Sunday, September 09, 2012

Part two: Arizona Politics 101 - "Peanuts! Crackerjack! Scorecards! Ya can't tell the players without a scorecard!"

Note: The first part of this post is here.  That one was mostly about abbreviations; this one will have some of that, but it is more about the specifics of Arizona politics, particularly regarding the state capitol.

Again, let me be clear - neither this post nor its predecessor is meant to be considered definitive or complete.  They're just primers.

Some of the players and forces at play at the Capitol:

- Arizona's governor (currently Jan Brewer) is handicapped by the fact that Arizona, like most western states, utilizes a "weak executive" model of government. The governor's two biggest political tools are the veto pen and the job title, and the public soapbox that goes with it. Otherwise, the governor can't do much that isn't specifically approved by the legislature.

The current governor isn't known as the brightest light in the nighttime sky, but she's bright enough to have held office (of one sort or another) since the early 1980s. Not sure if that is evidence that she is underrated intellectually, or that the intellectual requirements necessary to get into elected office in Arizona are overrated.

Brewer ascended to the governor's office, which is physically located on the ninth floor of the Executive Tower at the AZ Capitol (hence, the occasional use of "the Ninth Floor" to describe the administration/governor's office in general) when her predecessor, Janet Napolitano, accepted the job of US Secretary of Homeland Security in 2009.

Brewer won election to her own term in 2010 after she signed SB1070, the infamous anti-immigrant law that has basically been eviscerated by the courts. However, the bill was a strong enough sop to the nativist wing of the AZGOP to clear what had been a crowded primary field, and to propel her to a general election victory over Democratic nominee Terry Goddard.

She has basically been a rubber stamp for the Republican caucus in the lege, wielding her veto pen  only on certain extreme measures where the legislative support for a measure was weak enough that her veto wouldn't be overridden.

She is term-limited and will not be able to run for re-election in 2014.

The main "power behind the throne" is well-connected lobbyist Chuck Coughlin. Reputed to be the brains of the Brewer political operation, Couglin was/is employed as a lobbyist by the Corrections Corporation of America, which just received a contract from the state for private prison cells that the state doesn't need.

- Arizona's state legislature is the seat of the most political authority, and the most political mischief, in the state. It may be shortened as "the lege".

Where to start, where to start....?

How about with...

...term limits have created a climate where experience is rare and ignorance is king.  State level term limits allow for officeholders to hold a particular office for a maximum of eight years (four two-year terms for legislators, two four-year terms for people in statewide offices such as governor or attorney general).  Some legislators get around the term limits by switching chambers periodically, but most don't stay around long enough to get good at the job.  The term limits aren't permanent - the officeholder only has to take one term off from an office to reset the term limits clock.  However, as the law is written, even one day sworn into an office counts as a full term.  As such, both Governor Jan Brewer and AZSOS Ken Bennett are term-limited and will not be eligible to run for reelection to their current offices in 2014.  Both first gained their current offices when Janet Napolitano resigned from the governor's office in 2009 to take a promotion to the Obama Administration and D. C.  Brewer succeeded to the governor's office from her previous position as AZSOS, and Bennett was appointed to fill that office.  In 2010, both won election to full terms. (Yes, this part is more than a little repetitive, but it merits coverage in both the sections about the governor and about term limits.)

...the Arizona Constitution (and school civics textbooks all over the state) says that the legislature is a bicameral body consisting of the House of Representatives and the State Senate; the practical reality is that the two chambers of the lege are the Center for Arizona Policy (social engineering agenda) and the Goldwater Institute (big business lobbying). Those organizations don't write *every* bill that is passed by the lege, but if either one opposes a measure outright, said measure dies. Quickly. Painfully. Publicly.

- - Note: in addition to the abbreviation "CAP", the Center for Arizona Policy will also be referred to as the "Center for Arizona Theocracy Policy" because most of the measures supported by CAP are all about imposing the strictures of their preferred religion upon the rest of society.

- - Note2: "The Goldwater Institute" will be used in most references, though the abbreviation "GI" may be used on occasion. GI professes to be a "non-partisan think tank", though they never seem to support the ideas of Democrats, and the "analyses" they provide always support policies that enhance corporate profit margins.

Players in the lege include Republicans Sen. Steve Pierce and Rep. Andy Tobin, the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House, respectively. Both are from the Prescott area and will be returning to their respective chambers in January as they are unchallenged in the general election. Democratic Rep. Chad Campbell, the House Democratic leader, is likely to return to the House as his is a Democratic-leaning district. Campbell is rumored to be eyeing a run for the Ninth Floor in 2014. Over in the Senate, the Democratic leadership is in flux. Current Democratic leader David Schapira ran for Congress and will not be returning to the Senate. In addition, there will be a number of new senators, so I cannot predict who will emerge as the leader.

Other names to watch include Rep. John Kavanagh (R), chair of the House Appropriations committee; Sen Michelle Reagan (R), a likely 2014 statewide or Congressional candidate; Sen. Rich Crandall (R), Rep. Steve Farley (D), Rep. Katie Hobbs (candidate for Senate, who, though facing a Republican in the general election, resides in the same Democratic-leaning district as Campbell, above).

There are others, but until all of the elections sort themselves out and we see who ends up where and what the breakdown in each chamber is, the names will wait.

One person that we won't have to watch at the Capitol is Russell Pearce, nativist icon and the former Senate president who lost a recall election in 2011.  He lost a 2012 primary in his attempt to return to the senate.  Look for him to move into a bigger role in the AZGOP while biding his time, waiting for another opportunity to run for elected office.

One group that should be a bigger player, but isn't, is the office of the Legisislative Council (Lege Council). The lawyers on staff there turn bill proposals into legalese (aka - take the ideas of legislators and the ideas of lobbyists that legislators put their names to and turn them into actionable legislative proposals). They also analyze and report on the legal viability of those proposals. Those analyses tend to be direct, accurate, and thoroughly ignored by the lege if the analyses aren't in abject agreement with Republican ideology.

Hence, the pattern of Arizona being sued over various laws, and usually losing, all at taxpayer expense.

Another organization at the Capitol, one with much greater sway than the Lege Council, is the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC). It serves as the Arizona Legislature's version of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). It is basically a number-crunching operation, both collecting and analyzing Arizona-centered economic data, and performing fiscal analyses of bill proposals under consideration by the lege.

- Arizona's Judicial Branch, which includes Justice Courts (overseen by JPs), municipal courts, county court systems, the AZ Court of Appeals, and the AZ Supreme Court, is pretty widely respected for its fairness and professionalism. At least, it is respected outside of Arizona. Here in AZ, because the courts say "no" to the lege too often, the ideologues in the lege are constantly trying to reduce the independence of the courts.  The Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court is Rebecca White Berch.  She is a Republican, but she is one of my favorite public officials in the state.  She's smart, fair, and starts her meetings on schedule.  Trust me when I say this, that is very unusual at the Capitol.  If a meeting that she's running has an agenda stating that its start time is 9 a.m., it starts at 9 a.m.  Across the Wesley Bolin Plaza at the lege, if a committee agenda states that the start time is 9 a.m., that meeting starts betweeen 9 a.m. and dusk.  And come budget time, the "dusk" part is negotiable.

- Arizona's lobbyists, including the aforementioned Coughlin, CATP, and Goldwater Institute, are very influential here.  There are far to many to list them all, though Civil Arizona offers a list of the 20 most powerful ones here (while I disagree with the ranking order of the list, it pretty effectively covers the top 20); the Arizona Capitol Times has a complete list of lobbyists here; the AZSOS offers a search function for its database of registered lobbyists here.  Because of term limits and normal turnover, the lobbyists (and a few members of the staff at the Capitol) have become the lege's institutional memory.

- The core media group at the Capitol includes the Arizona Capitol Times, the Arizona Republic, and Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services.

...The Cap Times may be about the goings-on in state government, but their target audience isn't the people of Arizona, it's the lawyers, lobbyists, and other insiders who profit from the Capitol.  While not known for hardcore investigative reporting, they will publish pieces about legislators and other electeds that are more than puff long as the pieces don't reflect poorly on the lobbyists who actually pay for their subscriptions (legislators get their copies gratis).  Receives a large chunk of their revenue from legal notices (corporate filings, notices of bank auctions, etc.), so once a year, some legislator runs a bill to end the requirement that such things have to be published in a newspaper.

And once per year, the publisher of the Cap Times trots over to the lege, says "hi" to old friends and acquaintances, and beats back the measure.

...The Arizona Republic is the state's primary newspaper.  They do have a couple of reporters who are basically assigned to the Capitol beat, and those reporters are pretty good, but their editors and publisher won't let them off the leash to do pieces that involve serious research and investigation.  Usually, all that they are allowed to do is to take dictation.  As a whole, many people consider the AZRep to be a conservative newspaper, and while there is a lot of truth to that, I think that they are more a "corporate profit" newspaper that looks to protect the status quo, even if that status quo is of dubious long-term benefit and viability.  Yes, they've endorsed "moderate" Republicans over extreme Republican in primaries, but they will almost always endorse Republicans over Democrats in general election races.  It's all about who they think will best secure the short-term profitability of Arizona's real estate industrial complex and other corporate interests.

...Along with the lobbyists at the lege, Howie Fischer is the Capitol's version of institutional memory.  He's been down there forever...well, since before the last time Arizona had a governor who both entered and exited office because of the results of an election (the mid-1980s).  He is the reporter for a news organization named "Capitol Media Services"  He's also the photographer, editor, publisher, salesman, chief cook, and bottlewasher for Capitol Media Services.  In other words, he *is* Capitol Media Services.  Basically, he is the capitol correspondent for all non-TV news outlets except for the Cap Times and AZRep.  He does some good work, but his business model is such that he needs access to legislators (and staffers) as sources.  Hence, he can't afford to tick them off by actually investigating and writing about things like corruption at the Capitol.  He's also a Republican (I think), but does a decent job of not letting that shade his reporting from the Capitol. 

Well, not too often, anyway.

...On television, the Maricopa County-based political talk shows are Horizon (KAET, a PBS affiliate, hosted by Ted Simons), Sunday Square Off (KPNX, an NBC affiliate, hosted by Brahm Resnick), Politics Unplugged (KTVK, an independent station, hosted by Carey Pena and Dennis Welch), and Newsmaker Sunday (KSAZ, a Fox affiliate, hosted by John Hook).  The first three are good and seem to be pretty evenhanded.  I can't comment on the Fox station's program because it is on at 7:30 on Sunday freakin' morning!, so I've never seen more than the last few minutes of it.

That's it for now, but I'll update when developments call for it.

1 comment:

S.C. said...

Holy shit! I'm not the only liberal in AZ! Nice blog :)