The Farley Report from Phoenix #133: 4-20-11

Howdy,  Friends O'Farley,

I apologize for any syntactical errors -- I got 90 minutes of sleep last night.

Tuesday morning, Representative Albert Hale--former president of the Navajo Nation--offered a blessing on the floor that served to comfort many of us all day and all night as we fought through one of the most emotionally wrenching ends-of-session that we have ever experienced. One part of the blessing went something like this:

There is peace and beauty above us.
There is peace and beauty below us.
There is peace and beauty around us.
There is peace and beauty within.

Rep. Hale's blessing was a good reminder that out there beyond the Capitol in the rest of Arizona, peace and beauty and hope remain, despite the battles and ugliness that marked the last day of the first regular session of the 50th Arizona Legislature. We bulled our way through 86 bills in one 20-hour floor session. Most of those bills were, like the budget, debated and voted in the wee hours of the morning with few public observers present. 

One focus of the ugliness was Senator Ron Gould's (R-Lake Havasu) bill (SB1610) to name the Colt Revolver the official state firearm. During debate, Rep. Hale spoke powerfully about how a symbol of power and violence has very different meanings depending on who wields that symbol. In the case of native peoples in Arizona, the Colt Revolver has brought tremendous suffering. Honoring the tool that caused that suffering as a state symbol is a huge insult to all native peoples, and all victims of violence.

Despite some ugly and insulting remarks from Reps. Carl Seel (R-Anthem) and Vic Williams (R-Oro Valley),  Rep. Hale's eloquent appeal carried the day -- swaying ten Republicans to join all 20 Democrats in voting no. The bill failed 29-30. For a moment, it seemed that hearts were opening to overcome ideology and partisanship in the name of empathy and understanding.

That didn't last long.

About an hour later, Rep. Jerry Weiers (R-Glendale) convinced Rep. Steve Montenegro (R-LItchfield Park) -- who had voted no -- to move that the body reconsider its action on the state firearm bill. Republicans agreed to reconsider, and the ugliness descended once again. Three of the Republicans who previously voted No changed to a Yes, and the bill passed and headed to the Governor.

I asked members on the floor why anyone would want to ram through a state symbol over the vehement protests of nearly half the members of a state Legislature. Isn't a state symbol supposed to unite us in civic pride, not divide us from one another? Is this really who we are as a state that one faction wants to collectively force the rest of us to identify with an implement that terrorized the descendants of the first peoples of Arizona? Is there any redemption to be found in slapping the face of one of these descendants of the first peoples when he registers his objection?

The firearm bill's passage after two separate votes over the course of several hours of work stands in stark contrast to the lack of interest by the majority in making a simple one-word change in current statute that would have enabled 20,000 suffering Arizona families to continue receiving unemployment benefits, at no cost to the State of Arizona.

We Democrats discovered this glitch in our state law that will cause these families to lose their benefits as early as May, and cause our economy to lose $4.5 million a week. We found a germane bill to amend so that the problem would have been fixed, but we were refused the opportunity by the majority, so those folks will now be forced to suffer needlessly.

Another dispiriting defeat last night around 3:15am was the reappearance of Rep. John Kavanagh's (R-Fountain Hills) recycled (from 2008) attempt to single-handedly censor and destroy the publicly created and privately funded 9/11 monument in Wesley Bolin Plaza, which I wrote you about a couple of weeks ago. It was widely considered dead until it came up on a Senate floor calendar around 1:30am.

Although the bill had not previously been heard in the House this year, it was approved and sent to the House for a final read anyway. I spoke at length about the hundreds of public meetings, the inclusion of victims' families and first responders on the 9/11 monument commission, and the ironies of censoring a monument to our freedoms, to no avail. This effort by 59 Republican legislators to declare what a monument should be, based on a "public" process that concluded at 3:30am with no public testimony, is now headed to the Governor's desk after a vote along party lines.

Which does actually provide some hope. Governor Brewer has already stood up recently to reclaim some of Arizona's lost reputation by wielding her veto pen in some pretty good ways, killing bills that would have: Allowed guns on college campuses; Required original birth certificates and circumcision certificates from all candidates running for office (including President); Undercut the President's national health care law; and Expanded the private school voucher tax credit program that takes money away from public schools.

Most of those 86 bills that passed last night should be potential veto candidates, including HB2397 which was amended in conference committee to allow unfettered mining operations in the Petrified Forest National Park, SB1186 which was also amended in conference committee to once again expand the private school voucher tax credit program, and the almost impossible to believe Tea Party Special License Plates bill that served as my moment of zen a few weeks ago.

I was able to obtain one big victory last night. Here is the background: Sen. Gould added an amendment to HB2005 that would have eliminated all local residential zoning requirements from an area within two miles of a state university or military installation. In one fell swoop this would have endangered Davis-Monthan and many of the UA-area neighborhoods who would be unable to stop the destructive onslaught of private mini-dorms.

The sponsor of the underlying bill, Judy Burges (R-Skull Valley), agreed with me that the Gould Amendment was a bad idea, and we were able to work together in conference committee to remove the provisions entirely. Whew. One terrible thing averted, at least.

Another major focus of mine over the past six days has been the issues and legislation (HB2067)surrounding the future of UMC, UA Healthcare (UAH), the UA College of Medicine (COM), and the Board of Regents (ABOR). After talking with many people on all sides of the issue, here are the facts as I came to understand them. Sorry about all the acronyms -- I'm just trying to save space.

ABOR has been working with the UMC/UAH board as UMC and UAH entered into a merger, and have been encouraging (in conjunction with many of the UMC doctors) a closer relationship with COM. ABOR issued a couple of resolutions that suggested a smaller board for UMC/UAH, and a new CEO be hired with expertise in practicing medicine, academia, and governance.

Some dissident board members and the CEO (who resigned last Wednesday and received a $1.7 million severance package) objected to the direction of ABOR and the majority of the UAH board and decided to do an end-run by pursuing some personal connections in the State Senate. These connections led to a meeting last Monday wherein Senate President Russell Pearce (R-Mesa) and Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert) decided to push through a bill to take over control of UMC/UAH from ABOR and give it (and the $4 to $5 billion in associated assets) to a private, self-perpetuating new board appointed by the Legislature but accountable to no one except themselves.

This struck me and many other Tucsonans as wrong, including every one of the clinical department heads at UMC and every one of the research heads at COM. I obtained statements from Drs. Lemole and Rhee, trauma center heroes of January 8, who reaffirmed their commitment to the ABOR direction and the idea of a world-class hospital that also is a world-class research and education institution. Dr. Rhee's statement is worth reading in its entirety because it particularly worries me that even with the improved language I helped negotiate, we may be putting at risk our ability to keep him here:

"I came to Tucson to build a program that will be nationally and internationally renowned and to further science. I want to be able to contribute with original ideas and see them come to fruition. This means I came to Tucson to be in academia, which is to treat patients, teach and innovate. If I can?t do this here then I guess I will go somewhere else where I can."

In conference committee, I was able to work with Biggs, Pearce, Speaker Adams, and Senate Majority Leader Tobin to develop a compromise that only takes UAH/UMC out of the control of ABOR for 18 months, keeping the same board as now. While this is better than the first Biggs/Pearce option, it may still put our world-class doctors at risk of leaving, so I urge a veto.

This epistle has gone on quite long enough, as did the session -- although it is one of the few in Arizona history to have actually sine died at the constitutionally required 100 day mark.

At the end of last night, somewhere around 5am, Rep. Terri Proud (R-Oro Valley) spoke on the floor to express her gratitude for Speaker Adams for his leadership. She then launched into a hateful attack on Democrats, which might be worth watching once the archives are posted on the azleg.gov website. I certainly hoped for a little more grace, given that Republicans this session won nearly everything they wanted, and Democrats (and most Arizonans) lost nearly everything we needed. Somehow, all those victories weren't enough to make most Republicans happy.

Perhaps it was our disapproval of their priorities, or simply our refusal to shrink away quietly, that bothered them. Other speakers from the Republican side got up to praise the Speaker, but did not include Democrats in their remarks. I decided to stand up and praise the Speaker as well as every single member of the House and Senate, regardless of their party, for doing their best to represent our mutual constituents in the best way we know how. 

I thanked Republicans and Democrats alike for being willing to stand up day after day, engaging in vigorous debate in order to keep alive the flame of our democracy that was handed to us by our founders and that we must keep alive until it is time to pass it to the descendants of our American democracy. I urged members that we commit ourselves to coming together, regardless of our views, to honor that democracy and serve out constituents. Disagree, and respect.

The attacks from the rest of the evening continued to sting my fellow caucus members, as did the cuts from earlier in the session to education, health care, local governments, jobs, small businesses, and the economy. That sting will hurt us all as the full effects of the policies approved this session play out across the state in the coming years.

I return to Rep. Hale's blessing, wherein we can gain comfort and strength as we remind ourselves of who we are, where we live, and who we serve, and gird ourselves for the next battles for the soul of our state and our democracy.

There is peace and beauty above us.
There is peace and beauty below us.
There is peace and beauty around us.
There is peace and beauty within.

Program note: The Report will now revert to its off-session monthly schedule until next January. I'll write you on the third Tuesday of each month.

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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