 

It’s a tiny drop in the bucket compared to MCC’s overall enrollment: More than 16,000 students attend the community college. 

But promise programs elsewhere successfully get students enrolled and help them stay in college, particularly those who have financial need, research has shown. A similar program at the state level for Arizona’s public universities launched recently, too, after getting approval from the Legislature.

These programs come as college enrollment nationwide dipped during the pandemic, especially at community colleges. And for a state with lagging college attainment levels, getting more students in the door is crucial.

We heard the health care inside isn’t good: Tempe police recommended that former Arizona Department of Corrections head Charles Ryan be charged with two counts of aggravated assault on a peace officer and one count of unlawful discharge of a firearm, the department announced Wednesday. The potential charges, which the county attorney will decide whether to file, stem from an armed standoff at Ryan’s home where he allegedly pointed a gun at police. If Ryan were convicted of the potential charges, he could end up in a prison he once oversaw. 

No one knows how the internet works or how to use it: Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office told Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ office that she will be breaking the law if she doesn’t provide a way for voters to sign nominating petitions online, the Arizona Mirror’s Jeremy Duda reports. The letter comes after redistricting messed up the ability to sign in the newly formed districts, and after Hobbs said that mess-up wouldn’t be fixed in time to help candidates this cycle. 

We’ll take your money, again: The federal government laid out a plan in Phoenix on Tuesday to revamp how it manages and mitigates wildfires, the Republic’s Brandon Loomis reports. The new plan includes billions of dollars and expansions of forest thinning and watershed restoration programs. 

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Further proof that no bill ever dies: Tuesday’s committee hearing in the House Education Committee over House Bill 2112, which would make it illegal to teach lessons about racism and privilege, included some examples of the types of lessons Republican Rep. Michelle Udall wants to eliminate, Capitol Media Services’ Howie Fischer writes.

All the things he didn’t say: Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman took some time during her maternity leave to write an op-ed about how little Gov. Doug Ducey mentioned teachers — much less provided any assistance for them during this stressful time — in his last State of the State. Ducey didn’t mention schools’ most pressing need: a fix to the funding cap problem, Hoffman notes. 

He was an Oath Keeper though: Ray Epps will talk to the Jan. 6 committee in a private interview on Friday, Politico’s Kyle Cheney reports. As we noted before, Epps became a central figure in post-Jan. 6 theories that claimed he was part of or an informant for the FBI, which he has denied and no actual evidence has supported. Epps Truthers pointed to Epps’ removal from the FBI’s list of people wanted for the insurrection as an indication he was an inside man.

We don’t want to know what’s in the deep ocean anyway: A desalination project, which would remove salt from ocean water in Mexico and bring it to Arizona, would be a big swing (if that’s where lawmakers decide to spend water money this year) because it costs a lot and takes a lot of energy. Arizona Public Media’s Andrew Oxford dissects whether now is the time for that kind of big commitment. 

It's one banana, Michael. What could it cost, $10?: Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake paid $50,000 to Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s Floridian escape pad, for a fundraiser she held there that didn’t result in much money coming into her campaign afterward, the Republic’s Stacey Barchenger reports. The real Trump bump came after she won the coveted Trump endorsement before the fundraiser event.

Pima County isn’t the only one: Pima County disproportionately jails Native Americans, so the county is working to safely reduce its jail population and work out racial disparities through diversion programs and warrant resolutions, Cronkite News’ Kylie Cochrane reports. 

Colombia not Columbia: Colombia wants to be trade buddies with Arizona, the new Colombian ambassador to the United States tells the Republic’s Russ Wiles after a recent visit to our state.

Saving education by smoking so much weed: The Maricopa County Community College District got more than $17 million from marijuana taxes last year, the first year of recreational sales, KTAR reports. 

Democratic Rep. Daniel Hernandez is giving it another go with his quest to make diapers and menstrual products tax-free.

House Bill 2534 would exempt diapers and menstrual products like tampons and sanitary napkins from sales tax. More than a dozen states exempt menstrual products (and some states don’t have sales taxes on anything). 

Similar efforts in previous legislative sessions made it to committee hearings, a rarity for bills introduced by Democrats. And the hearings have at times made some men noticeably uncomfortable to be talking about basic hygiene products.  

In one committee hearing in 2017, for example, former lawmaker Jay Lawrence wondered aloud what a menstrual product was. In the 2018 version of the hearing, Lawrence said, “I love babies. I love children. I love older people who require diapers,” before voting against the bill.

Today, we’re following up on yesterday’s laugh about snowflake Arizona Sen. Wendy Rogers (the concept, not the town) melting under the sunlight of Capitol scribe Howie Fischer’s questioning. 

The spat spun off into a number of fun Twitter threads. But what caught our eye was the incredibly unfunny antisemitic and threatening responses that Rogers’ supporters lobbed at Fischer on the alt-right social networks — including threats to “squirt him with lighter fluid and tase him.” 

Rogers — a member of the far-right Oath Keepers, which stockpiled guns and ammo for the Jan. 6 insurrection — didn’t address her supporters’ penchant for violence, despite spending most of the day arguing with reporters, complaining about other reporters and claiming the campaign newspaper she created was better than real newspapers. (The only edition unsurprisingly carried the headline “Wendy Rogers Is Making America Great Again.”)

Anyway, now seems like a good time to point out her Senate Concurrent Resolution 1008, which urges Congress to declare Antifa a domestic terrorist organization for intimidating, threatening and attacking journalists and others. 

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