Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011: The year in review in Arizona politics

2011 was a memorable year in Arizona politics, beginning with a horrific January Saturday in Tucson and culminating on a historic November Tuesday, with all sort of goings-on in between and after.

...The biggest story of the year was also the first major story of the year, the most shocking, and easily the most tragic.

On a quiet Saturday morning in early January, Tucsonans were going about their business, shopping at a Safeway and stopping to talk to their hometown Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

That quiet was shattered when a gunman opened fire, killing six people and wounding 13 others. 

Among the wounded:  Congresswoman Giffords, who was shot through the brain.  She is still recovering from her wound, though she is making remarkable progress.

The fatalities (courtesy KVOA):

-John Roll, 63, a federal district court judge.
-Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, Giffords' director of community outreach
-Dorwan Stoddard, 76, a pastor at Mountain Ave. Church of Christ.
-Christina Green, 9, a student at Mesa Verde Elementary
-Dorothy Morris, 76
-Phyllis Schneck, 79

...In any other year, the most surprising story would also have been the biggest political story. 

Russell Pearce, the (in)famous state senator from west Mesa, became the first sitting state legislator in Arizona history (and so far as anyone has found, the first sitting state senate president in US history) to be recalled.  The recall effort was lead by Randy Parraz and powered by the energy of hundreds of volunteers.  While its success was a surprise to many observers (including me), it shocked and infuriated Pearce, his friends, and his allies.

...Arizona's redistricting process was particularly acrimonious.  When the voters created the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) in 2000, we actually wanted an *independent* and impartial commission to lay out the lines for Congressional and legislative districts.  Ten years ago, the Republicans were able hijack the process by successfully planting a Republican into the position of chair of the commission, who is supposed to be independent (as in neither a D nor an R).  They were able to get the maps that they wanted, ensuring control of Arizona's legislature and Congressional delegation all out of proportion to their actual voter registration percentage.

This time around, they were less prepared and an actual independent slipped through and on to the AIRC.

And the Republicans FREAKED.

They spent the summer sending out panicked calls to their tea party wing, and the TP'ers responded by haranguing the AIRC at most of the dozens of public meetings and hearings held by the Commission.  When that didn't intimidate the AIRC into crafting maps that were lopsided in favor of Republican incumbents, they convinced Governor Jan Brewer to remove that independent, Colleen Mathis.

That removal was overturned by the Arizona Supreme Court.  The AIRC then continued its work.  Now, individual legislators are threatening lawsuits because they don't like their individual districts.

This one will definitely trickle over into 2012, and may make next year's "year in review" post.

...Another one that will trickle over into 2012 is the ongoing saga of State Sen. Scott "Fists of Fury" Bundgaard.  He was involved in a February "domestic violence incident".  That is a euphemism for "he beat up his girlfriend by the side of a Phoenix freeway."

Since that February Friday, Bundgaard and his supporters (amazingly enough, he still has a few), he has done everything he can to avoid being held accountable for his actions.

He's invoked legislative privilege against arrest to get out of being arrested, blamed his victim for his violent acts, sued the Senate Ethics committee twice to keep it from looking into his behavior, and pled no contest to a lesser charge.

The Ethics Committee investigation is scheduled to begin on January 5, 2012, so the next chapter of the Bundgaard saga will be written next year.

...In June, the lege held a special session, ostensibly to correct a couple of words in Arizona law so that the Arizona's long-term unemployed could collect some extended unemployment benefits.  The Republicans in the lege ultimately refused to help their constituents, even though doing so would not have cost the state a dime.  That wasn't surprising news.

What was surprising (though maybe it shouldn't have been) was the brazen contempt for the people of Arizona that many of the Rs displayed.  The worst may have been Sen. Don Shooter (R-Yuma).  He show up for the session dressed in a serape and sombrero and swigging from a bottle of tequila.

It was his idea of a joke.

...In yet another development that will continue over into 2012, the disciplinary proceeding against former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas is continuing.  A final decision is due in February, but the State Bar of Arizona is pushing for Thomas' disbarment.

...On the Joe Arpaio front, after one of his biggest allies and closest friends Russell Pearce lost his job in November, Arpaio saw the change energy that had been directed at Pearce refocused on him.  First came withering criticism of his department's sacrificing of sex crimes investigations and the victims of those crimes in order to move MCSO resources into his camera-friendly anti-immigrant sweeps.  Then came a report from the US Department of Justice that detailed the mismanagement of MCSO and the mistreatment of Latinos by Arpaio and his underlings at MCSO.  That has fueled widespread calls for Arpaio's resignation.

One of 2012's biggest stories will be the outcome of this - resignation, retirement (i.e. - not running for reelection), an electoral loss, or an outright win to salvage his political career.

Best guess at this point: Retirement, but it's only a guess.

If  you have anything you think should be added, feel free to do so in a comment.

Have a great new year everybody!

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