Thursday evening, Zocalo Public Square, along with ASU, put on a panel about how Arizona has moved to the forefront of America's political discussion.
The panel was led by Marc Lacey, Phoenix bureau chief for the New York Times, and included Jennifer Steen, a political science professor at ASU, Art Hamilton, a long-time figure on the Arizona political scene (including more than a quarter-century in the Arizona House of Representatives), and Tom Zoellner, an author, former journalist, and fifth-generation Arizonan.
(left to right - Lacey, Steen, Hamilton, and Zoellner)
The event took place at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA).
Zocalo Public Square has its report on the event here, and some brief offerings on the topic from a group of observers of the Arizona scene here.
ZPS's write-up is decent (if a little too "cheerleader" for my taste), but it did leave out a few important things...like my impressions. :)
...Lacey and the panelists, as expected, knew their stuff, but they made a couple of factual errors, the most glaring of which was Lacey's statement that the US Supreme Court has overturned Arizona's Clean Elections system. If fact, as bad as their decision was, they only set aside the matching provisions section of the law.
However, the few errors were very minor. My biggest quibble with the session was that it was so short.
While the discussion was nearly 90 minutes long, the topic can barely be skimmed in that time. They tried, but most of the more in-depth talk was during the after-event wine social. I didn't stay for more than a few minutes of that, so I can't really write about that part of the evening. Maybe if it had involved beer... :)
The topics covered in the main discussion included the immigration debate, the state's gun culture, the decline of civility in in politics and other civic matters, electoral demographics and more.
Of course, my guess is that both the organizers of the event and the panelists understand that an in-depth analysis was impossible to achieve at such a short event, but also realize that the discussion needs to start somewhere.
...Hamilton delivered the best observations, and the best one-liners, of the evening, illustrating both his long experience with Arizona's politics and his quick wit.
- "The ultimate affront was when a friend of mine, the just-past speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, told me he was glad we were in the news because it made him feel better about Mississippi." (from Zocalo's report on the event; I noted the quote, but my notes sucked :) )
- SB1070 was an "E-ticket ride" to a full term as governor for Jan Brewer
- "If you think the cost of education is high, consider the cost of ignorance."
- When Lacey asked Hamilton to "psychanalyze" the legislature and other leaders of Arizona's politics, Hamilton responded with "I would suggest 'psycho' without the 'analyzing.' "
- One subject area where Hamilton was far more tactful than most other observers (including this one) would be was on the topic of the influence of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, on public policy proposals in Arizona. He said that ALEC may have a conservative bent, but it is a legitimate organization.
I would have said that ALEC exists mostly to put corporate interests with deep pockets together with legislators with shallow morals.
...Steen, the ASU professor, brought an outsider's perspective (formerly on the faculties of Boston College and Yale) and has some experience in partisan activity (former PC, delegate to a national convention and member of the Electoral College). However, it was easy to see her academic background - while she made some dead-on observations, she loves statistics and wants to see some hard numbers of the effect of SB1070 on the number of Hispanic residents in Arizona.
...Zoellner, an author and former journalist, has worked for Gabrielle Giffords and is a fifth-generation Arizonan.
- I don't know Zoellner, but he won my respect early on when he mentioned (and gave credit to) Jon Talton's term about the Arizona economy, the "Real Estate Industrial Complex."
- He noted that in 2010 when he returned to help with the Giffords campaign, he almost didn't recognize his hometown (Tucson) because the political environment there and statewide has become so toxic and "nasty."
- He also noted that much of the contentiousness/increase in nativism in AZ may be due to the generational shift of the state's demographics. A majority of the state's older (>65 years old) is white/Anglo, while a majority of its younger (<18) residents are Latino/other ethnic or racial group), and the older folks are *not* happy about that reality.
Overall, while it wasn't an occasion where most experienced observers of Arizona politics would learn something new or gain some heretofore unknown insight, it was nice to just sit and talk about politics without the shouting of tea party/Republican types. It was a serious discussion for serious people with a serious interest in public policy, and more of this is needed.
There were a few members of the audience that I knew - Steve Muratore of The Arizona Eagletarian was there, asking the question about ALEC that brought forth the tactful response from Art Hamilton. I'd have taken a picture of him asking the question, but it would have been a pic of the back of his head.
Probably not a pic that would add to the story. :))
Also at the discussion was Jerry Gettinger, a friend and occasional contributor to this blog.
Jerry asking a question
The audience. Note the TV cameras. The event was recorded for a November broadcast on C-SPAN.