Friday, January 01, 2010

Top stories in Arizona politics in 2009

...To Tedski and the writers at Blog for Arizona - because of proximity (I *live* in Maricopa County), this one is going to be Maricopa-centric. Folks looking for insights into political developments in southern AZ should visit those sites; they do a far better job of covering that part of the state than I do.

On to the stories, in no particular order of importance. Other than the last one listed, which is the biggest, imho, one of the year.

...Radio gabber and former Congressman JD Hayworth sidling toward a challenge of fellow Republican, Senator John McCain. Some believe that Hayworth, a darling of the teabagger crowd, is using the possible challenge to raise funds to pay down the legal bills incurred during his scandal-marred terms in Congress. Others believe he is serious about challenging McCain.

I think it is both - he wants to pay off the legal fees associated with his relationship with imprisoned Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff *and* he wants back in elected office. "Radio talk show host" doesn't have quite the same cachet on the ol' resume as does "United States Senator."

Nor does it have the same perks - the current incarnations of Abramoff, whoever they might be, don't have much use for, or reason to bribe "contribute to," people who aren't in office.

...Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas waging what amounts to a war (for the most part, a bullet-less one thus far, but a war nonetheless) against most of the County's other elected officials and the County judiciary. And the lawyers in the County. And anybody in the County who fails to kiss the rear ends of Arpaio and Thomas. And anybody with brown skin. And...

With the state AG's office effectively defunded by Arpaio's cohorts in the legislature, it has fallen to the federal government to rein in the Nativist Twins' excesses. The investigation is ongoing.

...On its surface, not a political story per se, but the continuing decline of newspapers, both in circulation and quality of reporting. The Tucson Citizen closed in 2009, and the East Valley Tribune is on life support. Neither one had a presence at the State Capitol any longer, but will be missed for their abilities to cover local political developments and to push larger outlets to cover the Capitol. Now, most print MSM outlets utilize the services and writings of Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. Fischer is good, really good in fact, but he is only one man with one man's perspective. There are a couple of other outlets covering the Capitol, but their reach is limited.

The Arizona Capitol Times is written for Capitol insiders. While it is available in some locations outside of downtown Phoenix, its core market is concentrated in and around the Capitol and other government complexes located between Central Ave. and 19th Ave. in Phoenix.

The Arizona Guardian is on "online-only" outlet started and staffed by journalists who were laid-off by the EV Trib. While they do some great work there, the facts that they are limited in their exposure to the web and then only behind a subscription firewall limits their influence.

Other than those outlets, the Arizona Republic will assign a couple of young reporters to the Capitol beat, keeping them there until they become too experienced/expensive, then they will be laid-off in favor of folks who are cheaper.

In short, Arizona's eyes on the lege have gotten fewer as the atmosphere at the Capitol has worsened.

That's not a coincidence. As long as they think no one is paying attention to what they are really doing to AZ, the denizens of the Capitol will continue to do their worst.

...The growing rift in the state GOP between the anti-government/taxes/Mexicans (and other minorities)/science teabaggers (ascendant), the Chamber of Commerce types (declining) and the actual public servants (heading for the hills, or becoming Democrats). 2010 could, and probably will be, a tough year for Democrats nationally, but much like AZ bucked the pro-D trend in 2008, it is set up to buck any anti-D trend in 2010.

If only because the Rs have so totally made a mess of things at all levels in Arizona.

...The never-ending quest of certain legislators to protect, for reasons of personal ideology and financial gain, tax credits that siphon money from the state's general fund to "school tuition organizations." The STOs then direct those funds to private schools and preferred charter schools. While some of the STOs are legitimate and trying to do good work, too many play fast and loose with federal laws. In this era of massive cuts to public services, including public education, the funnelling of public revenue away from public uses only exacerbates the problems.

These tax credits are so important to Republicans, they held a special session of the legislature to ensure that they could continue without oversight or significant restriction.

MSM investigations of STOs and their use of the tax credits spawned not one, but *two* committees to investigate and evaluate the entire program. One was a bipartisan task force, one was a rubber stamp formed to approve whatever was presented to them by the Republican leadership in the lege.

Guess which one will see its recommendations take the form of proposed legislation in 2010?

...The one part of AZ's public education system that was in decent shape came under attack from the board members elected to protect and guide it. The Maricopa County Community College District, the nation's largest, saw its accreditation endangered because of the games played by the ideologues elected to its governing board. Things like micromanaging, misuse of resources by board members, intimidation of District employees and students, personality conflicts and more have led to a district known more for the antics of the board than for the quality of the education that it provides.

...Of course, the 600-pound gorilla of Arizona politics in 2009 was the state's budget meltdown.

The budget deficit dominated activity at the Capitol this year. We saw...

- A special session to implement cuts and accounting gimmicks to fix the deficit in the FY2009 budget.

- Bob Burns, the Republican President of the Arizona State Senate, vowing that no legislation would be considered until they had a balanced budget. This led to months of legislators sitting around, doing nothing other than during special sessions. Or when the NRA convention came to town (apparently getting guns in the hands of drunks was more important than even balancing the budget).

Followed by a mad rush in June when Burns lifted his self-imposed moratorium on legislation. Committees literally considered hundreds of bills in a matter of a few weeks.

- In March, the Governor strolling over to the lege to give a speech on her "plan" to address the state's revenue issues. One of her ideas was a referendum on a temporary sales tax increase. Sen. Ron Gould (R-No) walked out of his own governor's speech.

That was the most cooperation with his own caucus that Gould showed all year - he thinks that government should be shut down completely, and that his fellow Rs are slackers.

- The lege passing a budget in early June but the leadership refusing to forward it to the Governor in a game of high-stakes fiscal "chicken." They hoped that by waiting until the last possible moment to send her the budget, she would be forced to sign it.

- A crazy overnight session that extended from June 30 (the end of the fiscal year) into July 1 (the beginning of the new FY). They shut off the clocks on the Senate floor to maintain the pretense that they hadn't violated the state constitution by failing to craft a budget by the start of the fiscal year. Then they locked the doors of the lege so that in the event that Jan Brewer vetoed all or part of the budget that they did pass, she couldn't return it to them before they adjourned sine die.

- An August special session on the budget.

- A November special session on the budget.

- A December special session on the budget.

- None of which worked, because AZ still faces a still-unbalanced budget at the start of the calendar year, with less than half of the fiscal year left to fix it.

Expect more to the same in 2010, because until the voters of Arizona hold their elected officials accountable for their unwillingness/inability to do their jobs properly, those officials will continue to do them poorly.



Martyrmama said...

How...I do you do that?! Keep track of all of that?! Do you have a filing system? What? I mean really. Impressed. I'm impressed. NOT by the 2009 news...but you knew that, right? :)

cpmaz said...

Thanks, Jen. No filing system - just my memory, a blog archive, and, of course, Google. :)

The sad part is that this post didn't cover this stuff in any depth - no discussion of the absolute incompetence of the governor and the leadership of the lege on even the political side (never mind the fiscal side). They couldn't control or even effectively influence their own caucus in the lege.

Nor was there discussion of the growing mess in Scottsdale, where the Rs have taken complete control and are doing to Scottsdale what they have done to the lege, or discussion of the Tucson elections, or...and so on.

Anyway, hope your New Year is a good one!