The Farley Report from Phoenix #126: 3-1-11

Howdy,  Friends O'Farley,

I want to start off tonight with some very good news for a change. To make it even better, it's all about the future of our politics.

The Independent Redistricting Committee -- which as of this morning consisted of two Republicans and two Democrats -- chose a true Independent as its chair, and the final makeup of the five-member committee promises to finally demonstrate true independence from the Legislature as we voters had hoped for when we set up the commission in the first place.

Every ten years, we redraw our legislative and congressional districts based on the new census data. Up until 2000, the Legislature drew those lines, which were too often drawn by legislators to protect their own seats. in November 2000, voters approved Proposition 106, a citizen initiative that removed that power from the Legislature, and handed to an independent board made up of two Democrats, two Republicans, and one Independent chair. Their charge is to create districts that are more compact (and less gerrymandered), preserve minority representation, and maximize competitiveness

The first time this system was taken for a test drive, things didn't quote work out as many people had planned. The commission ended up with a map that consisted of only four or five competitive districts out of thirty, and we ended up with yet another Legislature that was heavily tilted toward Maricopa County Republicans.

This time, many observers (including me) believe the outcome will be very different. The members of the commission are all very focused on increasing competition while preserving minority representation, and technology has advanced to the point where we draw a map that will do both. These decisionmakers are all very well qualified and should do a very good job at what can be a thankless task. Plus, the icing on the cake is that Pima residents actually outnumber Maricopa residents on the commission 3-2 !

As Democrats, we don't need an unfair advantage. All we have ever asked for is a fair chance to make our case to the voters in districts that are drawn so that candidates of any party have a roughly equal chance to win. An added bonus is that more competitive districts tend to favor more moderate candidates of any party. I am very optimistic that fair districts together with an electorate newly energized by the damage being done to our state by extremist politics will present a huge opportunity to swing our Legislature to the moderate middle in November 2012.

The only question will be, how much damage will the legislative majority and the Governor do in the meantime?

We still have not seen anything in writing detailing the proposed majority budget from either house. Certain Republican Senators are currently seeking support for a concept budget that involves much larger cuts than even the Governor's plan.

Specifically, in addition to up to 1.3 million Arizonans in poverty off their healthcare (destroying our healthcare system entirely), they want to double the Governor's proposed cuts to universities and community colleges, pass $150 million in costs on to the backs of struggling counties, and go after K-12 education for several hundred million more.

I will likely have more next week in the way of details. Regarding the education cuts, I want to take us on a little journey to the past, as I quote at length an interesting story from the 5/5/09 Farley Report?????..

I attended a very interesting legislative tour of Sierra Vista's own Fort Huachuca last Friday so I could better understand how this army intelligence base contributes to our nation's security and our local economy. Most of the attendees were Phoenix-based Republican members, although Paradise Valley Democrat Eric Meyer and I greatly appreciated the experience.

The most interesting part of the meeting was the luncheon hosted by the Huachuca 50, a group of predominantly Republican business leaders who are dedicated to supporting and preserving the base. Several of their members, most of whom were also retired colonels, got up in front of us and repeatedly implored us to not just preserve, but also increase the amount of funding we provide for public education in Arizona.

They explained to us that the first thing the Defense Department looks at when considering the future of a mission or whether to close a base is the quality of the schools. They explained that the Fort has more than 250 high-wage positions unfilled because they cannot find Arizonans who are skilled enough to be hired, and they blame that on lack of legislative support for our education system.

Senator Al Melvin (R-SaddleBrooke) got up at the Q&A session and lectured us all that we are funding our schools just fine. He offered as proof that even though we are last in the country in funding, we are still 31st in the country on achievement tests. So he suggested we celebrate that fact as proof that we excel.

Rep. Ray Barnes (R-Phoenix) blamed "teachers unions" for making legislators look bad, as he suggested that Republican legislators are already doing everything they can to help fund public education.

Overall, although the majority legislators may not have listened too carefully, these retired colonel / business leaders were the best possible messengers giving the best possible message to the right people in the right context.

And now, back to the present...

Last Thursday, I retold this anecdote to the base commander of the Army's Yuma Proving Ground, who was up at the Capitol. The man's name is Col. Tom Payne, which is certainly appropriate for a man who seemed to me to have a lot of Common Sense.

His response when I asked him whether it was true that our lack of commitment to adequately funding our public education system was compromising our ability to fill vacant positions at his base, he said that was "absolutely accurate. 

He explained that when a promising applicant with a young family gets offered a position at his base, the first thing he or she checks out is the schools. And he admitted that Arizona's place at the bottom of the states for school funding has chased away many great people. I have heard similar stories from business recruiters.

To make it simple: The philosophy of nothing but cut-cut-cut hurts all of us -- on the right, the left, or in the middle, in the private or public sector, and any income level.

Given the general sense around here that the Governor and legislative leadership are looking to pit education against our healthcare system while slashing both and will do so in the proposed budgets, it looks like the majority up here still hasn't listened to the facts, no matter how attractive the messenger.

Luckily, we still live in a democracy.

If the budgets as proposed go through, the damage to our economy and our education and healthcare systems will hurt millions of Arizonans in very personal ways through lost jobs, lost homes, lost futures, and lost lives.

We must each take it upon ourselves to demonstrate--starting now--to every voter we meet how important is their choice at the next election, even though that election seems far away. The districts will be fair and the candidates will be strong. Those who are hurt will be able to connect the dots between their pain and the people who made the decisions that caused their pain. Over the next 21 months, we can help our fellow citizens turn that knowledge into votes for a new majority.

The next two years will be very hard for Arizonans, and bad things will happen. But if we start organizing now, we can turn it all around in November 2012, and gain the power to begin the tough work of rebuilding Arizona.

Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Representative.

Steve

Steve Farley
Arizona State Representative, District 28
Assistant Minority Leader
Ranking Member, Transportation Committee
Ways & Means Committee
Ethics Committee
Legislative Council
Capitol office: 602-926-3022
Tucson office: 520-398-6000
Official email: sfarley at azleg.gov 

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