The Farley Report from Phoenix #243: 3-9-16

The people of Arizona should have the right to govern ourselves. That ought to be a given. But given the way that concept is under attack by the Legislature lately, it’s going to take all of us fighting side by side to protect our rights against the power of big money. 

After the Farley Report pledge break, I will run down a few of the battles…

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—> Tucson definitely showed up last Saturday morning to speak truth to power as House Appropriations Chair Justin Olson came to town to present his version of the Arizona budget story. He tried to make his case that we need to keep cutting our public investment in our citizens and our students and our economy because we just don't have the money. He neglected to mention the $4 billion annually given away in corporate tax cuts enacted over the last 20 years.

We have the money. The legislative majority chooses not to invest in us.

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When comment time came around, the line went out the door and down the hall. The only reason there are empty seats in this photo is that the former occupants are waiting in line to speak. No one asked for more corporate tax cuts. 

This is a picture of what Gov. Ducey dismisses as "the spending lobby" — everyday people like you and me, asking our leaders to support our schools, child safety, and services to our most vulnerable citizens. It's time we listen to our constituents instead of calling them names.

—> Meanwhile up in Phoenix this week, the legislative majority has been hard at work using its power to take away ours. This afternoon on the floor, the legislative majority passed HB2023, Rep. Michele Ugenti-Rita’s (R-Scottsdale) bill to make it a felony to collect your neighbor’s early ballot and deliver it to the post office or elections office. Yes, this bill would take away your right to vote if you try to help someone else vote. 

There are zero documented cases of someone in Arizona collecting another’s ballot and either tampering with or discarding it. Zero. The reason we heard this bill at all is because Democratic groups have been very effective at collecting ballots — especially in traditionally disfranchised communities — while Republican groups have tried but failed. Since Republicans are in power, their next move was to make ballot collection a crime. 

This is an astonishing theft of voting rights from us all. We should have the right to decide to trust someone else with our voted ballot for delivery, not be treated like children. Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) described the practice of ballot collection in Arizona as equivalent to 19th-century New York Tammany Hall bosses using the police to gather ballots. 

I responded by stating that the situation in Arizona is exactly the opposite. Tammany Hall was about people in power using that power to force people to vote their way. Here in Arizona, the people in power are consolidating their power by taking away the power of the powerless to speak truth to that power. 

Sad to say, Governor Ducey just signed the bill in record time. You might still call in and express your disgust with his efforts at undercutting our democracy. His office number is 602-542-2331.

—> The return of Dark Money: I and my fellow Democratic senators fought an epic 2.5 hour battle yesterday afternoon to improve an election omnibus bill (SB1516) from Secretary of State Michelle Reagan that will unleash new waves of anonymous political money in AZ. We offered and debated 14 common-sense public-accountability and disclosure amendments, all of which failed on party lines, ultimately passing a bill that would serve to further increase the power of big political spenders at the expense of the power of the rest of us.

One of my amendments was the text of SB1403 from 2014, a bill to force true disclosure of anonymous corporate and personal political donations. I developed this bill in a series of stakeholder meetings in partnership with then-Senator Reagan. She introduced the bill, heard and passed it in her Senate Elections Committee, but sadly, it stopped there. I admired her for her political courage, and willingness to work in a bipartisan way to make our elections more transparent.

Sadly, she seems to have changed her perspective. Her Elections Director, a former elections attorney who worked with large corporate clients, was quoted in an article this weekend as stating, “Political participation is depressed through disclosure.” Perhaps if by “political participation” he means “political money” that may be correct, and desirable. 

Our goal should be to depress the power of money, because the current overwhelming force of anonymous waves of out-of-state spending on Arizona campaigns depresses the political participation of ordinary citizens, who should be the people with the power, not the big spenders.

Any election law rewrites should be reached by consensus in a public process, not forced on us in the form of a large amendment that we are only allowed to see three hours before we vote. We asked Secretary Reagan’s state election director who wrote the bill to see the language late last week, and he told us on Saturday, "The partisan attacks this weekend have foreclosed any concessions I'm able to offer at this point." We had not made any partisan attacks. We had asked for information, which he refused to provide. This afternoon during debate he — a state employee — engaged in a Twitter war with media and disparaged elected officials as he sought to spin the debate his way. 

Sad to say, in the end trusting the majority party to set their own campaign finance rules without input from the rest of us is like trusting them to draw their own district boundaries. What you get in both cases is a further entrenchment of majority power and a weakening of the democratic process. That's why voters approved an independent redistricting commission. I worry about the future of our democracy unless we can remove the majority from power soon.

—> Speaking of big private money undercutting vital public institutions, here is a link to last Thursday’s live debate between Sen. Lesko and me over her bill to expand taxpayer-funder vouchers to pay for private schools for all 1.1 million students, with the money being drained from public district and charter schools. 

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If you know of anyone that needs to be educated about the dangers of vouchers, please share this email. The bill is still not moving in the House, but as they say, no bill is truly dead until the session is over. 

—> Here’s a sobering bit of instruction on how the House of Representatives works under the leadership of Speaker David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista), who is now running for Congress in CD1.

I have had one bill (SCM1001) in the House awaiting committee assignment since January 28, when it passed the Senate unanimously, with even my sometime nemesis President Andy Biggs voting for it. I got another bill over to the house (SB1001) on February 25. Neither has been assigned to any committees, a necessary step before they can be heard and voted on. 

Yesterday, the House Democratic leadership team had a meeting with Speaker Gowan and Majority Leader Steve Montenegro (R-Litchfield Park) to ask about the disposition of many unassigned Democratic bills. 

Speaker Gowan was clear. He will not assign my bills. This will assure their demise. Why? Not because he disagrees with the policy therein. He said he doesn’t like who I am or what I stand for. 

Many other Democratic bills will meet the same fate, for the same reason. I don’t think this is what Arizonans of any party want for our government — partisan and personal capriciousness instead of reasoned lawmaking. It’s time for a new majority.

—> Luckily, I am proud to say that my constituents like me for who I am and what I stand for, and that’s what really matters. I was so honored last Friday night to receive the Voice for Children Award from Arizona's Children Association, which does amazing work to help families and children with issues of neglect and abuse. 

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The stories shared by foster kids, foster parents, prevention workers, and tenacious grandmas were powerfully moving. These are people who have triumphed over seemingly impossible challenges through the power of love. All I do is try to have their backs at the Legislature.

—> While there are as yet no signs of an imminent budget deal, one of my priorities is to restore funding to the Arizona Arts Commission, which has been zeroed out since the beginning of the Great Recession, with the exception of the two years in which I was able to get $1 million a year appropriated from the interest off the Rainy Day fund. Why shouldn’t we invest this in arts organizations all over Arizona to get a much larger return on our investment than a New York investment bank?

My resolve was strengthened by a report issued last month by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, which found that Arizona is the only state in the Union that does not appropriate anything to the arts. Artists are the most entrepreneurial sector of our economy, creating real value out of virtually nothing. Arts are key to education, culture, tourism, and our sense of who we are. It’s time to invest in ourselves. I believe I will be able to help make that happen again — I know of several colleagues across the aisle who agree with me and are willing to help. Stay tuned.

—> One quick reading recommendation: I know that state finance issues are not the sexiest of topics, but the fact that most people tune out makes them even more dangerous to ignore.

The Arizona Republic published a front-page feature article today on the proliferation of Arizona tax credits and the way they and sales tax exemptions eat into our revenues otherwise available to invest in our schools, transportation systems, and programs for our most vulnerable citizens. As we look the other way, our treasury is being raided.

Today we heard in Senate Finance yet another sales tax loophole -- this one for charter airlines -- that would add another $3.7 million a year to the more than $12 billion a year we lose in sales tax exemptions. They keep coming.

I've been preaching the gospel of true credit and exemption reform for years, and amazingly, in the article, President Biggs, Governor Ducey, ATRA Director Kevin McCarthy, and the Arizona Business Education Coalition all agree with me. Perhaps change is possible, but only if YOU get involved too -- this cannot be simply driven by the business community this time. 

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—> Finally tonight, speaking of the arts, here’s a pitch for my other life — Steve Farley the artist/photographer. 

 

Just in time for March Madness, you can see my huge new canvas photomurals of Wildcat football, basketball, and fans (as well as a 5'x13' collage of Lambeau Field during a Green Bay Packers game). This artwork consists of hundreds of zoomed-in images, put back together in Photoshop to create a single image that is more real than reality, capturing the entire sweep of the game over the course of hours -- time, light, and action. 

They must be seen in person to be believed, and you can see them at Tucson International Airport, on the departure level, in the Terminal B security line, all day every day in March and April.

You are also invited to the artist reception that will take place Saturday, March 19, 3:30-6pm, during the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, so we will have a large-screen digital TV and basketball-themed snacks set up near the art. Come on by and enjoy the games along with the art alongside lots of fellow Wildcat fans!

And you can get a preview online (and even buy some of the art if you like!) if you surf to http://stephen-farley.pixels.com/ anytime, day or night.

Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator. 

Steve

Steve Farley

Senator, District 9, Tucson

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