The state’s political season is in full swing now, and the folks in Phoenix are pushing issues that could make Gov. Doug Ducey a little uncomfortable — when he hasn’t got himself in the hot-seat already. Here’s a rundown of three such situations:
Ducey’s first flip-flop was in this area, and it could give him more challenges if anti-transparency laws are passed. One would repeal key parts of Arizona’s open-meeting law, while others would delay the reporting of names of police officers involved in shootings and of lottery winners.
Back in January, Ducey stopped the practice of keeping voluntary visitor logs at the state Capitol, logs created so people could see who was visiting the governor. Granted, the system had flaws — namely, that the logs were voluntary and therefore incomplete.
The pro-transparency fix would have been to make signing the logs a requirement. Instead, Ducey removed them, then was forced by criticism in the news media to put them back, though still in incomplete form.
For Ducey’s sake, and ours, let’s hope he never has to make a decision on whether to veto SB 1435, Sen. Sylvia Allen’s misguided open-meeting repeal that would make it easier for elected officials to do backroom deals. The bill would make it all right for a quorum of bodies such as city councils, school boards and boards of supervisors to discuss issues outside of public meetings as long as they don’t take any action.
In an opinion piece, Allen, a Republican from Snowflake, went so far as to say Arizona’s current open-meeting law “makes for poor, restrictive, oppressive government.” How she can conclude that forcing public officials to discuss issues in public before making decisions leads to “oppressive government” is a mystery.
Remember the recent Oro Valley decision to buy golf courses? The Town Council could have waited until 24 hours before the meeting where the purchases of those courses was to be decided before letting the public know it was even a consideration.
I asked Ally Miller, a Republican member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors who often constitutes a minority of one, what she thinks of the bill.
“We don’t need to be changing the laws to make it easier for us to go to the backroom,” she said.
It will be interesting to see if Ducey agrees on this or other efforts to restrict what is now public information.
2. DUCEY VS. DOUGLAS
The testy relationship between Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas erupted into a haymaker-filled fight Thursday.
The smart money is on the governor winning after a few rounds, but don’t be surprised if Douglas, also a Republican, lands some solid blows.
The fight is over whether Douglas is allowed under the law to fire staff members of the Arizona Board of Education, as she tried to do on Wednesday, terminating the board’s paid executive director and deputy director. On Thursday, Ducey said no, only the 11-member board can make those decisions.
In response, Douglas let loose in a statement: “Governor Ducey apparently views himself as both governor and superintendent of schools.”
She went on, “Clearly he has established a shadow faction of charter school operators and former state superintendents who support Common Core and moving funds from traditional public schools to charter schools.”
In a separate fact sheet, she laid out the legal case that she has firing authority over Board of Education employees. Not entirely convincing, but a leg to stand on in court.
In the long run, though, Ducey has the power to appoint almost the entire Board of Education — 10 of the 11 members, with Douglas, as superintendent, being the 11th. If he decides he wants Arizona to retain its version of Common Core, the AzMERIT test and associated standards, then his appointees on the board will vote down Douglas.
Her lashing out at the governor won’t help the other causes she says she supports. In a later statement, Ducey said he is “disappointed Superintendent Douglas has chosen this path.”
3. FEDERALISM FETISH
In the run-up to his State of the State address, Ducey said he hoped to get the Governor’s Office “out of the litigation business.” It was a reference to former Gov. Jan Brewer‘s repeated legal fights with the federal government.
Then he followed up that promise by handing to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich the decision-making power over whether to continue fighting two federal court decisions: one over providing driver’s licenses to so-called “dreamers,” who were brought into the country illegally as children, and the other over a provision of SB 1070.
But the Legislature is considering several bills that would land the state back in the same sort of litigation with the federal government. One bill would obligate the state of Arizona to reject what it considers unconstitutional gun laws. Another — this one a returning favorite at the Legislature — would require federal agents to check in with county sheriffs in Arizona before doing any work in their counties.
Both bills are absurd. If passed, and if the governor really wants us to get out of the litigation business, he must veto them.
Yet it’s not completely clear where Ducey stands on this “federalism” issue — “states’ rights,” of course, is a favored issue among Arizona Republicans. And Ducey put in his proposed budget a $1 million appropriation to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office that would establish a “federalism unit” for legal fights with the federal government.