I spoke with former State Senator Frank Antenori last week. Actually, that's not entirely true. He spoke to me—really fast and for what seemed like a really long time without a break. I wonder if Army Special Forces training is like what the Navy SEALs get, because he can go a long time without taking a breath.
I was writing about Arizona's teachers and I called him to ask him about something he had said on Emil Franzi's radio show. Antenori used to be in the State Legislature, but he tried to go from the State House to the U.S. House in about a week-and-a-half. Like a political Icarus, he flew too close to the Sun and crashed to Earth.
(I'm going to have to paraphrase here because he talks so damn fast, there's no way I could take down every word. He talks with that self-assured East Coast Italian-American swagger, but every now and then, he reminds me of how Richard Pryor described pimps on cocaine—"Be talkin' all the time but don't be sayin' sh-t!")
Anyway, here we go:
• On why Arizona's teachers are struggling: They're not. I reject that argument. They're like anybody else. They bring a certain set of skills to the marketplace and they get paid whatever the market is willing to pay. Capitalism can work for you or against you; that's the chance we all take. There's no difference between a teacher and a truck driver, really. You get paid what the market can bear.
• On why esteem for teachers, in the Legislature and in the state, has declined so much since the passage of pro-teacher Prop. 301 in the year 2000: It's all the fault of the teachers' unions. They ruined it for their members. (He went on for a long-ass time about the unions, but, after a while, it started sounding like Charlie Brown's teacher.)
• Explaining why pay for Arizona teachers has stagnated or even gone down over the past few years: It's because of the fixation on small class size. They kept clamoring for smaller class sizes, a smaller teacher-to-student ratio, and they finally got it. But then (when the economy went south and funding declined), class size went back up and they had a glut of teachers. Supply is up, demand is down, wages go down. Simple economics.
• On why he despises the ruling of Judge Katherine Cooper, who ordered the State Legislature to pay at least $317 million (and possibly five times that amount) that is owed to schools under Prop. 301: The Legislature doesn't owe the schools a penny. The schools got a significant bump in funding during the (flush) years when the economy was doing well and Janet Napolitano was the governor. It was well over the two percent that the law says is owed for inflation adjustment. In one year, they got an 8 percent bump. That should count toward the 2 percent for four years. Plus, the judge had the nerve to suggest that the interest should be compounded.
• Well, mathematically speaking, it should be compounded: But it isn't owed! Compound interest on zero is zero.
• Why doesn't the legislature just pay the $317 mil and negotiate over the rest?: (Here his voice got kinda' high and he started talking super fast like that John Moschitta guy who used to do the FedEx commercials. In my mind, I came up with my own analogy for what he was saying.)
There was an episode of "M*A*S*H" in which Hawkeye Pierce and B.J. wanted to get an incubator for the hospital unit so that they wouldn't have to send germ cultures down to Seoul and wait for a response. They finally ended up in front of a supply sergeant who had five of them in stock. When they got turned down by the sergeant, they asked why. He said, "Because then I would only have four."
That's what's happening here. The Legislature was able to sock away a half-billion dollars when the House shockingly decided not to follow the orders of the Goldwater Institute in an attempt to turn all of Arizona into VoucherLand. That money is currently designated as a "rainy-day fund" by House Appropriations Committee Chair John Kavanaugh. He says that they need to hold onto that money just in case the state runs a deficit next year due to the Legislature having cut capital gains and corporate taxes, and having given generous tax breaks on investments.
In other words, the state may need that money to make up for the shortfall caused when the people in the Legislature gave away a bunch of money to their already-rich friends. Kavanaugh didn't say that, exactly, but like The Beav's mom in "Airplane," I, too, speak jive.
• On why, exactly, the hate for the judge: She's overstepping her bounds. We have a separation of powers in this country. She's trying to allocate funds, but that's not her job. If I were in the Legislature and they ordered us to pay that money, I would take it out of the Judiciary funding. See how she likes that.
Speaking of which, the word is that Antenori is thinking of moving out of the "hippie haven" in which he now lives and looking for a redder spot from which to launch a political comeback in 2016. You've been warned.